The high school hockey season in Minnesota technically started last night when Albert Lea took on New Ulm, but it really gets started tonight with 36 different games across the state. So we'll continue our brief look at high school hockey in Minnesota with a quick look at each section in Class AA, which features the biggest high schools in Minnesota.
Section 1 mostly covers the southeastern part of the state, including Winona, Rochester, Owatonna, and Lakeville, with Worthington, in the southeast corner of the state, thrown in for lack of a better fit.
Lakeville North won this section last year, and I think they return a pretty decent team. The Rochester schools all look to be solid, but not spectacular. I really don't know too much about this section though.
This is the start of the big Twin Cities schools. This section features teams like Cretin-Derham Hall, Hastings, Woodbury, St. Paul Johnson, and Park(Cottage Grove).
Obviously Cretin is the defending state champion, and is starting the season as the top-ranked team in the state. Wisconsin recruit Ryan McDonagh has to be on the short list for the Mr. Hockey award. The Raiders also have Chris Hickey, though he may miss some time with a knee injury.
Nobody else should really be able to challenge them in this section. Hastings lost Jerad Stewart, who is now playing for Minnesota State, and recent Wisconsin commit Derek Stepan, who moved on to Shattuck.
More Twin Cities teams.
The big team here is Hill-Murray. The Pioneers lost a ton of talent after last season, but got a fresh new injection of talent, especially among their sophomore class and should be one of the best teams in the state.
Their rivals, White Bear Lake, should also be pretty good. Minnesota commit Jake Hansen should emerge as one of the better players in the state. There's some pretty good players in this section, including Roseville's Mike Dorr(UMD commit), and Stillwater's Tyler Kieffer(SCSU).
This section covers the north/northwest part of the Cities.
Blaine won this section last season, and should be a pretty good team again this year. Ben Lynch and Joe Baudette were two of the top scorers in the Elite League this year.
Armstrong is another team in this section that has a nice history of producing D-1 players, and should have another NCAA player in Cory Thorson, but I don't think they'll be able to knock off Blaine this year.
Sort of the southwest part of the Cities.
This section had last year's biggest upset when Apple Valley knocked off Holy Angels. But Apple Valley lost current Gopher David Fischer, Vermont commit Kyle Medvec, and goalie Matt Beggs. Holy Angels lost some good players, but also have a ton of good players returning, including Chase Polacek, Bryan Brutlag, and Jak Knelman. Holy Angels is as good as ever, and nobody else in the section looks to be as close to as talented as Apple Valley was last year.
This is the "cake-eater" section of the state, featuring Benilde-St. Margaret's, Edina, Eden Prarie, and Minnetonka.
This section also had a bit of upset last season when Minnetonka beat Bloomington Jefferson to earn a rare trip to the state tournament. I think there's a lot of great players in this section.
There's a lot of excellent players in this section. Edina's Joe Gleason was passed over for the NTDP, but is a great defenseman. Other underrated defenseman in this section are Minnetonka's Anthony Raiola, and Benilde's Chris Student. This section looks to be wide open this year.
This section covers from Duluth, all the way down to the west side of the Twin Cities.
This is by far the deepest section in the state. Grand Rapids finished runner-up in the state tournament last year, and this district also has powerhouses like Duluth East, and Elk River. Even teams like Cloquet and Brainerd look particularly strong this year.
Grand Rapid's Pat White and Cloquet's Tyler Johnson are two front-runners for Mr. Hockey.
Elk River should be a very strong team this year. They lost Brett Peterson to graduation, but return two great defenseman in Chris Slavik and Minnesota commit Brandon Martell, as well as a pretty good goalie. Brainerd is another sleeper team, led by two excellent juniors in defenseman Drew Olson, and Nebraska-Omaha commit Joe Frazer.
Any of these teams would be one of the best teams in a different section. I'll go ahead and guess that Elk River's defense leads them and they end up coming out of this section.
This district starts in St. Cloud, and covers the entire northwest part of the state.
This section is dominated by the two powerhouses of Moorhead and Roseau. Moorhead was runner-up in this section last year, and they are led by St. Cloud recruit Jordy Christian and defenseman Jeff Foss. Roseau is always one of the top teams in the state, and I think they'll come out ahead in this section again this year.
My picks to win each section:
1: Lakeville North
2: Cretin-Derham Hall
5: Holy Angels
7: Elk River