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By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub Editor, 02/19/13, 7:45AM CST


Section 6AA preview: Abundance of talented teams make every game a meat grinder

Benilde-St. Margaret's, the defending Class 2A champions, earned the top seed in the Section 6AA playoffs, while Eden Prairie, which won two years ago, is lurking in the fourth spot. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Benilde-St. Margaret's Grant Besse. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Minneapolis won 20 regular-season games and features the state’s second-leading scorer in senior Henry Christman.

How tough is Section 6AA?

For the Novas and Christman to win a single section playoff game, they would need to engineer one of the biggest upsets in state postseason history.

Hopkins plays in the state’s toughest conference, beat highly regarded Cloquet and pushed traditional state powerhouses Hermantown, Edina and Eden Prairie to the limit before losing exceedingly tight games. 

How tough is Section 6AA?

The Royals, a team that would likely reach the semifinals and beyond in most any other bracket, will be the heavy underdog when quarterfinal play begins on Thursday, Feb. 21.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s is the defending state Class 2A champion and the top seed, yet the Red Knights would have to halt a 14-year trend to reach the state tournament again this season.

How tough is Section 6AA?

No team has repeated as champion since Edina won four straight titles from 1995-98. 

Sections have been realigned several times over the years, and Edina now resides in Section 2AA. The current Section 6AA configuration, meanwhile, has produced three of the last four state champions.

The Section 6AA playoffs have been likened to a mini-state tournament, with the semifinals and championship drawing huge crowds for games with off-the-charts intensity and drama.

This year the entertainment promises to be of the highest quality yet again, only this time starting in the quarterfinals, where newcomer Holy Family Catholic, the No. 5 seed, squares off against No. 4 Eden Prairie.  Another quarterfinal worth watching is No. 6 Hopkins against No. 3 Wayzata.

No. 7 seed Minneapolis takes its shot at state history when it plays No. 2 Minnetonka, and No. 1 Benilde-St. Margaret’s awaits the winner of a Tuesday first-round game between No. 8 Robbinsdale Armstrong and No. 9 Robbinsdale Cooper.

The defending champion Red Knights (20-5-0) feature the state’s most explosive offense, led by the incomparable forward line of seniors Grant Besse (44-26—70), Dan Labosky (13-51—64) and T.J. Moore (17-2744). Junior Spencer Naas (31-27—58) gives the Benilde-St. Margaret’s yet another elite scorer and a potent second line. 

The Red Knights have had their ups and downs defensively, where Johnny Austin (4-22—26) and Patrick Graham (1-9—10) are mainstays along with Ben Newhouse (2-17—19) and Peter Heimbold (2-5—7).

Senior Andrew Sprang (16-5-0, 2.51, .904) has settled in nicely as Benilde-St. Margaret’s go-to goaltender despite being in just his first year with the program.

The Red Knights went 3-3-0 during a troubling midseason stretch but enter the playoffs riding an eight-game win streak.

Minnetonka's Max Coatta. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Minnetonka (18-6-1) dominated the brutally difficult Lake Conference, posting an 8-0-0 record.  The Skippers closed the regular season with an overtime loss to Blaine, but had won nine of 10 before suffering that setback.

Minnetonka senior defenseman Tommy Vannelli (8-23—31) is the Skippers’ third-leading scorer, a University of Minnesota recruit and a Mr. Hockey finalist. Senior forward Max Coatta (26-31—57) is Minnetonka’s all-time leading scorer, and linemate Connor Thie (10-25—35) is as tenacious as they come. Rugged senior Jimmy Schuldt (5-19—24), who has committed to St. Cloud State University, gives the Skippers’ another shutdown defenseman.

Senior Paul Ciaccio (10-5-1, 2.17, .903) and sophomore Jacob Berger (8-1-0, 1.92, .921) split time in goal during the second half of the season.

Wayzata (18-7-0) won 15 of its first 17 games and ascended all the way to No. 1 in the state rankings by midseason. The Trojans haven’t enjoyed that same success down the stretch, however, losing five of their final eight games to close the regular season.

The Trojans rely heavily on a shot-blocking, soundly positioned defense that rarely allows an uncontested shot through to standout senior goaltender Aaron Dingmann (14-6-0, 1.88, .923). Matthew Freytag (20-12—32), Max Zimmer (14-9—23) and Chase Haller (11-5—16) are the team’s only players with more than six goals.

Eden Prairie's Luc Snuggerud. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Eden Prairie's Luc Snuggerud. Photo by Brian Nelson

More was expected of Eden Prairie (12-12-1) this season, but that .500 record would be reduced to a distant memory if the Eagles, state champions in 2009 and 2011, were to reach the state tournament.

Eden Prairie’s 3-1 victory over arch rival Edina in the regular season finale should provide a boost entering the playoffs. 

Junior forward Steven Spinner (15-16—41) has committed to Nebraska-Omaha, as has junior defenseman Luc Snuggerud (5-33—38). Rugged junior defenseman Hunter Warner (3-7—10) gives Eden Prairie a third Division I recruit, as he has committed to Minnesota State-Mankato. 

Senior forwards Mason Bergh (21-17—38) and Andrew Knudsen (8-14—22) are holdovers from the Eagles’ 2011 state title team. Jake Gerdes (6-3-1, 2.34, .910) and Jake Kielly (6-9-0, 3.11, .888) have shared the goaltending duties.

Holy Family Catholic (18-7-0) won the Wright County Conference and now takes its second shot at the Class 2A playoffs since opting to move up from Class 1A before last season. The Fire were routed 7-0 by Benilde-St. Margaret's in the quarterfinals a year ago.

The Fire hope to benefit from an upgraded schedule that featured the likes of traditional Class 2A powerhouses Edina, Wayzata, Elk River, Maple Grove and Benilde-St. Margaret’s and also included Class 1A juggernauts St. Thomas Academy, Breck and Totino-Grace.

Sophomore Shane Gersich, a University of North Dakota recruit, led the Fire with 28 goals and 62 points. John Peterson (24-35—59) and Garrett Riebling (22-25—47) give Holy Family Catholic two more 20-plus goal scorers.

Ryan Swanson (8-26—34) and Dylan Woolf (7-21—28) anchor the defense, and Derrick LaCombe (11-7-0, 3.24, .898), who played at Eden Prairie last season, has shouldered the bulk of the goaltending duties.

Holy Family Catholic's Derrick LaCombe. Photo by Brian Nelson.

Hopkins (10-14-1) went winless in the Lake Conference again this season but appears to be a program on the upswing, as evidenced by its seven losses by two goals or fewer.

Junior Jim Coupols (14-9—23) is Royals’ lone double-digit goal scorer, and junior Sam Dalton (6-6-1, .294, .911) and sophomore Josh Kuehmichel (4-8-0, 2.74, .906) split time in goal.

Minneapolis (20-4-1) won the Two Rivers Conference with an 11-0-0 record and also captured the championship of the Schwan Cup Open Division during the holidays. The Novas had won 16 straight before closing the regular season with a 5-3 loss to Bloomington Kennedy. 

Christman, a senior, racked up 79 points (47 goals, 32 assists) to finish second behind Morris/Benson’s Tanner Picht (86 points) in the state scoring race.

Armstrong (4-18-3) beat rival Cooper 13-1 in the teams’ lone regular season meeting. Ben Hansen (12-10—22) is the team’s lone player with more than 10 goals or 20 points.

Cooper (4-21-0) closed a tough regular season on a high note, beating St. Louis Park 5-4 behind Hayden Gautsche’s three goals and Kelly Sandhofer’s 25 saves.

Hub Prediction

The Red Knights played every top teams in the section in the second half of the regular season -- and beat them all. Benilde-St. Margaret's also notched an impressive win over Shattuck-St. Mary's late in the regular season, more proof the Red Knights are fully tuned for the playoffs. Defensively there are still holes, but this is a team with so much firepower that it has the ability to outscore most every opponent.

Bracket Buster

Sophomore Shane Gersich has NHL scouts drooling over his potential, and the University of North Dakota recruit has the talent to singleyhandedly break open a game. If goaltender Derrick LaCombe gets hot, the Fire could post a couple of upsets before getting knocked out.

Past Champions

2012 – Benilde-St. Margaret's
2011 – Eden Prairie
2010 – Minnetonka
2009 – Eden Prairie
2008 – Benilde-St. Margaret's
2007 – Edina
2006 – Minnetonka
2005 – Bloomington Jefferson
2004 – Wayzata
2003 – Eden Prairie
2002 – Bloomington Jefferson
2001 – Eden Prairie
2000 – Edina
1999 – Eden Prairie
1998 – Edina
1997 – Edina
1996 – Edina
1995 – Edina
1994 – Minnetonka

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