Longtime rivals Hill-Murray and White Bear Lake could again be on a collision course for a highly charged section playoff showdown. Photo by Adam Crane
Hill-Murray scoring leader Jake Guentzel, left, and White Bear Lake standout defenseman Lance Carney both are among the best in the state at their positions. Photo by Adam Crane
A game for the ages, the outcome will not be forgotten. Especially by the Pioneers.
Seeded first in the section again this winter, Hill-Murray (19-6-0) is set on revenge, looking for payback against No. 2-seeded White Bear Lake (14-10-1).
The Pioneers are once again the favorite to take the 4AA crown, an accomplishment that would send them to the Xcel Energy Center for the fifth time in six years.
Led by junior Jake Guentzel, (21-46-67) Hill-Murray is a talented and lightning-quick squad that isn’t afraid to punish other teams physically. Guentzel passes with ease, often setting up teammates Zach LaValle (25-31-56) and senior Charlie Sampair (27-16-43), a Mr. Hockey finalist, for goals. The three produce as well as any other trio in Minnesota, and will be difficult to contain.
On the physical side, junior defenseman Blake Heinrich is one of the hardest hitters in state. He takes players off the puck with bruising but clean checks that make crowds cheer and remind opposing players to keep their heads up and pass quickly.
Goal celebrations never get old for North St. Paul, which has one of the state's most potent offenses. Photo by Tim Kolehmainen
Meanwhile, White Bear Lake has an interesting matchup in the quarterfinals against No. 7 St. Paul Johnson (13-11-1).
The Governors feature senior Jay Dickman, a big man with serious skills as a forward. Listed at 6-foot-5 and 228 pounds, he is an intimidating force who has racked up 61 points this season (42 goals, 19 assists).
Bears’ senior Mitch Morrisette (20-27-47) and freshman Jake Wahlin (14-30-44) headline the Suburban East Conference champions. State tournament veteran goaltender Jared Schletty has had a nice season, going 10-7-1 and allowing 2.55 goals against per game. White Bear Lake had a strong finish to the season, winning convincingly over section foes Mounds View, and Stillwater.
Roseville relies on stellar goaltending from junior Zach Larson (7-6-2), who has a 2.07 goals against average, and saves 92 percent of shots. Both numbers are tops in the section.
North St. Paul (15-10-0) has nearly twice the scoring numbers of the Raiders. Polars’ senior George Splichal (32-25-57) and sophomores Tyler Oliver (16-40-56) and Justin Oliver (22-30-52) have combined for more points than the entire Roseville team. The game should be a classic goaltending versus goal scoring matchup.
Mounds View (14-10-1) and Stillwater (12-11-2) finished neck-and-neck in the Suburban East Conference. Stillwater edged the Mustangs for third place, but Mounds View won both meetings between the teams during the regular season, earning the Mustangs the fourth seed.
No. 8 Tartan (9-15-1) and No. 9 St. Paul Como Park (6-16-0) will battle for the right to take on Hill-Murray in the first round of the playoffs. Tartan, led by Jake Jackson (24-19-43) and Eric Olheiser (8-23-31) know how to score. The Cougars’ Josh Powers (15-12-27) and Sawyer Scanlon (17-8-25) look to take down the Titans.
Barring another magical performance from White Bear Lake, Hill-Murray looks set to make it through Section 4AA. The Pioneers are fresh off a big win over now No. 10-ranked Moorhead, and are simply too talented not to take a trip to the X this season.
|North St. Paul||15-10-0|
The Polars can score and then score and then score some more. With their offensive potential, they could wreak havoc in the quarterfinals and semifinals leaning on George Splichal and the Oliver twins. If its big three show up, look for North St. Paul to make it to the Section 4AA finals.
2011 – White Bear Lake
2010 – Hill-Murray
2009 – Hill-Murray
2008 – Hill-Murray
2007 – Blaine
2006 – Blaine
2005 – Elk River
2004 – Elk River
2003 – Anoka
2002 – Elk River
2001 – Elk River
2000 – Blaine
1999 – Blaine
1998 – Anoka
1997 – Anoka
1996 – Blaine
1995 – Champlin Park
1994 – Osseo