Section 1AA — It’s all No. 14 Lakeville North in brutally-weak 1AA. Panthers’ scoring leader Spencer Schneider, a senior forward, returns from a 20-goal, 36-point season. Also back is burly senior forward Shane Griffin (14-17=31), who exploded for five goals and seven points in three 1AA playoff games a year ago.
Section 2AA — Pen in a No. 3 Minnetonka-No. 6 Chaska final. But, will No. 12 Eden Prairie contend? Defending Class 2A state champion Minnetonka has the weapons to repeat, including elites Bobby Brink, Jack Bayless and Teddy Lagerback at forward, Grant Docter and Josh Luedtke at defense and Charlie Glockner in goal. Chaska is a team to watch. Elite senior defenseman Mike Koster, a Gophers recruit, leads an upstart Hawks team that also boasts D1 commits Blaine Warnert (Nebraska-Omaha), Rhett Pitlick (Gophers) and Shane Lavelle (Wisconsin). Eden Prairie returns team scoring leader, Gophers commit and likely Mr. Hockey Award finalist Jack Jensen (20 goals, 38 points).
Section 3AA — It’s No. 7 St. Thomas Academy’s section to lose. Colorado College commit Rob Christy will lead a offensive-happy Cadets squad, which also features emerging elite defenseman Thomas Winges.
Section 4AA — Bet the farm on a No. 9 Hill-Murray-No. 10 White Bear Lake final. Ben Helgeson, a Wisconsin recruit, is expected back for his senior season after leading the Pioneers in goals (18) and points (31) a year ago. Freshman forward Nick Pierre is a rising H-M player to watch, and junior defenseman Brett Oberle, a Minnesota Duluth commit, has a monster upside. White Bear Lake, still smarting after losing to H-M in the 4AA final a year ago, boasts a strong defensive corp led by Minnesota Duluth signee Owen Gallatin, an ultra-elite sophomore who collected more than a point per game a year ago.
Section 5AA — Will No. 19 Blaine upset heavy favorite No. 8 Maple Grove in Class 2A’s second-weakest section (behind 8AA)? Gophers commit Bryce Brodzinski amassed 29 goals and 57 points for the Bengals a year ago, and figures to be a Mr. Hockey Award finalist this season. Senior Will Hillman also returns to lead Blaine. Maple Grove returns team scoring champ and Michigan Tech commit Trevor Kukkonen (33 points), diminutive forward Tyler Kostelecky (35 points, including five goals and eight points in three 5AA playoff games). @followthepuck is reporting that junior goaltender Ethan Haider has opted to play for Minnesota Magicians in the NAHL.
Section 6AA — It’s a two-team race in 6AA between heavy favorites No. 1 Edina and No. 5 Cretin-Derham Hall. Will No. 15 Wayzata play a spoiler? Edina boasts the state’s best defensive corp, led by D1 commits Mike Vorlicky (Wisconsin), Nick Williams (Gophers), Jake Boltmann (Miami Ohio) and Mason Reiners, among a handful of talented others. Jett Jungels and Mason Nevers combined for 131 points last season. Cretin-Derham Hall is led by junior forward Matthew Gleason, a 30-goal scorer.
Section 7AA — A No. 2 Andover-No. 4 Duluth East final is expected at Amsoil Arena in Duluth, where the Greyhounds punched out the Huskies in an OT final a year ago. No. 11 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton and No. 13 Elk River are longshots. Andover’s Ben Fritsinger is arguably the state’s top goaltender, and the Huskies return most of last season’s 7AA runnerup team. Six-foot-five senior forward Ryder Donovan, a North Dakota recruit, keys a Duluth East offensive attack that also relies on senior power-forward Ricky Lyle, one of the state’s most-overlooked D1 prospects. The defending 7AA champion Greyhounds are suspect in goal. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton is without a coach, and Duluth Marshall and Grand Rapids don’t figure to compete for a 7AA championship. Longtime Duluth Marshall head coach Brendan Flaherty is currently undergoing treatment for throat cancer.
Section 8AA — Heavy favorites No. 16 Brainerd and No. 17 Moorhead figure to square off in the 8AA final. Brainerd returns senior forward and team scoring champ Wyatt Andres (18 goals, 33 points), while Moorhead looks to rebuilding after losing its three top scorers and No. 1 goaltender to graduation.