Lakeville South finished second in the 2021 Class 2A state tournament. The Cougars should return plenty of talent from this year, which made it easy to select them as the top team in our 2021-22 Class 2A Way-Too-Early Top 10 list. Photo by Cheryl A. Myers
With one of the strangest high school hockey seasons of all time now in the books, it's time for everyone to take a deep breath and hope for some normality as we begin to look ahead to next season.
I had a much tougher time sorting out these Class 2A rankings than I typically do. Not a single team jumps out as the clear front-runner, and I could see any of the top 12 or 13 teams being state title contenders. That should make for more parity than we saw in this shortened year and set us up for a great high school hockey season.
Last year, it was easier deciding who to put at the top of the heap in Class 2A. I had Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Hill-Murray and Lakeville South as the top four teams, which proved to be true, despite some lack of resolution to Hill-Murray's season.
I still had some misses, of course. The big ones were Andover in Class 2A and Gentry Academy in Class 1A, but there were a lot of unknowns with both of those teams. Andover graduated nearly all of its roster and Gentry Academy added players from its AAA team who haven't played on the high school squad.
This offseason will also include section realignments, which could result in some teams changing classes and sections. I've written this article under the assumption that Class 2A will have two new teams: Gentry Academy and Sartell-St. Stephen, which could be bumped up as its enrollment is above the Class 1A cutoff. Otherwise, Sartell-St. Stephen probably would have found a spot in the top 10 for Class 1A.
As always, this list was created assuming all non-seniors will be back with their respective teams next season. That includes Eden Prairie's Jackson Blake, who by all accounts will not be back next season. However, if the Eagles forward returns, he will likely be a Mr. Hockey Award candidate.
Of those top four teams mentioned earlier (Eden Prairie, Lakeville South, Maple Grove, and Hill-Murray), the Cougars probably will return the most talent on their varsity roster, which was enough to give them the slight edge over a few others on our list. Sophomore Omaha commit Tanner Ludtke, who played on the top line with Boche and Ahrenholz, will team up with fellow high-scoring sophomore forwards Ashton Dahms and Aidan Willis, along with junior Ben Portner. There shouldn't be a drop-off between the pipes as Ethan Dahlmeir is likely to own the net after winning all 10 of his starts while splitting time with the senior Ticen. Lakeville South could be the safest bet to repeat as section champion and showed in their run to the state title game this season that they have what it takes to again hang with the heavyweights in the state tournament.
Key losses: Chuck Altier
A team that finished 18-2-0 overall that returns 86 percent of its scoring the following season usually would not have so many lingering questions, but the Raiders have a lot to prove after this season came to an abrupt end. Was this team a worthy top-seed in arguably the toughest section in the state that just happened to have an off night in their section loss to Benilde-St. Margaret's? Or were the Raiders a paper tiger that benefited from an easy Suburban East Conference schedule? We will find out if Cretin-Derham Hall is legit next season as its nonconference schedule returns to normal and the key players get a year older. It's a family affair for Cretin-Derham Hall as brothers Drew and Jake Fisher return after combining for 79 points in just 20 games. Jake Sondreal will join the Fishers up front, while his brother, Zach Sondreal, will team with Simon Houge on the blueline. Marko Belak will be back for his third year as starting goaltender, having won 37 games already in his career. Although I'm not making any concrete assumptions in this article when it comes to section placement, I believe Cretin-Derham Hall competing in the otherwise exclusively west metro-based Section 6 has never made a ton of sense, and a move to a east metro section could next year. Section 3 could be a logical landing spot and could create the kind of rivalry and competition with St. Thomas Academy that has been missing in that section.
Next year will be the true test of the resiliency of the Maple Grove hockey juggernaut that has been building at the youth level for years and has paid off at the high school level the past few seasons. Maple Grove will attempt to join the ranks of programs that don't take the time to rebuild, but instead simply reload. As the list of losses indicate, the Crimson will lose a lot to graduation — including their entire top line that had two Division I-bound defensemen and the Frank Brimsek Award winner. However, they do return dynamic sophomore forward Landen Gunderson, hard-hitting junior Josh Giuliani and a few others — such as Finn Brink, Sawyer Skanson, Bennett Glad, and Luke Margenau — who should get an opportunity to shine after being relegated to bench roles on such a senior-laden roster. With another group of bantams who played in the state title game this year set to join the roster, and a relatively clear path through Section 5, the Crimson should have what it takes to return to the Xcel Energy Center in March.
Next year's version of Hill-Murray will follow the same recipe for success as this year's team: incredibly stingy goaltending, an imposing, stellar defensive unit and timely scoring from a deep group of forwards. Nick Erickson will likely be a Frank Brimsek Award contender if he can replicate his performance from this season, when he posted a .937 save percentage and a 1.18 goals-against average as a junior. The Pioneers lose two great defensemen in Palodichuk and Fleischhacker but all others return, including Axel Begley, Leo Gruba and Ben Karr. Wisconsin commit Dylan Godbout could be a Mr. Hockey finalist and will share the scoring burden with Anthony Madigan, Brendan Bonin and members of the undefeated JV team who are added to the varsity roster. Hill-Murray's place as Section 4 favorites could be on perilous ground with potential Section 4 newcomer Gentry Academy likely posing a stiffer challenge than traditional foes White Bear Lake and Stillwater.
There will be no more room for excuses for the Prior Lake hockey program heading into next season. The Lakers have the chance to assent to the top of Section 2 with heavyweight Eden Prairie possibly heading toward a rebuilding year. Will Schumacher, Sam Rice and Alex Bump have been the top scorers on the team for the past two years and fans can expect more of the same in the trio's senior season. With fellow juniors Jackson Anderson, Riley Dueber and Justin Kingery providing depth, and Trevor Boschee backstopping the Lakers for the third year, this team needs to grab the opportunity and capitalize on its best chance to win Section 2 in program history.
Andover turned a lot of heads on its way to a Section 7 title in what many foolish pundits (myself included) expected to be a down year. The Huskies' only three losses came at the hands of Maple Grove, including in the first round of the Class 2A state tournament. The Huskies will still have their hands full with Maple Grove in Northwest Suburban Conference play and will get another test from Grand Rapids in the postseason, but they have the pieces to win a third straight section title. Weston Knox and Kyle Law will likely form one of the state's best defensive pairs, which could be reminiscent of the great Andover defensive units that featured Wyatt Kaiser and Mitchell Wolfe. Gavyn Thoreson introduced himself to the Minnesota high school hockey scene with a 55-point sophomore season that included 40 assists. With Schifsky no longer around, Thoreson will need Logan Gravink, Davis Gohman and Cooper Conway to finish the many chances he can create.
Not much was expected of Moorhead this season as it suffered a plethora of losses to graduation and were expected to begin rebuilding with new players. The Spuds didn't immediately hit the ground running but got better throughout the season and rattled off six straight victories leading into the state tournament. Senior goaltender Kunka will leave big pads to fill, but assuming Moorhead can find a goalie, it will have plenty of talent throughout the rest of the lineup, including dynamic sophomores Harper Bentz, Ian Ness, Joe Gramer and Aaron Reierson. Junior forwards Gavin Lindberg, Carson Triggs and Thomas Schroeder will also be counted on to make major contributions as the Spuds aim to defend their Section 8 title against a still strong Roseau team and a burgeoning threat in Rogers.
I'm not sure what to say about Gentry Academy other than it was easily the most difficult team to rank on this list. Gentry Academy only played one Class 2A team all year, never got the chance to play Hermantown and faced its toughest test of the season in the Class 1A state semifinals, where the Stars defeated East Grand Forks before blowing out Dodge County in the championship. It was clear to anyone who paid attention that this was a legitimately dominant team in the small-school class, but with a relatively easy schedule and a few important graduation losses, it's hard to say just how much the Stars will shake up the Class 2A landscape. They should face a much more competitive schedule next season and will have the firepower to match up with any team. Barrett Hall, Kaden Milles, Wes Berg and Reese Shaw all scored at least 20 points this year, and there won't be many 1-2 punches on defense better than Zach Reim and Connor Brown.
Key losses: Nick Williams, Jackson Borst, John Devoe
Edina had a Jekyll-and-Hyde nature this year and will hope to move away from it next season. Edina could hang with any team when it were on its game, and the Hornets showed their ability to sting in the regular season by beating and tying eventual Class 2A state champion Eden Prairie, but their consistency never materialized. Top scorers Jimmy Clark and Trey Fechko are eligible to return, but both are flight risks. Clark is spending time with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program's U17 squad after the high school season, and Fechko may sign a contract to play in the British Columbia Hockey League next year. Junior forwards Willy Johnson and AJ Doll will be counted on to play bigger roles next year, regardless of whether Fechko and Clark return. The Hornets are all set in goal, after sophomore Robbie Clarkowski grabbed the starting job and posted a .907 save percentage in 17 games played.
The Thunderhawks lose some high-end starpower with Mr. Hockey winner Peart graduating. However, they should be able to combat that loss with some serious depth in their upcoming senior class. Joey DelGreco, Hayden DeMars, Garett Drotts and Justin Kerr all finished in the top eight in scoring on the team as juniors and will return to lead the stable of forwards. Blueliners Easton Young, Ren Morque and Sam Sterle will also be back after logging big minutes. Don’t be surprised if we are treated to another classic showdown between Andover and Grand Rapids to decide Section 7 next season.
12. Benilde-St. Margaret's
14. St. Thomas Academy
15. Eden Prairie
20. Lakeville North
Just missed the cut: Blake, St. Cloud, Stillwater, Holy Family Catholic, Rosemount, White Bear Lake
3. East Grand Forks
4. Fergus Falls
5. Duluth Denfeld
7. Dodge County
8. Little Falls
Just missed the cut: Alexandria, Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl, Minneapolis, Orono, Southwest Christian/Richfield, Thief River Falls
Listed in alphabetical order.
Trey Ausmus, East Grand Forks
Jackson Blake, Eden Prairie
Trey Fechko, Edina
Dylan Godbout, Hill-Murray
Barrett Hall, Gentry Academy
Brody Lamb, Dodge County
Eric Pohlkamp, Brainerd
Tristan Sarsland, Benilde-St. Margaret's
Will Schumacher, Prior Lake
Max Strand, Roseau
Others: Thor Byfuglien (Roseau), Joey DelGreco (Grand Rapids), Drew Fisher (Cretin-Derham Hall), Josh Giuliani (Maple Grove), Weston Knox (Andover), Reed Kluender (South St. Paul), Casy Laylin (St. Michael-Albertville), Adam Marshall (Benilde-St. Margaret's), Connor McClure (Duluth Denfeld), Max Nagel (St. Thomas Academy), Gavin O'Connell (Wayzata), Ben Portner (Lakeville South), Carson Reed (Warroad), Zach Reim (Gentry Academy), Max Rud (St. Cloud), Easton Young (Grand Rapids)
Listed in alphabetical order.
Trevor Boschee, Prior Lake
Ben Dardis, Mahtomedi
Nick Erickson, Hill-Murray
Others: Marko Belak (Cretin-Derham Hall), Ethan Dahlmeir (Lakeville South), Croix Kochendorfer (East Ridge), Quentin Sigurdson (Sartell-St. Stephen), Ryan Wallin (Blaine), Jacob Walsh (Cloquet-Esko-Carlton)
Tag(s): Home MSHSL Conferences Central Lakes Alexandria Brainerd Fergus Falls Sartell-St. Stephen St. Cloud Granite Ridge Little Falls IMAC Blake Breck Dodge County Grand Rapids Minneapolis Southwest Christian/Richfield Gentry Academy Iron Range Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl Lake Eden Prairie Edina Minnetonka Wayzata STMA Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Duluth Denfeld Hermantown Mariucci East Grand Forks Moorhead Roseau Thief River Falls Warroad Metro East Hill-Murray Mahtomedi South St. Paul St. Thomas Academy Metro West Chaska Benilde-St. Margaret's Northwest Suburban Andover Blaine Centennial Maple Grove Rogers Totino-Grace South Suburban Lakeville North Lakeville South Prior Lake Rosemount Suburban East Cretin-Derham Hall East Ridge Stillwater White Bear Lake Wright County Delano Holy Family Orono