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It’s that time of year again, and we have another fantastic field of teams. Familiar names and up and coming programs are represented respectively at the X once again as the exciting section playoffs spill over to St. Paul and the greatest High School sports tournament in the country.
In game one of the afternoon session we get #2 seed Maple Grove (24-2-2) vs. Hill Murray (22-6). Maple Grove finally gets over the hump and past arch rival Blaine using a 15 goal outburst in the section 5AA championship game. The Crimson are poised for a run in this tournament and have been among the top 5 teams in the state since the beginning of the year. Led by forwards Dylan Steman, Tony Paulson, Spencer Bell, defenseman and Notre Dame recruit Jordan Gross among others, the Crimson are as complete a team in the tourney.
The Hill Murray Pioneers (22-6) are no strangers to the Tournament, and are back after a one year hiatus. Led by forwards Jake Guentzel, Zach LaValle, Charlie Sampair and Andy Faust. The Pioneers started slow this year as they introduced a relatively inexperienced blueline unit to the Varsity level. Hill Murray is never short on talent, and can beat any team in the state on any given night.
However, on this day the balanced attack of the Crimson will overwhelm the Pioneers. 4-1 Maple Grove
Game 2 of the afternoon session pits the Moorhead Spuds vs. a super talented Eagan squad that was knocked out of the tourney last year by eventual champion Eden Prairie in the semifinals. Eagan was rewarded the #3 seed after posting a 24-3-1 record coming in to thursday. Led by University of Maine recruit and Mr. Hockey candidate Will Merchant Princeton bound Michael Zajac talented defensemen Eli May (Minnesota State) and Sam Wolfe (Maine). Depth and experience at the X can only help the Crimson make a run.
It seems like every year for the last 20 years the Moorhead Spuds have been coming to St. Paul in early march to compete in this tournament. In fact 12 out of the last 20 years the Spuds have represented section 8. Led by senior goaltender Michael Bitzer a Frank Brimsek award finalist, and the Uglem brothers Tony and Nicholas. The last game the Spuds played against top competition was a 6-1 loss to Hill Murray. Coach Dave Morinville will do his best to put that loss behind them and focus on a game plan based around the stellar play of his great goaltender. If Bitzer is as good as he can be the Spuds have a legitimate chance to make some noise next weekend.
Merchant, Zajac and company are too much for Moorhead. 3-1 Wildcats
Last year if not for the will of the great Kyle Rau, the Duluth East Greyhounds very well could be returning to the X as defending state champions. And it shows as the Hounds went 27-1 this season, and were the #1 team in the state for most of the year. Dom Toninato and Jake Randolph are the best 1-2 punch you’ll see in High School hockey. When firing on all cylinders they will not be beaten.
Lakeville South has a young man by the name of Justin Kloos, who only had 99 points this year. With a player like that you always have a chance, slim as it may be. The Cougars are 20-8 on the season and drew a tough first round foe. Playing in the deep South Suburban conference most definitely means South will not be intimidated by the Hounds.
This is the Greyhounds year. 6-1 Duluth East
In the most intriguing matchup of quarterfinal thursday has to be the Benilde-St. Margarets vs. #4 seed Edina. The Red Knights are flying high after destroying Minnetonka last week in the section 6AA finals. And the Hornets have surprised everyone this year with a young team that has been amongst the top teams in the state since game 1.
When you talk about the Red Knights you could mention so many names, Grant Besse, Dan Labosky, Christian Horn just to name a few. They are 3 lines deep of strong forwards, and a much improved blueline which is why this team might be the hottest squad going right now. Inspired by their injured teammate Jack Jablonski, you have to wonder if this team is destined to hoist the trophy saturday night.
One senior skater on the roster? Rebuilding year? NOPE. The Hornets are back to the tourney for the sixth straight year with a group of youngsters that at the beginning of the year were shrugged off for their inexperience. Led by sophomore standouts Dylan Malmquist and Connor Hurley, Edina looks poised to make a few runs in this and the upcoming years. Louie Nanne, a name we all know is the most experienced player on the roster and they’ll need him to keep the team even keeled as they arrive in St. Paul.
The Red Knights are too hot, the Hornets will have their time. Just not this year, 3-2 BSM