Grand Rapids could be the team to beat this year in 7AA. Photo credit: YHH.
The Minnesota boys' high school hockey season will soon be upon us, starting when Como Park and Dodge County hit the ice in Kasson on November 19.
With section realignment and select schools moving to AA, the coming season brings unfamiliar ground and some new beginnings for several teams. Section play will bring conference opponents together that were forever apart, such as Wayzata and Edina. It will break up rivalries and build new ones. For example, Cretin-Derham Hall moves West to Section 6 and Bloomington Jefferson East to Section 3.
Duluth Marshall has made the switch to Class AA making their route to the Xcel Energy Center a tough one, with perennial power Duluth East standing in the way. Bemidji could be a team to watch, as they return several players to a team that came just minutes away from beating Edina last year at State. And the quality of hockey in Southwestern Minnesota should continue to be strong, with Luvurne and New Ulm again expected to be championship contenders.
While the entire boys’ high school hockey season will be entertaining and drama-filled as always, following are 10 games that every Minnesota hockey fan should keep on their radar.
Grand Rapids vs. Bemidji - November 24
At the youth level, these two towns, separated by an hour’s drive, play every year. By the time they reach high school, this game can get intense, especially when both teams are really good. Grand Rapids and Bemidji faced each other during their Summer Training in a penalty-filled game. Safe to say, the rematch in November should be hotly contested.
Hermantown vs. Wayzata - November 27
The Trojans will face Hermantown with one of their best teams in years and with eyes on a trip to State. They take on the Hawks, who expect to go each year. This is a classic North-South battle to open the season and could be a good indicator of what we can expect to see in March.
Luverne vs. St. Paul Academy - November 28
Last year, SPA hosted the Cardinals at Drake Arena on the SPA campus. Sophomore Will Kelly stole the show, scoring two goals for the Spartans as they won 5-2. It was a matchup of two teams that fell in the Section Finals. Both teams return the heart of their scoring punch and will enter the season with optimism. This year's tilt should be a classic in front of a packed barn in Luverne.
Luverne's Jaxon Nelson scores at this summer's University of Minnesota Model Camp. Photo credit: YHH.
Eden Prairie vs. Prior Lake - November 28
Eden Prairie and Prior Lake is another matchup of teams that know each other well from previous battles from Mites to Bantams. To add intrigue to this game, both are now in the same section (2AA) and are highly ranked heading into the season. Last year Nick Leivermann had two goals to lead the State-bound Eagles to a 3-1 win. This year's game has serious section seeding implications that point to mid-February.
Mankato West vs. Mankato East - December 1
For the past few years, New Prague had dominated Section 1A. As a result of realignment, the Trojans were sent to Twin Cities power Section 2A. This leaves Section 1A wide open for teams like Albert Lea, Red Wing and the Mankatos (East and West). On December 1st, East and West clash for city bragging rights and likely a high seed in the Section playoffs come February. Kyle Looft returns for the Scarlets, after posting 36 points (11 goals, 25 assists) last season. Judd Schultz, who had 66 points in his junior season, is back for the Cougars.
Benilde St. Margaret's vs. Hill-Murray - December 3
Two Catholic powers from the opposite sides of the Mississippi will face off in non-conference play. Both teams return a lot of young talent including NOW Prospect Marko Reifenberger. The Hill-Murray junior was selected in the first round by Bloomington, (Ill.) of the United States Hockey League. The Scarlet Knights have a junior superstar of their own in University of Connecticut commit Conor Mayer. Teams of this caliber lose great talent each year (e.g. Mikey Anderson, Hill-Murray, to the USHL), but always seem to reload.
Benilde-St. Margaret's is once again loaded with talent. Photo credit: YHH.
Holy Family vs. Minnetonka - December 4
Both schools were moved from Section 6AA to 2AA during realignment last Spring. With Eden Prairie looking like the section’s early favorite, December's battle between Holy Family and Minnetonka projects to be for a No. 2, 3 or 4 seed. Holy Family returns Will Garin (UCONN commit), NOW Prospect Matt Anderson (University of Minnesota-Duluth commit) and a lineup that is really deep with young talent. Minnetonka only lost a handful of players from a team that was defeated in overtime by Eden Prairie with a trip to State on the line. The Skippers have a deep team as well, and will lean on upperclassmen Brendan Skarda and Zach Van Sant for production.
Alexandria vs. St. Cloud Apollo - December 8
Apollo is the defending Section 6A Champion and returns top scorers Tanner Breidenbach and Gino Lucia. Alexandria has a great youth program and will likely end up in the top half of 6A again this year. Last season the Cardinals went 21-3-1 in the regular season before falling to Apollo on their home ice to end their season. This is a classic Central Minnesota matchup that will likely have a lot of post-season implications.
Farmington's Grady Hauswirth (foreground, in orange) scores for the Tigers in a Summer scrimmage. Photo credit: YHH.
Lakeville North vs. Farmington - December 10
These bitter rivals have faced each other in the Section 1AA title game the past two seasons with North winning both times in convincing fashion. Farmington features scorers John Siebenaler and Grady Hauswirth up front and talented defenseman Tyler Jette, one of few returnees on the blue line. The Panthers have high-scoring juniors Ryan Poehling (St. Cloud State commit) and Henry Enebak up front.
Delano vs. St. Cloud Cathedral - December 11
Last year, both teams came a goal away from State. Both return a lot of talent and will be hungry to take the next step. Both Logan Neu (St. Cloud, 36 points) and Ben Meyers led their teams last year as juniors and should be standouts in this game.