On Thursday, it’s time for the big schools to take over the ice at Xcel Energy Center. Eight teams will face off in an attempt to crown a Class 2A state champion. We decided to take a look at each of the eight teams in this year’s field and look at how each team could finish the weekend as state champions.
Lakeville South (Section 1AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Eden Prairie/March 5, 1 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 5
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 0-1
Player to Watch: Cade Ahrenholz (game-winning goal in section final)
Why they win: For Lakeville South, it’s all about avenging last year’s heartbreaker in the quarterfinals against Eden Prairie in triple overtime. If the Cougars can slay that dragon, all bets are off. They have the playmakers to pull off the upset with Ahrenholz and Griffin Ludtke. Now, it’s time to prove they’re up to the challenge of besting the defending state runner-up.
Eden Prairie (Section 2AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Lakeville South/March 5, 1 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 12
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 0-2-1
Player to Watch: John Mittelstadt (2 goals, 6 assists in section play)
Why they win: Eden Prairie had all the ingredients to knock off Edina in last year’s state title game. But they came up short. There’s no doubt the Eagles have revenge on their mind as they descend upon the state tournament. If Eden Prairie can fight through the tough field in the first two rounds, all bets are off and the Eagles might be skating home with their third state championship.
St. Thomas Academy (Section 3AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Andover/March 5, 6 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 13
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 0-2-2
Player to Watch: Tommy Aitken (29 saves in a shutout in the section final)
Why they win: This isn’t the typical St. Thomas Academy you see rolling into the state tournament. The Cadets were uncharacteristically mediocre during the regular season but are heating up at the right time. The Cadets are rolling and have plenty of state tournament experience as they go up against top seed and state tournament newcomer Andover. St. Thomas Academy could be the perfect pick to pull off the upset. Once that potentially happens, let the craziness begin.
Hill-Murray (Section 4AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Moorhead/March 5, 8 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 30
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 4-0-1
Player to Watch: Nick Pierre (short-handed goal in the section final)
Why they win: This 4-5 matchup in the 2A quarterfinals might be the strongest 4-5 games we’ve ever seen in 2A. In my view, either team has a legitimate shot at making a run. The Pioneers are a mainstay at the state tournament and have shown their ability to win when it counts. It will be exciting to see which team out of this 4-5 matchup comes out ahead and what noise this team will make in the later rounds of championship play.
Maple Grove (Section 5AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Blake/March 5, 11 a.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 3
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 3-3-0
Player to Watch: Jack Wieneke (45 saves in section final)
Why they win: The proof is in the regular-season finale pudding. Maple Grove bested Blake in overtime in the final game of the regular season. Now, these two teams meet again on a much bigger stage. The Crimson pushed their way through a tough Northwest Suburban Conference schedule and knocked off a perennial power in Blaine. Maple Grove has the tools to make a run. But can the Crimson put it all together when it counts?
Blake (Section 6AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Maple Grove/March 5, 11 a.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 6 (1st in AA)
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 3-3-0
Player to Watch: Gavin Best (game-winning goal on penalty shot in section final)
Why they win: Welcome to the big dance, Blake. The Bears come in highly-regarded as the No. 2 seed but with a non-existent state tournament resume for the most part since they haven’t reached the final eight in either class since 2008. But Blake hasn’t been afraid to go after the perennial powers as they notched wins over the likes of Eden Prairie, Edina and Benilde-St. Margaret’s thus far.
Andover (Section 7AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. St. Thomas Academy/March 5, 6 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 1
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 4-1-0
Player to Watch: Gunnar Thoreson (Goal/assist in section final)
Why they win: First time’s the charm? Maybe that’s the case for this Andover team. The Huskies have come close to the final eight in recent years. Here’s their chance to show what their made of. It certainly seems plausible that Andover comes out on top. The talent is there. Now, it’s just putting in the work.
Moorhead (Section 8AA Champion)
Opening-round matchup: Quarterfinal vs. Maple Grove/March 5, 8 p.m.
State Tournament Appearances: 17
Record vs. State Tournament Teams: 1-3-0
Player to Watch: Cullen Gess (34 assists during the regular season)
Why they win: This is a weird bracket, with Moorhead being yet another example to support that case. This might be the best chance for the Spuds to break their state tournament drought. But they still sit in a precarious position as the No. 4 seed. But don’t be surprised if Moorhead finds itself in the midst of a state tile run later this week.