By Tim Kolehmainen, Editor of The BREAKDOWN
Editor's note: The MnHockeyHub works in conjunction with MnSportsPreview.com and The Breakdown. Each week, Breakdown editor Tim Kolehmainen offers up their top 15 teams. These are not to be confused with the MnHockeyHub rankings that are observed as the official MyFoxHockey.com rankings. To view the MnHockeyHub/MyFoxHockey.com rankings, click the rankings button on the top navigation bar. Compare/contrast/enjoy.
The Breakdown takes its weekly look at the top 15 teams in Class AA…
1. Bloomington Jefferson (24-1-0)
The Jaguars recovered from their only loss of the season to win their final three games of the year, beating both Eagan (3-0) and Lakeville North (6-3) last week. Jefferson has a very solid club that earned the No. 1 seed in the top-heavy Section 6AA playoffs (which also includes No. 2 Edina and No. 5 Holy Angels). The Jaguars have the state’s Brimsek Award winner in nets in Casey O’Connor (21-1-0, 1.27 GAA, .929 save %), supported by a very strong, yet offensive-capable defensive unit with Joe Faust (12-21-33) and Jeff Pauluk (9-21-30). Two high-scoring lines mean teams can’t focus on shutting down one top unit, as well.
2. Edina (21-4-0)
Edina held onto its No. 2 spot in the regular season finale by edging No. 7 Minnetonka in overtime, 6-5, on a goal by junior Charlie Taft (16-5-21). Marshall Everson (35-29-64) added a hat trick, leading the Hornets back from a 4-1 deficit in the third period. Since losing the Skippers in early February to cap a stretch of three losses in four games, the Hornets have averaged 7.2 goals per game in five straight victories. The high-scoring Hornets are paced by their top line of Everson, Anders Lee (20-46-66) and Connor Gaarder (22-34-56). Taft is the only other player with double-digit goals.
3. Eden Prairie (22-3-0)
The sophomore-laden Eagles picked up the top seed in the very deep Section 6AA playoffs and enter the playoffs on a 12-game winning streak (including big victories last week over Rosemount, 9-1, and Lakeville South, 5-1). Sophomore Kyle Rau (24-21-45) has proven to be a big-time scorer in his first varsity season and has plenty of help up front from youngsters like Mitch Rogge (13-24-37), Taylor Wolfe (16-19-35) and Mike Erickson (11-18-29). Senior defenseman Nick Leddy (8-29-37) is one of the favorites for the Mr. Hockey award and can spur the Eagles both on offense and defense. Coach Lee Smith has split time in nets nearly evenly between Andrew Ford (11-1-0, 1.41 GAA, .940 save %) and Matt Halloran (11-2-0, 2.23 GAA, .900 save %).
4. Duluth East (21-3-1)
The Greyhounds methodically ripped off 10 straight victories to end the regular season since their shocking 3-2 loss to Century in late January. East earned the No. 1 seed in Section 7AA and have to be considered a heavy favorite to advance to state, especially with Elk River’s stumbles last week. Senior Max Tardy (28-20-48) leads the team in scoring by a wide margin and is a candidate for Mr. Hockey. He’s a great two-way player who compliments the excellent defense of Derek Forbort (4-14-28), Joe Arbour (8-11-19), Jake Williams (4-15-19) and Al McLean (2-14-16). Goalie Matt Cooper (21-2-1, 1.37 GAA, .915 save %) has some of the best numbers in the state, along with eight shutouts.
5. Holy Angels (20-4-1)
The Stars posted a pair of 8-1 victories over Farmington and Northfield to claim the Missota Conference crown, yet only earned the No. 3 seed in Section 2AA behind Jefferson and Edina. Tough section. Holy Angels played a schedule with a handful of games against out-of-state prep teams, giving them a 18-2-1 record against in-state foes. The line of Mr. Hockey candidate Danny Mattson (22-49-71), John Haeg (25-31-56) and Connor Reilly (25-31-56) can rival the Edina No. 1 line as the top unit in the state. Watch out for the other Reillys on this team, though, junior forward Ryan (15-21-36) and freshman defenseman Mike (2-24-26).
6. Blaine (21-3-1)
It’s been mighty difficult to sort out the recent mess in the Northwest Suburban, with the top four teams now regularly beating each other. But at the end of the scrum, the Bengals came out standing on top, despite losing recently to both Elk River and Centennial. The Elks and Cougars stumbled badly in the season’s final week and a sweep of Maple Grove (including a 7-2 romping last Thursday) gives Blaine the edge. Sophomore Nick Bjugstad (26-25-51) leads the Bengals in scoring, while junior goalie Danny Harper (19-3-1 1.77 GAA, .914 save %) has been solid in nets.
7. Minnetonka (18-7-0)
Give the Skippers credit for testing themselves, but they haven’t won enough of the big games to rank any higher than No. 7. Last week, Minnetonka routed Buffalo (11-3), but then fell to Edina (6-5) in overtime in a game the Skippers led 4-1 in the third period. Minnetonka can play with any team in the state – and beat them – but they’ve also proven they can be beat. Sam Coatta (21-21-42) and Max Gardiner (15-24-39) are the top scorers, while defensemen Andrew Prochno (9-23-32) and Troy Hesketh (7-14-21) can add plenty of offense from the blue line.
8. Maple Grove (19-3-3)
The Crimson had their shot at the Northwest Suburban crown, but fell big to Blaine (7-2) last Thursday. They certainly took their frustration out on Coon Rapids in the regular season finale (10-0). The loss to the Bengals was their first since losing to the same club back on Jan. 15. Maple Grove gets great scoring balance from Josh Gross (21-26-47), Matt Dee (20-24-44), Alec Horton (21-16-37), Tommy Malone (16-18-34) and Dan Carlson (15-14-29). Wally Cosette (6-16-22) is the anchor of the Crimson defense in front of Sean Elmer (17-3-2, 1.75 GAA, .913 save %).
9. Woodbury (20-3-2)
Woodbury recovered from its 3-2 overtime loss to Roseville on Valentine’s night to edge White Bear Lake 3-2 in overtime last week. The victory gave the Royals the Suburban East title over Cretin-Derham Hall and also allowed them to hang on to the top seed in Section 3AA. Woodbury is attempting to qualify for its third straight state tournament will again have to go through the Raiders to get there. Tony Pittman (21-25-46), Max Gaede (16-26-42) and Tyler Nowicki (13-13-26) give the Royals a top scoring line, while Walker Hyland (10-8-18) and Andrew Herbert (4-14-18) lead the defensive corps.
10. Wayzata (16-8-1)
In an important game for Section 6AA seedings, the Trojans beat Hopkins (4-3) last week and earned the No. 3 spot and a home game. Wayzata is a ways off its 10-game winning streak in late December and January, but it remains dangerous. Despite only two scorers with double-digit goals – Matt Straate (12-10-22) and Danny Walsh (14-6-20) – the Trojans can grind out victories with a hard-hitting team. Sophomore defenseman D.J. Jones (3-13-16) has developed very nicely into a dual threat.
11. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (20-6-0)
Benilde responded to a two-game losing streak with a pair of huge victories over the bottom-tier of the North Suburban last week, pounding Chisago Lakes (13-0) and Cooper (7-1). Whether it was enough to give the Red Knights momentum heading into the tough Section 6AA playoffs is to be seen. Benilde was hung with the No. 4 seed, which means it gets a home game against the best No. 5 seed in the entire state (No. 14 Hopkins). Freshman Christian Horn (23-15-38) leads the Red Knights in goals, including a hat trick against Chisago Lakes.
12. Centennial (17-4-4)
The Cougars certainly have hit a rough patch in the final weeks of the season. Including an impressive 3-2 win over Blaine on Valentine’s night, the Cougars are just 1-2-1 in their last four games. In that past week, they’ve lost to Osseo (5-4) and tied Andover (3-3). Coach Erik Aus will have to get his team turned around quickly, as Section 5AA won’t be forgiving. The top line of Tyler Pitlick (27-31-58), Jordan Lovick (14-29-43) and Willie Hess (25-15-40) must lead the way and sophomore goalie Brett Larsen (16-4-4, 2.17 GAA, .913 save %) might have to stand on his head to pull the Cougars out of their doldrums.
13. Moorhead (12-9-3)
Long forgotten is an eight-game mid-season losing streak for the Spuds. Since ending the skid, coach Dave Morinville’s team is 7-1-2 and just finished its regular season with a 5-2 win down at Hill-Murray. The Spuds are well-balanced and have plenty of team speed. Alex Altenbernd (15-8-23) and Trent Johnson (15-7-22) are the top scorers, while young goalies Logan Marks (4-9-3, 2.53 GAA, .893 save %) and Michael Bitzer (7-0-0, 1.98 GAA, .910 save %) have been very solid. Marks endured the eight-game losing streak, opening the door for more time for Bitzer, who responded. Both have played very well since.
14. Hopkins (15-9-1)
The Royals’ section is so tough, they don’t even get to host a home playoff game. Instead, the fifth-seeded club must visit No. 11 Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the first round – and it won’t get any easier from there in Section 6AA. Hopkins finished its season with a 11-3 rout of Buffalo in which Nate Seashore (19-19-38) tallied five goals. Freshman Travis Boyd (26-25-51) and junior Archie Skalbeck (18-30-48) make up a high-scoring top line while junior goalie Alex Fons (13-7-1, 2.87 GAA, .901 save %) has been known to carry his team to upset victories before.
15. Tartan (17-7-1)
Tartan wrapped up the top seed in Section 4AA last week with victories over Sibley (6-0 and Simley (6-1). The Titans are 12-3-1 since the start of the New Year, only losing to South St. Paul, St. Thomas Academy and Mahtomedi, three of the top clubs in Class A. Tartan faces an uphill battle, however, in trying to become just the second team in 27 years other than White Bear Lake or Hill-Murray to represent their section. Jake McKee (12-28-40), Ben Lovick (18-17-35), Mitch Rowe (15-20-35) and Ryan Abrahamson (17-16-33) are the team’s leading scorers. Backup goalie Eric Thayer continued to fill in for injured Alex Gierke, winning both games last week and pushing his winning streak to four straight.
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