No matter if you're a casual or die-hard fan of hockey there is no better place to be than the Twin Cities during late February and early March for the simple reason that one of the best sporting events of the year is taking place: the Minnesota High School State Hockey Tournament. The 2013 Tourney is once again at Xcel Energy Center in Saint Paul, from March 6-9.
The multiple day event features teams from all over the State of Hockey, whether they are perennial powerhouses or lesser-known schools from hours away making their inaugural Tournament appearances. By watching the games it is impossible not to get attached and develop an emotional connection to teams as you get to know the players, coaches and communities from a simple game. The memories made here last forever. Last year for example, Benilde-St. Margaret's player Grant Besse put on an offensive show for the ages as he scored 5 goals against Hill Murray to give Benilde the state title in honor of teammate Jack Jablonski, who had suffered a paralyzing hit earlier in the season.
The girls’ tournament has already taken place and two champions have been crowned in convincing fashion. In the Class 1A section, Blake posted seven goals against Warroad for a final of 7-2. The final, which took place on Sat., Feb. 23, featured Metro Player of the Year, Dani Cameransi, who starred for Blake notching a goal and assist.
In the Class 2A section Minnetonka emerged victorious over fellow powerhouse, Hill-Murray, 3-1. With the Skippers victory they had accomplished something no other girls' hockey team has ever done before: win three consecutive state titles. Even more impressive was the fact that Minnetonka played the final game against Hill-Murray a mere 18 hours after finishing a semi-final win over Lakeville North that lasted a record six overtimes.
The Skippers, with a loaded roster consisting of seven Division-I players, were able to overcome fatigue and make their mark in Minnesota high school history.
The boys’ tournament begins today and includes a nice mix of schools who are appearing for the first time and schools that have a rich history of tournament success. In conjunction with the tournament, also taking place this Friday and Saturday is the nation's premier consumer hockey trade show, the Let's Play Hockey expo, which is held in the Saint Paul RiverCentre features major manufacturers and entrepreneurs with unique hockey products.
Also available at the trade show are appearances by sports figures, radio and TV personalities, prize drawings, product seminars and product testing. This is the can't miss hockey event of the season.
Now let's learn a bit more about the 16 teams playing:
2013 State Hockey Tournament - Class 1A bracket
(1) St. Thomas Academy: The Cadets title defense begins against St. Cloud Apollo. The No. 1 seeded Cadets are led by senior goaltender David Zevnik and a stingy defense that has only given up 32 goals on the season. This team won 24 games in a regular season because of its defense and an ability to lock down an opposing team's offensive stars. Zevnik has been the anchor (.942 save pct.) for the Cadets past two championships and he will have to continue his dominance for the Cadets to pull off the three-peat.
(2) Breck: The Mustangs bring a scorching offense with them as they make their fifth-consecutive state tournament. Breck (24-3-1) gave the Cadets all they could handle in a memorable 1-0 loss in last year's tournament semifinals and lost twice in one-goal games to St. Thomas Academy this season. One thing's for sure, the Mustangs want another shot at St. Thomas Academy — ideally in the championship game. If they get there, it will be the high-octane offense — one that averaged almost eight goals per game in sections — that will take them.
(3) Hermantown: The Hawks are making their fourth-consecutive tournament berth and are led by junior netminder Adam Smith. Smith is unbeaten on the year (15-0-1) while posting a .929 save percentage. Hermantown has been stuck with second-place finishes in the tournament since 2010 and hope this is the year to get over that hump.
(4) East Grand Forks: East Grand Forks is back in the state tournament for the first time since 2002 after a 2-0 victory over Warroad. The Green Wave (22-3-3) was unbeaten into mid-January and have done that behind first-year starting goaltender Tanner Lindstrom and a young defensive unit. The Green Wave allow just 1.57 goals per game and have posted 10 shutouts on the year. Although senior Tommy Hajicek led the team with 20 goals and 43 points, the Green Wave got great offensive production throughout its lineup with another six forwards that had at least nine goals and 18 points.
(5) Rochester Lourdes: The Eagles are making their fifth-straight state tournament appearance and ninth overall in school history. Lourdes (20-8-0) is paced by its powerful top line of seniors, Alex Funk, Jason Samuelson and Ben Weir. Samuelson and Funk are four-year varsity players and sit 1-2 atop Lourdes' career scoring charts. Even though they've been in the state tournament every year of their careers they are still searching for their first quarterfinal round victory. Funk scored four goals in the section final against Mankato West as the Eagles’ top line controlled that game offensively. With 83 combined goals among Funk, Weir and Samuelson it will truly depend on their performance to gain head coach Josh Spaniol that elusive quarterfinal victory.
(6) Duluth Marshall: Duluth Marshall is back in the state tournament for the second-consecutive year and seventh overall in school history as they look for a first state title. The Hilltoppers have faced fellow 1A bracket qualifiers Breck, St. Thomas Academy, Rochester Lourdes and Hermantown, but lost in every game. On Jan. 3, the Hilltoppers were tied 2-2 with Hermantown entering the third period, before the Hawks pulled away and won, 4-3. The Hilltoppers rely on the power play for almost a quarter of their offense as senior wingers Jeremy Lopez and Kris McKinzie have combined for 70 points on the season.
(7) Marshall: Regardless of how Marshall does in the tournament this is already an exciting opportunity for them as it is the Tigers’ first-ever tourney appearance. The Tigers (14-10-1) have relied on a line consisting of Quinn Horvath, Beau Mikel and Corey Clark to provide offense for them. That trio has managed 48 of the team's 84 goals. Junior goaltender Mason Campion was a rock for the Tigers throughout the Section 3A playoffs. He led Marshall to an upset victory over top-seeded Luverene in the semifinals and then made 32 saves in the section final. Campion posted a .952 save percentage in three section games.
(8) St. Cloud Apollo: St. Cloud Apollo is making its first state appearance in three decades and the unranked Eagles have put together the most interesting path to St. Paul. Apollo has won more on the road (10-3) than at home (6-7). Senior winger Jared Christen has been an offensive powerhouse for the Eagles totaling 43 goals and 39 assists on the season. The Eagles have a freshman netminder in Nick Althaus who stopped 603 shots on the year for a .871 save percentage.
2013 State Hockey Tournament - Class 2A bracket
(1) Hill-Murray: The Pioneers are back in the state tournament as the top seed in the Class 2A bracket one year after a memorable, 5-1, title game loss to Benilde-St Margaret's. Senior goaltender John Dugas has been a force to be reckoned with between the pipes for the Pioneers team. Dugas, after undergoing offseason hip surgery rehabilitated with fellow Wayzata netminder, Aaron Dingmann, and has come back better than before. After posting a 22-2-1 record, with a save percentage of .940 and allowing a minuscule 1.36 goals against average, Dugas is poised to lead the Pioneers back to the title game.
(2) Duluth East: Coming into the tournament the Greyhounds could be the hottest team in the state. Since losing to cross-town rival Duluth Denfield on Jan. 8, the Greyhounds haven't lost since. In total the Hounds (24-4-0) have won their past 16 games in a row and boast a team where they have four players with 35 points or more on the season. The Greyhounds enter their fifth-consecutive state tournament and will ride the momentum of their win streak as they face Moorhead in the quarterfinals.
(3) Edina: The Hornets (22-6) held the state's No. 1 ranking earlier in the season and enter the tournament as the No. 3 seed. Edina is a team that has faced tremendous adversity throughout the year ranging from having the state's toughest schedule and losing four regular players to injury. The Hornets pride themselves on offensive balance, shown in each forward line’s ability to contribute a goal against Burnsville in the Section 2 championship game. The Hornets certainly have the experience and pedigree to make a deep run in the tournament.
(4) Wayzata: The Trojans (21-7) under second-year head coach Pat O'Leary and emerged from Section 6AA to make the state tournament. The No. 8 ranked team, Wayzata made its tournament run through the toughest section in the state. The Trojans are capable of an offensive explosion after posting a 7-1 victory over Benilde earlier in the season. In the sectionals the Trojans won three-straight games recording 18 goals total. Sophomore goaltender Aaron Dingmann is the backbone of the team. After returning from off-season hip surgery, Dingmann posted a 17-6 record, stopped 93 percent of shots and allowed 1.81 goals per game. In recognition of the season Dingmann had he was named First-Team All-Metro.
(5) Centennial: Centennial is finally back to the state tournament for the first time since 2004 as the Cougars (22-4-2) are seeded fifth and set to face Wayzata. The Cougars lost their season opener to Edina, but emerged victorious against fellow tournament participants, Moorhead and Duluth East. A strong month of January enabled the Cougars to go on a 8-0-2 run. Senior goaltender Patrick Munson has had success between the pipes posting a 17-4-2 record while stopping 93 percent of shots.
(6) Lakeville North: North comes into the tournament as an unknown against Edina. The two teams have never met in the State Tournament. The Panthers did face fellow Lake Conference opponent Eden Prairie, going 1-1 on the year. With an 11-16-1 record the Panthers are certainly a bit of a wildcard in the tournament and split time between three goalies. In big games, junior Will Dupont is stationed between the pipes. During the section playoffs, Dupont saved 90 percent of shots and allowed a 1.67 goals against average to lead North back to the state tournament.
(7) Moorhead: Thirteen years. That's the amount of time that the Spuds have consecutively played in the Section 8AA final. Moorhead graduated all-state goaltender Michael Blitzer and had longtime head coach Dave Morinville retire after last season. No matter, under first-year head coach Pete Cullen the Spuds went (14-11-2) to earn the No. 7 seed. Cullen has vast experience in the state tournament both as a player and coach. Playing for the Spuds in 1994 and 1995, Cullen finished as a state runner-up while coaching as an assistant under Morinville last season.
(8) Eastview: The No. 8 seeded Lightning are another team led by strong goal-tending. Sophomore netminder Zachary Driscoll took over the starting position around Christmas. Since then all he's done is win 15 games and save 95 percent of shots faced. Driscoll was especially dominant in the section playoffs, stopping 85 of 86 shots faced. Allowing only one goal in three section games is in part why the Lightning were able to upset top-seeded Eagan to earn Eastview its first state tournament berth since 2001. If Driscoll continues his excellence in net, it could be hard for Hill-Murray, or anyone to put the puck past him.