Maple Grove forward Finn Brink skates in the Class 2A, Section 5 final against Rogers on March 3. Photo by Earl J. Ebensteiner, SportsEngine
After the abbreviated COVID-19, 2020-21 season, it's never felt better to get a normal year of high school hockey in the books.
Looking back at my list from last year, there are certainly some picks to be proud of. Eight of my top nine teams in Class 2A made the state tournament, and all eight teams I had ranked highest in their respective section won the section. Picking eight out of eight section winners a year before the season starts is surely cause for celebration, right? Well, only if you don't bother to compare the order of those eight teams against how the tournament actually played out.
I'll have to settle for picking Hermantown and Warroad 1-2 in Class A, but my ranking of the rest of that class turned out to be a bit of a mess. Such is the nature of making these rankings before early departures come to light, transfers take place and coaches change jobs, but that's also what makes it fun to speculate before a long stretch with no hockey.
As always, this list was created assuming all non-seniors will be back with their respective teams next season.
Maple Grove had a state quarterfinal loss two years ago, a state semifinal loss last year and a state final loss this year. You can probably see where I'm going with this; Maple Grove has taken a step forward each of the last three years on their way to becoming a high school hockey blue blood, with the only step left to take being winning a state title. They will certainly have the talent to get there with Landen Gunderson and Finn Brink returning from one of the best top lines at the state tournament. Giuliani will be missed from that line, but Jack Kernan or Blake Steenerson are both solid options to step in. On the blue line, Danny Nelson is a superstar in the making and Luke Margenau was very productive in his junior year. Jack Roach is the best bet to take over in goal, as he performed admirably as Hopp's backup this season.
After losing only one game from Dec. 19 until the state tournament in March, Moorhead bowed out to eventual champion Andover in overtime in the opening round. It will look to avenge that loss next season with a strong group returning and loaded Bantam AA team coming. Harper Bentz, the team's leading goal scorer this year with 39, will lead the charge up front alongside Aaron Reierson and Joe Kortan. Nebraska Omaha commit Joe Gramer, Joe Schiller and Colby Krier will hold down the blue line while goaltender Kai Weigel returns having racked up 20 wins as a sophomore. With Roseau and Elk River likely going back into rebuilding mode, there aren't many obvious challengers in Section 8 as the Spuds aim for their fifth straight state tournament appearance and first ever state title.
The Royals were expected to make a jump to relevance this year but it was still a bit of a surprise when they earned the top seed in Section 5 before losing to Maple Grove 4-2 in the section final. They won’t surprise anyone next season as they return most of their lineup including high-scoring junior forwards Sam Ranallo, Carson Melquist, and Dawson Jenson, and massive junior defenseman Chase Cheslock. Cade Chapman returns in goal after playing all but 17 minutes this season and racking up 19 wins. Pair all that experience with another top bantam team incoming, and Rogers can be expected to give Maple Grove another stiff challenge in what should be the most anticipated section showdown in all of Class 2A.
The champs have one clear advantage over every other team in the state next year: a returning top line that just won a state title. Cayden Casey, Gavyn Thoreson and Cooper Conway are enough to get the Huskies into the top five of the rankings, but Tristen May-Robinson and Landon Stringfellow will also return after playing some important minutes on the blue line during the state title run. Depth will be a question mark for the Huskies, but like the three teams above them in this ranking, they have one of the top bantam 2A teams in the state coming in next season to fill in some holes. With Section 7 foe Grand Rapids losing a lot to graduation and likely taking a step back next year, Andover can be expected to make another run to St. Paul in March.
Another dominant run through Section 1 resulted in a disappointing ending to the season with two losses in the state tournament for Lakeville South. The good news is it returns a ton of talent from this year's team including the top line of Tanner Ludtke, Ashton Dahms and Aidan Willis, along with other productive forwards Tate Pritchard, Eli Miller and Jackson Ernst. Throw in a defense including Tyler Lafferty and John Novak, and Jack Hochsprung returning to guard the net and you've got a team that will once again be heavy favorites in the section. This may be the last year before the window of the Cougars being serious state title contenders closes, so don't be surprised if they are playing for their first ever state title on Saturday in St. Paul next year.
Chaska came just one game short of its first ever state tournament appearance and the Hawks have the potential to be even better next season. Sam Scheetz led the team in scoring as a sophomore, and fellow sophomore forward Tanner Bruender scored some massive goals for the Hawks, including the OT winner in the section semifinal win over Minnetonka. Adam Kleber and Sam Spehar both have huge potential as well, and Carter Wishart has 39 career wins in goal. If Sam Rinzel returns for his senior season, you can pencil him in as a finalist for Mr. Hockey, and possibly even the early favorite to win the award. Section 2 is wide open next year, with Chaska looking like the early favorite in a group that could feature five or six top-20 teams. Prior Lake loses a lot of talent and will likely take a step back, but Eden Prairie and Minnetonka will be young and talented. Chanhassen should have its best team ever, and Holy Family and Shakopee could both be on the upswing.
Coming off of a consolation championship, Edina will be looking to play three games at the Xcel Energy Center next year instead of one. Future Gopher Jimmy Clark will team up with Matt Vandervort and Jackson Nevers to form a potent forward group, but defense could be the strength of the team with Caden Morgan, Eddie Revenig and Matt Mullman manning the blue line and Robbie Clarkowski returning for his third year starting between the pipes. With Benilde-St. Margaret's and Wayzata also returning strong teams, Section 6 is shaping up to be a dogfight yet again, but it's never a bad idea to bank on the team with 40 state tournament appearances.
At some point you just have to give Hill-Murray the benefit of the doubt and trust in Bill Lechner. Despite suffering some heavy losses next season, Hill will likely still be a force to be reckoned with. Brady Ingebritson will be the top returning scorer for the Pioneers, having put up 31 points in his junior season. Ingebritson along with Ben Miller, Lucas Mann, Caden Sampair and Simon Seidl will be expected to step up and fill the scoring void. Jack Erickson proved he was ready for the bright lights after being pressed into action as the starting goalie midway through the season. On defense, Logan Hensler was probably the best freshman in the state this year, but he is a risk to depart for the US NTDP. Stillwater and White Bear Lake should both be a tougher test in Section 4 than they were this year, and Gentry Academy won't be an easy out either, but the Pioneers are still the team to beat until proven otherwise.
Next season, the Red Knights will go as far as their vaunted sophomore class takes them. Mason McElroy was already one the best goalies in the state as a sophomore and should only get better with another year under his belt. Dynamic forwards Drew Stewart, Michael Risteau and Brendan McMorrow all accounted for at least 29 points in their sophomore years, while Ben Norris, Caleb Koskie, Mason Stenger and Gavin Reed all played large roles and will be expected to take on more next year as juniors. The road through Section 6 won't be easy, but the Red Knights are building a team that in the next few years has a good chance to reach their first state tournament since their 2012 title-winning team.
The Trojans are never an easy out, and they lived up to that reputation taking Edina to overtime in the Section 6 playoffs in what was the third game between the two teams this season that ended in a 1-0 score. That defensive-minded style may be tougher to implement with a relatively young, untested defensive group, but it helps to have one of the best goalies in the state in Will Ingemann. Ingemann should be a favorite for the Frank Brimsek award after posting a .926 save percentage against an extremely tough schedule. What they lack in experience on defense will be made up with proven forwards like Luke Miller, Rhys Wallin, Kasen Sauer, Brittan Alstead and Jake Mattson returning to lead another serious contender for coach Pat O'Leary.
14. St. Thomas Academy
15. Cretin-Derham Hall
16. Eden Prairie
19. Gentry Academy
20. White Bear Lake
Just missed the cut: Grand Rapids, Lakeville North, Roseau, Shakopee, Holy Family Catholic
4. East Grand Forks
7. Little Falls
8. Providence Academy
Just missed the cut: Minneapolis, Fergus Falls, Thief River Falls, Rock Ridge, Duluth Denfeld, St. Cloud Cathedral, Chisago Lakes
Listed in alphabetical order.
Harper Bentz, Moorhead
Jimmy Clark, Edina
Jake Fisher, Cretin-Derham Hall
Landen Gunderson, Maple Grove
Tanner Ludtke, Lakeville South
Jaksen Panzer, East Grand Forks
Zam Plante, Hermantown
Sam Ranallo, Rogers
Sam Rinzel, Chaska
Jayson Shaugabay, Warroad
Others: Wes Berg (Gentry Academy), Peyton Blair (Centennial), Cam Briere (Stillwater), Finn Brink (Maple Grove), Cayden Casey (Andover), Chase Cheslock (Rogers), Tommy Cronin (St. Thomas Academy), Carter Davis (Elk River), Kyle Doll (Lakeville North), Joe Gramer (Moorhead), Ty Hanson (Hermantown), Ryan Koering (Eden Prairie), Carter Krenke (Blake), Gavyn Thoreson (Andover)
Listed in alphabetical order.
Robbie Clarkowski, Edina
Will Ingemann, Wayzata
Hampton Slukynsky, Warroad
Others: Tomas Anderson (Stillwater), Cade Chapman (Rogers), Jack Erickson (Hill-Murray), Myles Gunderson (Grand Rapids), Jack Hochsprung (Lakeville South), Jay Svaren (Eastview), Carter Wishart (Chaska)
Tag(s): Home Big Nine Big South Central Lakes Alexandria Fergus Falls Granite Ridge Little Falls St. Cloud Cathedral IMAC Blake Independents Gentry Academy Minneapolis Iron Range Lake Eden Prairie Edina Minnetonka Wayzata Lake Superior Grand Rapids Hermantown Mariucci East Grand Forks Moorhead Roseau Thief River Falls Warroad Metro East Hill-Murray Mahtomedi St. Thomas Academy Metro West Benilde-St. Margaret's Chanhassen Chaska Mid-State Mississippi 8 Chisago Lakes Northwest Northwest Suburban Andover Centennial Elk River/Zimmerman Maple Grove Rogers South Suburban Eastview Lakeville North Lakeville South Prior Lake Shakopee Southwest Suburban East Cretin-Derham Hall Stillwater White Bear Lake Two Rivers Wright County Delano Holy Family Orono