Sunday, September 30, 2012

Preseason Top 20

It's that time of year again, High School Hockey is just around the corner. Last season was full of surprises and this season will be another with many great players moving on to forgo their high school playing days to play junior hockey. These are my preseason top 20 teams in both Class A and Class AA, along with a few teams looking in on the top 20.

Class AA
1. Benilde St. Margaret's- It's hard to argue putting the Red Knights at #1 for the preseason rankings. Not because they are the defending champions in AA, but with what they have coming back. Benilde returns scoring phenom Grant Besse, Colorado College commit Dan Labosky, another possible D1 player in T.J. Moore, and a pretty solid supporting cast. I predict them to hover in the top 3 for a good majority of the season.
2. Eden Prairie- Minus the loss to Armstrong in Section 6AA last season, the Eagles were impressive with the youth that they had on their roster. With a year of varsity experience under their belts, they should be a much improved Eden Prairie team that will be a tough team to beat.
3. Edina- This year's Edina team reminds me of the 2010 State Championship team. A very solid group of players who aren't expected to be great, but will put up a fight. They lose Louie Nanne and Walker, but neither is a crippling loss, although both are an asset to the team. With players like Walsh, Hurley (from my understanding), and Malmquist returning, they should piece together a good season.
4. Minnetonka- Perhaps a bit high right now, but I suspect these next few teams to rotate all season long. Lettieri leaving is a loss, but the Skippers return Coatta, Ramsey, and Vannelli, along with a solid core of capable players. I don't expect them to go through the season with ease, but they will be a tough team to play against.
5. Duluth East- They Greyhounds lost a lot from their 2011-2012 team, and I mean a LOT. Last year's favorite at the tournament lost the majority of their scoring, but Randolph's teams always play tough. They will have a much deeper section this year to face-off against, but they are probably the favorite as of now.
6. Hill-Murray- Losing a couple of the state's top prospects is a tough pill to swallow, but Lechner is great at getting his players to buy into his system. The Pioneers are a team that always moves the puck great, and despite who's on their roster they are a tough team to face. This season I expect depth to get them through, and someone will need to step up to fill the shoes of Guentzel and Heinrich.
7. Grand Rapids- Rapids has been just outside making the tournament the last few seasons. Nothing spectacular, but solid squads they've had, and with Bischoff returning he will lead their defensive core. 7AA will be very tight this year but the Thunderhawks could definitely make some noise.
8. Burnsville- The Blaze have had a tough go of it trying to get out of 2AA the last couple seasons losing to Edina in the Section Finals. If Sheehy returns he will be the go-to guy on this squad and I expect them to bounce around among the top 10 for most of the season.
9. Moorhead- Goaltending. That is the big question for this season for the Spuds with Bitzer graduating. Moorhead has done a great job of finding success with teams who don't have a real superstar up front. They will probably bounce around a bit but should be in contention in 8AA for another trip to the X.
10. Blaine- Perhaps a bit high after the exrutiating loss in the 5AA finals last season, Blaine returns much of their team for 2012-2013. Leading goal scorer Tyler Cline will lead the way, with a large number of juniors returning with a year of experience under their belts now. Goaltending could be a question, but I expect them to compete better than last season.
11. Eagan- A handful of D1 players graduated, but the Wildcats should still be the favorite for 3AA. They return about half of last year's roster who made it to the State Tournament for the second consecutive year, and could very well be back again in 2013.
12. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton- I'm not sure what the deal is with Kuhlman, but if he returns they will have a nice looking team. They've had some decent teams the last few years, nothing spectacular, but could be improved this season and play with some of the big dogs.
13. Maple Grove- Coming off their first ever state tournament, the Crimson have a legitimate shot to make a return to the X. Although they lost A LOT of of last year's team, they return some players with varsity experience, and players from a quality JV squad last year.
14. Andover- The Huskies surprised a lot of people with their impressive season last year, playing in their first Section Championship game. That won't be the case this year. Although they lost some good players to graduation, I think Andover will be a team others don't take lightly this year. If Chase Perry can get some help in the D-Zone I think they will have another good year. I would put them higher, but I see them relying heavily on Perry and they will have a very competitive section.
15. Wayzata- If there weren't private schools, Wayzata would be a powerhouse. Unfortunately for them there are, and many of their best players choose to attend them. I don't see them contending for 6AA, but they could give some of the top teams some good games this season.
16. Elk River- Always an entertaining team to watch, the Elks are a gritty team who always play the top teams tough. They will have a tough time with 7AA, but could definitely be a top 3 seed.
17. Centennial- From last year's roster, 8 skaters and a goalie returns. Although the Cougars haven't been able to make the tournament since 2004, they have had good teams and are always in the talk for 5AA. With a down year in the section, they could have a shot in 2013.
18. Holy Family- Still a fairly new team, and only their second season as a AA school, but Holy Family is a team that seems to be on the rise. With Sophomore Shane Gersich, I think that will draw in more quality players, although it may be a few years before they are a serious contender. I think this is a team that will continue to rise in the next few years, but for this year will probably just be "pretty good".
19. Lakeville South- The cougars lost Mr. Hockey Justin Kloos, along with a solid core of seniors, and current Senior John Witaala to juniors. However, LS returns 11 skaters and a goalie from last year's roster. 1AA isn't particularly strong, so they could see a return to the X in 2013.
20. Roseau- The Rams had a good run for a few years in the tournament, but has been upended by Moorhead the last couple of seasons. I'm not sure how they will match up with the Spuds this season, but could linger around the bottom half of the top 20 this season.

Looking in: Prior Lake, Stillwater, White Bear Lake, Bloomington Jefferson, Holy Angels

Class A
1. St. Thomas Academy- With 9 players in the Elite league, and coming off their second consecutive State Championship, the Cadets are the obvious choice for the preseason #1. I like everyone else, would love to see them move up to AA. If Holy Family can do it, so can STA. They will be the likely favorite for a good portion of the season unless someone can knock them off the throne.
2. Breck- A regular at the tournament the past few years, Breck returns a good group of players from last year's third-place team. With Blake losing two of their top players, the Mustangs will be the favorite in 2A.
3. Hermantown- The Hawks lost a couple of great players in Thomas and Kolquist to graduation, but should return a solid team coming back. Although I think St. Cloud Cathedral will challenge them for this year's 5A title, I think Hermantown will be the favorite to start the season.
4. Duluth Marshall- The Hilltoppers made their return to the X last season after three seasons missing the tournament. They return half of their roster from last season, although they lost goal scorer Judd Peterson to graduation. DM will have to get by Adam Johnson and Hibbing to return to the Tourney this season.
5. Hibbing/Chisolm- With Adam Johnson returning for his senior season, the Bluejackets outlook is good. Just two seasons ago Johnson almost led his team to the State Championship, but just fell short to Hermantown. Although Duluth Marshall is the reigning champion of 7A, the Bluejackets have a good shot at taking them down this season.
6. Totino-Grace- The Eagles lost almost nothing from last year's team, and I don't think they have what it takes to get by STA, but they will be a top team all season long in Class A. I would love to see them come out of 4A and make the Tourney this year, but I think STA just has too much talent.
7. St. Cloud Cathedral- The Crusaders return a solid roster, led by junior Austin Poganski. It's been a few years since they've made it out of 5A, but this year could be their year.
8. Thief River Falls- A team that just fell short of the state championship game last season, the Prowlers return roughly half of their roster. With what used to be a section dominated by Warroad, Thief River Falls has taken over.
9. Rochester Lourdes- Lourdes lost about half of their roster to graduation, however, they aren't challenged a whole lot in 1A. They have a few tough games on their schedule so we'll see how they match up against some good teams, but  they look to win their 4th consecutive 1A title.
10. Blake- Lost eight skaters off of the 2011-2012 roster, including promising talents Spencer Naas and Johnny Austin to BSM, but the Bears return a quality team that should be a top 2-3 team in 2A. Breck will be tough to beat, but Blake could put up a fight to get to the X.
11. Little Falls- The 2012 Champions of 6A return nearly their whole roster for this season. I don't know how well they will be able to compete with the top teams, but they should be the early favorite in 6A.
12. East Grand Forks- The Green Wave returns a good majority of their roster from last season's team who spent the season in the top 20 rankings. They have a good shot at 8A, but will have to beat a solid TRF squad to do so.
13. Delano/Rockford- The Tigers lost a good chunk of their roster including leading scorer Dillon McClain, but have been on the rise the last few years playing with some of the top teams in Class A.
14. Rogers- Lost about half of their roster, but the move to Class A a few seasons back definitely has helped improve their program's chances to get to the Tourney. I don't see them getting out of 5A but they should put together a good season.
15. Warroad- It's been a few seasons since the Warriors have made it to the Tourney, but this year they could make a return. They bring back roughly half their roster, but will have to get by Thief River Falls to win 8A.
16. Mahtomedi- Lost their top 5 point scorers from last season but return a decent amount of players with playing experience from last season. Should piece together a decent season but will have a tough time getting by STA in 4A.
17. Orono- Only lost 3 players from last year's team, although they had a pretty average season, I expect them to improve their record this year and be a top 4 seed in 2A.
18. Mound-Westonka- Put together a decent year last year. Although it will be hard for them to get out of their section, they should have another pretty good year.
19/20. New Prague/Red Wing- Either of these teams could be in the race for 1A, although Lourdes will be the favorite. Both teams had quality seasons in 2011-2012 and both have played in a sectional final within the last two seasons.

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