Travis Wood, No. 6, and Hill-Murray got past Michael Helmer and Minnetonka to win the Schwan Cup Gold Division title. Photo by Helen Nelson
Full disclosure: When the Star Tribune staff puts together features previewing winter sports, there are basic pieces of information – top returning players, previous state tournament appearances, competition outside of high school – that help shape what we think will happen.
That said, now that we're several weeks into the winter action, and through some challenging holiday tournaments that featured some great matchups, it's time to take another quick look at some of the top winter sports to see how some teams stack up heading into the bulk of conference play and eventually the postseason.
Fresh off its Gold Division championship in last week's Schwan Cup, Hill-Murray has emerged as a clear team to watch as the boys' hockey season presses forward. And the challenges keep on coming.
The Pioneers have shaken off a 1-2 start to the season to enter Thursday's home matchup with No. 1 Eden Prairie at 7-2-1.
The power of three speedy lines and a crash-the-net style of play have helped Hill-Murray along.
"Throw the puck hard and low and you'll get some rebounds," coach Bill Lechner said. "That's how they like to score goals. The pucks [have been] lying there, and those guys finished it up."
The Pioneers last week won their three Schwan Cup games in contrasting ways: an 8-0 blowout over Breck, in a shootout over Edina and in come-from-behind fashion for the championship over Minnetonka.
"We're getting there," said sophomore Zach LaValle, who had five goals in the tournament. "We're where we want to be right now, I guess, but we have a long way to go until March."
Wayzata, on the other hand, finds itself in regroup mode to open 2011. The Trojans lost back-to-back games last week for the first time in nearly two years. The once top team in Class 2A with the firepower of Mario Lucia and Tony Cameranesi (58 combined points already) now has some serious ground to make up despite victories over Centennial, Duluth East and Edina to open the season.