Defenseman Nate Schweitzer (14) and goalie Carson Limesand (30) are two of the young but talent players who helped Benilde-St. Margaret's capture the No. 1 spot in our Class 2A Way-Too-Early rankings. Photo by Jeff Lawler, SportsEngine
Now that I have finally finished patting myself on the back for placing Edina No. 1 in last year's way-too-early rankings, it is time to look ahead at what could be an unusual year in boys' high school hockey and present the latest installment of our preseason list.
Recent powers Edina, St. Thomas Academy, Minnetonka and Duluth East will lose a ton of talent and figure to take a step back, while programs such as Benilde-St. Margaret's and Blake look primed to make huge improvements.
This list was created assuming all non-seniors will be back with their high school teams, the lone exception being Rhett Pitlick who will not play for Chaska next season.
Feel free to put your questions and complaints in the comments section below so we can start the conversation on the 2019-20 season.
Anyone who watched Benilde-St. Margaret's this year got the feeling that this team was going to be very good, very soon. As a young team in a rebuilding year, the Red Knights somewhat surprisingly hovered around the top 10 in the Class 2A rankings. They also upset Wayzata in the Section 6 semifinals to reach the championship, where they lost to eventual state champion Edina. Benilde-St. Margaret's was known for its young talent, but talent alone won't spell success next year. The key will be leadership from current juniors Blake Mesenburg, who led the team in scoring after transferring in from Shattuck-St. Mary's, and defenseman Nate Schweitzer, a Colorado College commit. Starting goalie Carson Limesand will return, along with Adam Marshall, Jackson Bisson, James Callahan and freshman Tristan Sarsland (another Colorado College commit) to form the nucleus of a team bringing back 91 percent of its scoring.
Every year there seems to be a lot of "what-ifs" surrounding Maple Grove. It's hard to think of a team that is gutted by early departures as consistently as the Crimson, and that continued this year as they lost Connor Kelley and Brock Faber to the USA Hockey National Team Development Program and Ethan Haider to the NAHL. Yet Maple Grove spent much of the season ranked in the top 5 before losing to Blaine in the Section 5 final. Graduating two Division 1-bound senior forwards in Kukkonen and Kostelecky is a lot to overcome, but the Crimson have a group of returners who can bridge the gap, highlighted by leading scorers Justin Janicke and Kyle Kukkonen. They will be joined by more members of the group that won the Bantam AA state title last year. Jack Wieneke came from that bantam team and secured the starting goalie job for the varsity team this season. It's a position the sophomore should hold for the next two years. If Maple Grove keeps this group together — which is a big if considering Janicke and Notre Dame commit Henry Nelson both made the USNTDP camp roster — the Crimson should be the favorites over Blaine in Section 5 and serious contenders for a state title.
As evidenced by its long list of key losses, Eden Prairie was a senior-heavy bunch. Luckily for the Eagles, the few players who will return had starring roles for the team, helping it finish as this year's Class 2A runner-up. The Mittelstadt brothers Luke and John are both committed to Minnesota and have now moved far beyond just being known as "Casey's brothers." Luke and sophomore Colorado College commit Carter Batchelder both made the USNTDP camp roster, which makes them potential early departure risks. Batchelder along with sophomore sniper Drew Holt played some of their best hockey in the playoffs, and the duo looks to build on their state tournament success as linemates. Throw in returning defenseman Kam Langefels and goalies Axel Rosenlund and Ben Bullis, and it makes the Eagles a very strong team. With that kind of star power and strong junior varsity and bantam AA teams providing depth to plug holes, Eden Prairie should have no problem rounding out the rest of the roster as it eyes another state title.
Andover appeared to the team to beat in Section 7 throughout the regular season, but Huskies discovered that looks can be deceiving while playing for a section title in Duluth. Mike Randolph and Duluth East once again worked their magic and the Amsoil Arena juju kicked in, handing the Huskies another section final overtime loss. Andover's vaunted junior class will step to the forefront now that Schoen, Dainty, Fritsinger and company have moved on. Wyatt Kaiser, Mitchell Wolfe and Eric Chartier form one of the best defensive units in the state. Juniors Luke Kron, Gunnar Thoreson, Hunter Jones, Michael Clough and Harrison Vandermey lead an extremely deep forward group. Wesley Swenson has big pads to fill in goal following the graduation of Frank Brimsek finalist Fritsinger. However, he shouldn't need to steal many games with a staunch defense in front of him. Expect Andover to finally overcome the 'Hounds — as well as a resurgent Grand Rapids squad — and make its first trip to state.
With only a few seniors making big impacts for a Rosemount squad that finished with a 23-4 overall record, the Irish find themselves as the heavy favorite in a section in which St. Thomas Academy has been the top seed for five of the past six years. Rosemount boasts two talented sophomores in Wisconsin commit Luke Levandowski and Jake Ratzlaff, a Minnesota commit who makes an experienced trio of defensemen even better. Juniors Mason Wheeler, Mason Campbell and Garrett Horsager have a combined 180 varsity games under their belt and are the backbone of the team. Behind them is junior goaltender William Tollefson who will only strengthen the Irish's defense. Levandowski and fellow forwards Connor Kenefick and Adam King should score more than enough goals to lift Rosemount to their first state tournament since 1992.
Key Loss: Blake Weyerhaeuser
Blake only has one key loss listed because Weyerhaeuser was the lone senior on this year's team that went 17-8-2. The Bears return more than 95 percent of their scoring, as well as goalie Aksel Reid, who is a two-year starter as a sophomore. The forward group is led by sophomore stars Tristan Broz and Gopher commit Joe Miller, who combined for 117 points this season. The duo receive support from juniors Gavin Best, Jack Sabre and freshman William Matzke. The defensive corps feature Miami (Ohio) commit Ben Dexheimer and fellow junior Will Svenddal. With all that talent in the program, Blake should pass Edina in the Section 6 pecking order next year.
This year's Bears team played as a cohesive unit with no star players, but that could change once Lleyton Roed has another year of development under his belt. The sophomore forward finished second on the team in scoring and looked like White Bear Lake's best player against Hill-Murray in the Section 4 final and in the state tournament. He is joined by Billy Rose, Sam Newpower, Grant Hofeld and Sam Verkerke to form the best forward group in the section. Junior goalie Tyler Steffens went 9-1-0 while spelling Foss in net, and should be ready to step into the starting role. The Bears' biggest weakness is on defense, where juniors Brady O'Brien, Luke Ahles and sophomore Joey Frattalone will have to fill the void left by Klein, Millard and Anderson. The core of this group exorcised one demon when it defeated Hill-Murray to win the section title this year, and it will try to vanquish another next year by ending the program's 0-19 losing streak in state quarterfinals. This will likely be their last chance at a deep playoff run for the foreseeable future as the cupboard looks slightly empty after next season.
There are some programs that just get the benefit of the doubt, and Minnetonka — under coach Sean Goldsworthy — is one. The Skippers won their first state title last season and spent much of this year No. 1 in the rankings before being upset by Holy Family Catholic in the Section 2 semifinals. While Minnetonka loses arguably the state's best defensive tandem in Docter and Luedtke, as well as Brimsek winner Glockner, the Skippers should remain competitive behind a group of proven skaters. Arizona State commit Teddy Lagerback, juniors Griffin Streeter, Braedon Lacomy and Mack Motzko, and sophomore forward Hunter Newhouse all return. The question marks are on the blue line and between the pipes for Minnetonka. While the Skippers won't be able to replace what Docter and Luedtke provided, they have James Miller, Dylan Zitzloff and Duke Kiffin, who should get a chance to show what they can do playing in front of an untested goalie.
Hill-Murray showed flashes of brilliance this year, beating Edina and blowing out St. Thomas Academy. However, consistency was an issue for the young Pioneers. Junior goaltender Remington Keopple posted a stellar .927 save percentage in his second year starting and should be a frontrunner for the Frank Brimsek award next year. Leading scorer Charlie Strobel will be back, along with Minnesota Duluth commit Brett Oberle and Wisconsin commits Nick Pierre and Joe Palodichuk. The road to the state tournament from Section 4 will be difficult with White Bear Lake posing a stiff challenge and Stillwater looking improved, but don't bet against Bill Lechner's squad.
No, you are not reading this incorrectly. Edina could be facing a down year in which the defending state champs must rebuild up front. Luckily for the Hornets, the back end seems solid with the return of title game star goalie Louden Hogg and Gopher commits Jake Boltmann and Nick Williams on defense. Edina's identity could change from a team known for its skill to one that plays gritty and physical. Boltmann led the team in hits and blocked shots in the state tournament, while junior forwards Grant Morton and Luke Ruegemer could be seen making life difficult for opponents by racking up hits as members of the Hornets' third line. Sophomores Williams and Jackson Borst will be counted on to provide scoring as the team replaces an insanely talented senior class. With Edina being Edina, there's always a chance it finds more Kevin Delaneys (read our story on his unusual path to varsity stardom here) in the program. The Hornets also have the benefit of pulling from the state's top Bantam AA team, so don't expect the downturn to last long.
12. Duluth East
14. Cretin-Derham Hall
16. Holy Family Catholic
17. Lakeville South
18. St. Thomas Academy
Just missed the cut: Grand Rapids, Lakeville North, Wayzata, Eagan, Rochester Century, Hastings, Cloquet-Esko-Carlton
1. St. Cloud Cathedral
4. Thief River Falls
5. East Grand Forks
9. Duluth Denfeld
10. North Branch
Just Missed: Alexandria, Delano, Breck, Northfield, Mankato East
Listed in alphabetical order.
Blake Biondi, Hermantown
Jake Boltmann, Edina
Jake Braccini, Buffalo
Matt Gleason, Cretin-Derham Hall
Wyatt Kaiser, Andover
Zach Michaelis, Elk River
Garrett Pinoniemi, Holy Family Catholic
Carsen Richels, Blaine
Nate Schweitzer, Benilde-St. Margaret's
Nate Warner, St. Cloud Cathedral
Others: Evan Bushy (Thief River Falls), Adam Flammang (St. Michael-Albertville), Luke Gramer (Moorhead), Lucas Jorgenson (Holy Family Catholic), Teddy Lagerback (Minnetonka), Shane Lavelle (Chaska), Luc Laylin (St. Michael-Albertville), Jonny Meiers (Eagan), Blake Mesenburg (Benilde-St. Margaret's), John Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie), Brett Oberle (Hill-Murray), Jack Smith (St. Cloud Cathedral), Ben Troumbly (Greenway) and Bennett Zmolek (Rochester Century)
Listed in alphabetical order.
Hudson Hodges, Moorhead
Remington Keopple, Hill-Murray
Others: Carter Clafton (Grand Rapids), Derek Manzella (Eagan), Caleb Mayer (Lakeville North), William Pinney (St. Louis Park), Noah Rupprecht (Thief River Falls), William Tollefson (Rosemount), Josh Weyandt (Chanhassen)
Tag(s): Home Mankato East Northfield Rochester Century Alexandria St. Cloud Cathedral Blake Breck Duluth East Grand Rapids Greenway Eden Prairie Edina Minnetonka Wayzata Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Duluth Denfeld Hermantown East Grand Forks Moorhead Roseau Thief River Falls Warroad Hastings Hill-Murray Mahtomedi St. Thomas Academy Chaska Benilde-St. Margaret's Buffalo North Branch STMA Andover Blaine Elk River/Zimmerman Maple Grove Eagan Lakeville North Lakeville South Rosemount Cretin-Derham Hall Stillwater White Bear Lake Delano Holy Family Orono