From left, Drew Fisher, Jake Fisher and Jake Sondreal are several reasons much is expected from Cretin-Derham Hall. JERRY HOLT, Star Tribune
1. Ranked No. 2 in the Let’s Play Hockey preseason coaches poll and No. 1 by almost everyone else, Cretin-Derham Hall is surrounded by high expectations. A Raiders team loaded with returning talent learned a hard lesson in a 4-3 loss to No. 13 St. Thomas Academy in the season opener Saturday. “For us, it was a good test, a wake-up call,” coach Matt Funk said. “By the second period we found our game.” The Raiders lineup contains several championship pieces. The top line of Jake Sondreal and brothers Drew and Jake Fisher combined for 117 points last season. Sondreal’s twin brother, Zach, leads the defense. And senior goalie Marko Belak brings a stable presence between the pipes. Expect a more focused Raiders team to work toward a potential rematch with St. Thomas Academy in the Class 2A, Section 3 playoffs. “We can’t just show up and expect good things to happen,” Funk said. “That will be a talking point all year.”
2. The upset of Cretin-Derham Hall moved new St. Thomas Academy associate head coach Mike Randolph one victory closer to the career record. Randolph, the longtime successful Duluth East coach who resigned in June amid an investigation, joined the Mendota Heights-based private school as an assistant. Head coach Trent Eigner elevated Randolph’s title, allowing team victories to reflect on Randolph’s ledger. His 659 victories rank third in state history, 48 behind retired Lorne Grosso of Rochester Mayo. Bringing Randolph aboard meant tapping into the veteran coach’s reputation as a builder of tough playoff teams. “You can’t replicate his experience,” Eigner said. “On top of that, his teams always played honest hockey. They were physical and showed grit and intensity.”
3. This is the season Prior Lake fans have salivated over. Senior linemates Alex Bump, Sam Rice and Will Schumacher combined for 99 points last season. Their return moved the Lakers to favorite status in a winnable Section 2 this winter. For the Prior Lake faithful feeling an inaugural state tournament appearance is overdue, the trio represents “arguably the top three forwards in the section on our team,” coach Joe Pankratz said. Fellow seniors Jackson Anderson (defense) and Trevor Boschee (goalie) mean Prior Lake boasts solid veterans throughout the lineup. “This is a group I can push hard,” Pankratz said. “We need to take care of the defensive zone, but at the same time, I’m not going to stifle their creativity.”
4. Winona Cotter joins the mix as a new varsity program this fall, a great leap forward after a modest 2020-21 debut. Last season, the Ramblers patched together a few junior varsity games. They dressed nine players and zero goalies, borrowing each opponent’s backup netminder. A 13-player roster and full schedule show growth this season. The Minnesota State High School League allowed teams to schedule games against Winona Cotter without counting against the 25-game limit. Metro-area programs Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Breck and St. Paul Highland Park are on the list for Cotter. “We have some games that might be above our heads, but that’s good for us to see where we need to be,” coach Martin Raymond told Jason Feldman of the Rochester Post-Bulletin.
5. And speaking of southern Minnesota, much of the 16th annual Hockey Day Minnesota takes place at Minnesota State Mankato’s Blakeslee Field. Produced in partnership with Bally Sports North, Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild, Hockey Day Minnesota stretches an unprecedented five days this time, from Jan. 19-23. Boys’ high school teams Mankato East and Mankato West play at 5:30 p.m. on Jan. 22 in a nontelevised game. Taking the ice live on television at 1 p.m. on Jan. 23 will be East Grand Forks and Prior Lake.
Gives the Lakers’ excellent top line some size with 6-1, 195-pound frame. Scored 13 goals last season and added 19 assists. Equally capable of finding open teammates or finishing plays around the net. College commitment: Vermont
Won a Class 1A championship as a sophomore and only improved. He’s already 2-0 this season with 40 saves on 41 shots faced, making an early bid for the Frank Brimsek Award given to the state’s top goalie. College commitment: Undecided.
Stands out on the Raiders’ dynamic top line with his playmaking abilities. He led the team in assists (27) and points (42) last season. Valued for always being around the puck. College commitment: Undecided.
Good size (6-4, 180 pounds), hockey IQ and mobility combine to make him a power-play force. Three of his four assists so far this season came with the man advantage. College commitment: Minnesota
Elevated his offensive contributions with 12 goals and 13 assists last season while also taking care of the defensive zone. Beginning his fourth consecutive season as a starter. College commitment: Undecided.
Factored into five of his team’s eight goals already this season. Coming off the most prolific season of any Andover sophomore (15 goals and 40 assists). Sticks his nose in every battle. College commitment: Undecided.
All players are seniors unless noted.
AJ Carls, Centennial
Jimmy Clark, Edina, junior
Dylan Godbout, Hill-Murray
Landen Gunderson, Maple Grove, jr.
Tanner Ludtke, Lakeville South, jr.
Bradley Walker, Orono, jr.
Jackson Anderson, Prior Lake
Miken Miller, Rogers
Zach Sondreal, Cretin-Derham Hall
Marko Belak, Cretin-Derham Hall