With the 2020-21 season still months out, it’s time to take a look at teams from all over the State of Hockey and examine what happened this past season and what’s ahead. The next team we’re breaking down is Hill-Murray.
How last season went
The Pioneers haven’t missed the tournament in back to back years in over a decade. After losing in the section finals to rival White Bear Lake in 2019, it was almost assumed that a title run was bound to happen, and it did. Hill-Murray came out of the gates on fire with a six-game winning streak, outscoring their opponents 46-5 during that stretch. After that streak, the Pioneers hit the heart of their schedule which caused some growing pains midseason but still managed to finish with an impressive 16-6-3 record on top of the Metro East Conference.
Hill-Murray drew the 1 seed in section 4AA, and cruised past their first two opponents, outscoring Irondale and Moundsview 14-2 in those two games. Then came the big test, White Bear Lake, and the Pioneers took sweet revenge with a hard-fought 3-2 victory to earn a trip to Xcel Energy Center.
One thing the Pioneers always have to their advantage is their preparation, courtesy of head coach Bill Lechner and a grueling regular season schedule. Entering the tournament, they had already played and beat Mahtomedi, Blake, St. Thomas Academy, Maple Grove, and Moorehead. They drew the 5 seed in Class AA, but make no mistake, that’s like putting a wolf in sheep’s clothing.
Never the less, Hill-Murray came in as an underdog and quickly showed why they belonged, as they defeated Moorehead in a decisive 5-1 victory. Next came St. Thomas Academy, and the Cadets put up an admirable fight, but the Pioneers escaped with a 3-2 overtime win. Finally came the ultimate test, the championship game against highly favored Eden Prarie. The brighter the lights got the more this team shined, and the Pioneers led by(2G, 1A) dominated their way to a 4-1 triumph and the programs 6th State Title.
Who’s back and who’s gone
The program is always taking in new talent, but they will certainly miss some of the faces that made this championship possible. Some big holes to fill include their top scorers(25G, 34A) and (27G, 27A) leaving to prepare for Division 1 hockey, including top recruit (13G, 15A) still being in question on his return. Another pillar that will be missing is senior goalie Remington Keopple, who shined this season in net posting a 1.57 GAA, .935 SV %, with 5 shutouts.
The good news is the Pioneers are only graduating 6 seniors, and have key contributors(4G, 35A) and (10G,24A) returning to the blue line, as well as (10G, 9A) at forward to help lead the attack. Replacing Keopple in net will most likely be , who started 4 games in net for the Pioneers with a record of 3-0-1.
What to expect next season
Hill-Murray always has State Title aspirations to enter each year, and the only thing missing from Lechner’s legendary coaching career is back to back championships. If the Pioneers can stay healthy and replace the big-stage goals thatand produced, there’s no reason why this team can’t repeat greatness.