Sophomore Jake Guetzel had a eight-point performance (one goal, seven assists) last week in a 17-2 win over Henry Sibley. Photo by Helen Nelson
Step right up, step right up.
Hill-Murray, it’s your turn to give the state’s No. 1 ranking a whirl.
In a season that has been wildly unpredictable and marvelously competitive, no clear frontrunner has been established in Class 2A.
Far from it.
Eden Prairie, Wayzata and Edina each have taken their turn at holding down the No. 1 ranking, but all three teams have suffered unexpected losses. Duluth East climbed as high as No. 2 last week but lost some of its momentum with a setback to Apple Valley.
And now, we present you with Hill-Murray.
Hill-Murray has scored a combined 38 goals in its last four games. Photo by Helen Nelson
The Pioneers are 12-3-1, have won five straight and have lost just once in their last 13 games. That loss was a 2-1 thriller against Eden Prairie on Thursday, Jan. 6 at Aldrich Arena.
While Hill-Murray doesn’t hold head-to-head bragging rights over the Eagles, if you play the comparative scores game the Pioneers are certainly the hotter team. Hill-Murray was dominant in a 6-1 dismantling of Holy Angels on Tuesday, Jan. 18 at the Stars’ home rink in Richfield.
Two nights later, Holy Angels traveled to the Eden Prairie Community Center and beat the host Eagles 5-3.
What does it all mean?
Not much. The games that really matter are still three weeks away. The rankings might be turned upside down several times before the playoffs begin. That’s all part of the fun.
In Class 2A, St. Thomas Academy’s come-from-behind win over two-time defending small school champion Breck vaulted the Cadets’ back into the No. 1 spot. Hermantown, which had climbed into the top spot, suffered its first loss of the season in a big way when it traveled to Bemidji and fell by a 6-2 score.
Of all the state's top Class 2A teams, Hill-Murray might be the only one with no noticable weaknesses. Unless you count the Pioneers' Classic Suburban Conference schedule, which can't compete in overall strength with the rugged Lake and South Suburban conferences.
The Trojans have bounced all around the top 10 in recent weeks thanks to a couple of surprising losses to Moorhead, but they are off to a solid start in Lake Conference play. Nonconference game against No. 8 Burnsville on Tuesday does not offer much of a "breather" from lineup of conference foes.
The Eagles have outshot each of their last three opponents by significant margins, yet have two losses and a tie in that stretch. Senior Kyle Rau has team-best 19 goals and is one of the few Eden Prairie stars who hasn't missed a game or two or more because of injuries.
The Red Knights have been steamrolling through North Suburban Conference opponents, which is their norm at this point of the season. But 9-2 win over Totino-Grace (ranked No. 5 in Class 2A) was surprisingly lopsided. Two quality nonconference opponents await this week in Osseo and Holy Angels.
Just when it seemed like the Greyounds were poised to climb all the way to No. 1 in the rankings, they move backwards with a loss to unranked Apple Valley. Trevor Olson, Jake Randolph and Dom Toninato have combined for 43 of team's 84 goals.
Overtime loss to Wayzata last week simply extended the Hornets' season-long trend of tight games against quality opponents. More of a surprise was 4-1 loss to Minnetonka. That outcome was the first this season in which Edina lost by more than a goal.
Here come the Skippers! Minnetonka has won six straight and has lost just once in its last 10 outings. Junior forward Sam Rothstein is having an outstanding season as two-way force -- he is tied for fourth on the team with 19 points and is the plus/minus leader with plus-21.
Speedy senior Mike Dockry quietly putting up huge numbers (20 goals, 22 assists) for the Blaze, who have lost just once in their last nine games. Last week's victory over Eagan puts Burnsville solidly in first place in the South Suburban Conference standings, four points ahead of second place Bloomington Jefferson.
The Crimson are in the midst of a six-game winning streak, and three of those victories have been by shutout. Senior Ryan Coyne has allowed just three goals in his last three complete games and is coming off a 5-0 shutout of Andover in which he was required to make just nine saves.
The Wildcats have five losses, but three of them were to top 10-ranked teams (Edina, Minnetonka, and Burnsville). Only one of Eagan's losses was by more than a goal. Nick Kuchera has team-best 23 assists, and Will Merchant is goal-scoring leader with 21.
Honorable mention: Bemidji, Apple Valley, Moorhead, White Bear Lake
The Cadets took a while to take charge in their long-awaited showdown with Breck, but the come-from-behind win over the two-time defending state Class 2A champion Mustangs vaults STA past Hermantown and back into No. 1 in the rankings.
Hermantown was the last of the state's unbeaten teams before suffering a 6-2 setback at Bemidji on Saturday, Jan. 22. Games this week against solid Class 2A teams Proctor and New Prague will give the Hawks a chance to regain their swagger -- and perhaps the No. 1 ranking should St. Thomas Academy stumble.
As a member of the Tri-Metro Conference, Breck isn't presented with the toughest of schedules. But the Mustangs are in the midst of a brutal three-game stretch that, after their loss to No. 1 St. Thomas Academy, is followed by road games this week against No. 5 Totino-Grace and No. 4 Blake.
Aside from their 5-3 loss to Minnetonka on Jan. 14, the Bears have allowed just two goals in their last five games dating back to a 6-0 shutout of Minnehaha Academy on Jan. 8. Senior Ryan Bullock (7 goals, 15 assists) is defenseman geared toward creating offense, but he also has the ability to break opposing forechecks by simply skating the puck out of the Bears' zone.
The Eagles can quickly wash away the taste of their 9-2 loss to Benilde-St. Margaret's last week by winning their big Tuesday night showdown with No. 3 Breck. North Suburban rival Spring Lake Park and defending state Class 2A champion Edina also await this week.
The Packers are methodically working their way up the rankings during what has been a surprisingly successful season. South St. Paul lost 3-2 in overtime to Prior Lake last week, but it was a "quality" loss considering the Lakers are a fast-rising Class 2A team that beat Bloomington Jefferson 4-2 two nights later.
The Blue Jackets have lost three of their last four, inlcuding a 2-0 setback to Grand Rapids that might have finally revealed a way to neutralize Hibbing's high scoring duo of Nick DeCenzo (16 goals, 42 assists) and Adam Johnson (30 goals, 28 assists).
The Warriors have been alternating win streaks with losing streaks all season, and they currently are on a two-game slide after last week's setbacks to Thief River Falls (2-1) and Moorhead (4-1). The Warriors don't have a lot of offensive firepower beyond David Nelson (14 goals) and Nick Stoskopf (10 goals).
The Prowlers have lost just one of their last eight games and, coming off their overtime win over Section 8A rival Warroad, are poised to make a surge up the rankings. Thief River Falls' next three games are of the rugged variety as they play East Grand Forks, Duluth Central and Duluth Marshall.
Surprising loss at home to International Falls last week drops the Blue Devils in the rankings. Six of Virginia's last seven games have been decided by two or fewer goals. Senior forward Garrett Hendrickson has scored 23 of the team's 82 goals.
Honorable mention: Little Falls, Duluth Marshall, Rochester Lourdes