Monday, November 19, 2007

MN High School Preview: Class A

The Minnesota State High School League re-configured all of the sections for hockey this year. Here is a helpful map of which schools are in which section.

For my preview, I'll go through section by section and give some thoughts, as well as some predictions, starting today with Class A, which is for the smaller schools in the state.

Section 1

With the redrawing of the sections, this became an incredibly interesting section. Red Wing and Rochester Lourdes are two programs that have been traditionally strong, but over recent years, hasn't been able to beat St. Thomas Academy. New Prague and Faribault were both fairly strong last year, but couldn't get past Orono. Those four teams no longer have to worry about those schools now, but do have to worry about Albert Lea and Mankato West, who were two of the strongest teams in the old Section 1.

Albert Lea made it to the state tournament last year and seems to have an unending supply of fast, strong skaters. Mankato West should have the section's most dangerous line in Corey Leivermann, Ricky Litchfield, and Ryan Anderson, but will need great goaltending from junior Tyler Bruggeman. Junior Tyler Lapic and freshman Seth Ambroz should give New Prague a talented scoring combo. Faribault returns some talented players, but lost superstar Seth Helgeson to the USHL.

Albert Lea and Red Wing are probably the favorites, but I'll go out on a limb and pick Mankato West to avenge last year's upset and finally earn their trip to St. Paul.

Section 2

This group is highlighted by the intense rivalry of Blake and Breck. Also in this section is Orono, who has made it to the state tournament the past couple of years. Orono is a scrappy team, but I think that without goalie Taylor Peterson, who graduated last spring, that tournament streak will end. Blake pulled off a couple upsets to make last year's state tournament, but I think their run will also end. Breck has some exciting young players in Joey Rehkamp, Riley Borer, and Tyson Fulton, and are my pick to make it to states.

Section 3

Blech. I would take the third seed in any other section in the state over any team from this section. The old Section 1 was a comparatively weak section to the rest of the state, but usually, at least the team that came out of it was respectable. The same can't be said here.

Still, as much as it pains me, I have to pick New Ulm to win the section. They do have two junior defenseman that are worth keeping an eye on in Cody Kohn and Beau Burgau.

Section 4

St. Thomas Academy has to be the heavy favorite in this section. They lost some very key players in goalie Aaron Crandall and forward Nick Larson to the USHL, but also return some good talent and are a very well-coached team. Ryan Walters will be back from a pre-season USHL stint and should score a lot of points.

St. Thomas should receive some competition from Totino-Grace, who has been rebuilding the past two years, but look ready to compete at a high level again. The Eagles are led by two big power forwards in Nick Nagel and Dan DeLisle. Mahtomedi had a great regular season last year, but was upset in their section playoffs.

Section 5

This section features the defending state champion Hermantown Hawks. The Hawks lost a lot of talent off of last year's team, including starting goalie Nate Hardy, top defenseman Chad Huttel, and top scorer Drew Leblanc, who is spending his senior year in the USHL, but Hermantown is such a strong program that they should be able to reload with a fresh set of talent and win the section.

There are some very talented individual players in this section including Duluth Denfield's Jake Johnson and St. Cloud Cathedral's Nate Schmidt, but I don't think any team will have the depth to upset the Hawks.

Section 6

Over the past three years, this part of the state has belonged to Little Falls, and the departure of Jared Festler to the USHL shouldn't stop that from happening again. The Flyers return a great team with some very talented players including the Hanowski brothers, forward Ben Nelson, and defenseman Izaak Berglund.

Potential threats for Little Falls include Alexandria, who could be extremely dangerous, especially if goalie Matt Hemingway gets hot in net, Fergus Falls, who have given the Flyers some trouble over the past few years, and St. Cloud Apollo, who is playing in Class A for the first time. The Apollo program, which has produced players like Kurt Sauer, Chris Harrington, Mike Howe, and Matt Hartman has fallen on hard times recently and was struggling to compete in Class AA.

Section 7

Technically this is the Iron Range section, but the new sections bring Class A powerhouse Duluth Marshall into this section, and the Hilltoppers should be the best team out of this section.

This section was hit by departures to the USHL, with goalie Brady Hjelle leaving International Falls and Nico Sacchetti leaving Virginia. I-Falls Jake Youso and Hibbing's Anthony DeCenzo are noteworthy players, but it's unlikely anybody will be able to keep up with Marshall's depth.

Section 8

Bemidji joins this section as the latest team to stop playing up in Class AA; a sad sign for those that remember the glory days of hockey in northwest Minnesota.

Warroad is the favorite in this section every year, if only on name alone. They've got a star in Bryce Ravndalen that should score a lot of points for them. I could see Zach Lehrke and his Park Rapids team giving Warroad a run for their money, but I think Warroad will return to the state tournament.