White Bear Lake is having a good season. The Bears sit atop the Suburban East Conference standings and are the favorite for the top seed in Class 2A, Section 4 entering this week.
It was a similar story last year, when they finished with 20 wins and just one point behind Cretin-Derham Hall in the Suburban East standings, but lost in the section final to rival Hill-Murray.
So what could potentially make this season the one in which White Bear Lake, ranked No. 6 in the Class 2A state coaches' poll from Jan. 23, returns to the state tournament for the first time since 2011? Execution against some of the state's top defenses.
Tuesday's nonconference showdown with Blaine offers White Bear Lake and its 3.95 goals-per-game scoring average the opportunity to show it's capable of putting up enough offense to complement its 1.95 goals allowed per game mark that ranks 10th in Class 2A.
White Bear Lake is 2-3 in games against teams with top-20 scoring defenses in Class 2A, losing 5-2 to Andover (No. 1 at 1.40 goals allowed per game) on Jan. 26 and falling 3-2 at Minnetonka (No. 2 at 1.45) on Jan. 10. The Bears also recorded a 6-3 stumble at Duluth East (No. 17, 2.25) on Nov. 30, while their victories are against section foes Hill-Murray (No. 7 at 1.83), in a 3-2 win Dec. 22; and Stillwater (No. 21, 2.41) in 2-1 overtime win on Jan. 3.
White Bear Lake's Lleyton Roed, who shares the team's points lead (27) with Blake Meister, has three goals and three assists in those five games. Roed could be the answer to solving the riddle that is Blaine’s elite defense and help signal to the State of Hockey that the Bears should be taken seriously as a contender.
One of the keys to Blaine’s stout defense has been goaltender Joe Daninger (1.67 GAA; .928 save percentage), who has allowed three or more goals just five times in 17 starts this season.
The No. 4-2A Bengals (13-2-2, 7-1-1), who are chasing Maple Grove for the top seed in Class 2A, Section 5, rank first in the large-school class at 5.24 goals per game but could encounter a scoring challenge against White Bear Lake on Tuesday.
Whether this Class 2A top-10 tussle turns out to be high- or low-scoring, the matchup promises to deliver and is our Top Game of the Week.