Tuesday, November 20, 2007

MN High School Preview: Class AA

Here's my preview of Class AA. You can view a map of all the schools in Class AA here.

Section 1

Last year, Rochester Century came out of this section, and surprised everyone by upsetting Hill-Murray in the first round of the state tournament, and then coming back to beat Burnsville in the third place game to finish third at the state tournament.

It’s unlikely that the Panthers will have another magical run though. They lost perhaps the best duo in school history in forwards Garrett Grimstad and Joe Knoepke, and forward Ryan Knutson, who looked like he would play a starring role for the Panthers this year, is playing Midget AAA hockey for the Russell Stover program in Kansas.

Lakeville North usually has a pretty strong team, and I wouldn’t be surprised if their success continues and they won this section this year.

Section 2

This should be the most competitive section in the state. It features some great programs, including Edina, who is widely regarded as the best metro-area team, and Holy Angels, who has had some great teams over the past few years, and sent nearly 30 players on to play Division I hockey. Burnsville is also in this section, and has proven themselves capable of pulling off the big upset when they defeated Holy Angels in last year’s section final.

Chaska was the only team in the state to lose a player to the National Development Program this year when Nick Mattson moved on to Ann Arbor. It may seem weird for many old-time high school hockey fans that Bloomington Jefferson isn’t mentioned much, but the Jaguar program has fallen on hard times recently and probably won’t be able to compete with powerhouses like Edina and Holy Angels.

It’s hard to imagine Holy Angels going three straight years without making the state tournament given the talent they’ve had, but I think Edina will just be too good this year.

Section 3

Cretin-Derham Hall is the perennial favorite out of this section, though they were upset by Woodbury last season. There seems to be a fair amount of hype surrounding Rosemount’s team heading into the season, and Eastview should be competitive with two future D-I players on their roster in Corey Fienhage(North Dakota) and Rob Maloney(Providence). But I’ll pick the Raiders to avoid the upset.

Section 4

This section features the classic Hill-Murray/White Bear Lake rivalry, and thanks to the re-sectioning of the state, Centennial is no longer in this section to compete.
If the Bears had Jake Hansen and Taylor Johnson for their senior years this year, I’d be tempted to pick the Bears, but now, I think Hill-Murray has too much raw talent for anybody in the section.

Section 5

Blaine has dominated this group over the past few years, but Centennial, which usually boasts one of the strongest youth programs in the state, is now in this section, and should provide some stiff competition for the Bengals. This section boasts a number of talented 11th graders, including Centennial’s Tyler Pitlick and Dustin Lovick, Rogers’ Nick Jensen, and Maple Grove’s Tom Malone and Josh Gross.

It’s hard to pick against Blaine, but I think the group from Centennial that won youth hockey state championships will finally make some noise on the high school level and win the section.

Section 6

This section is noteworthy for some of the talented defenseman playing in the section, specifically Minnetonka’s Jake Gardiner and Anthony Raiola, and Eden Prairie’s Alec Rush and Nick Leddy. Armstrong is also usually fairly strong, and Cory Thorson could have a big year as a senior. I think Minnetonka will come out of this section.

This isn’t the strongest section this year, but in a few years, I expect this to be one of the toughest sections in the state. There are a lot of families with young, hockey-playing kids moving into the southwestern suburbs, and it’s only a matter of time before those numbers translate into hockey success.

Section 7

This is usually one of the deepest, and most exciting sections in the state, and this year will probably be no exception. The teams in this section don’t seem to be as strong as last year, but it the section semifinals and finals in Duluth should still be great games.

Grand Rapids has come out of this section the past two years and advanced to the state championship game. Their run of success looks like it will end this year though. The Thunderhawks lost their two best players, who are now playing college hockey in Pat White and Joe Stejskal. They also lost starting goalie Reidar Jensen, who was fabulous in the state tournament last year. Grand Rapids really struggled in the first half of last year while White was hampered by an injury, and I think they’ll really struggle without him this year.

Cloquet-Esko-Carleton usually has a pretty good team. They lost star Tyler Johnson and the state’s best goalie in Reid Ellingson, but return one of the best power forwards in the state in Justin Jokinen. Anoka should have a strong team too, with seniors John O’Neill and Cory Belisle both scored over 20 goals last year.

The best team in this section should be Duluth East. After a couple quiet years, the Greyhounds should be back as one of the tougher teams in the state, led by Minnesota-Duluth recruit Max Tardy.

Section 8

This section has pretty much belonged to Roseau and Moorhead over the years, and it’s unlikely that that will change this year. Brainerd moves into this section, and will have the potential to upset one of the two powerhouses. This could be one of Brainerd’s better teams with two exceptional seniors in Joey Frazer and Drew Olson.

In the end though, this year will likely be all about Roseau. The Rams are the defending state champions, and return most of the talent off of that team, including the state’s best player in Aaron Ness, and one of the best goalies in Mike Lee.

The only potential pitfall for the Rams should be the pressure that will be on them this year. The Hockey News will be following the Rams on a weekly basis, scouts from the NHL and NCAA should be attendance at most of their games, and since they are defending a championship and favored to win it again, even more attention than usual will be placed on them in the tiny town with little else besides hockey.