Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Quarterfinal: High School Sweater March Madness

Quarterfinal match-ups now available for voting. Voting will remain open until 11:59 pm, Wednesday, April 5th.

Last week's Round of 16 results:
St. Thomas Academy defeats Academy of Holy Angels 57.1% to 42.9%
Maple Grove defeats La Crescent 68.7% to 31.3%
Hill-Murray defeats Hermantown 64.2% to 35.8%
Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper defeats Lakeville North 54.5% to 45.5%
Eden Prairie defeats Delano 60.4% to 39.6%
Edina defeats Bloomington Jefferson 54.8% to 45.2%
Grand Rapids defeats Moorhead 67.4% to 32.6%
Duluth East defeats Stillwater 57.6% to 42.4%

Match-up #1: St. Thomas Academy vs. Maple Grove

St. Thomas Academy:

Maple Grove:

Match-up #2: Hill-Murray vs. Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper


Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper:

Match-up #3:  Eden Prairie vs. Edina

Eden Prairie:


Match-up #4: Grand Rapids vs. Duluth East

Grand Rapids:

Duluth East:

Monday, March 27, 2017

MN Hockey

By: Michael Platzer

Barely 4 years old, we neighborhood kids hit the backyard pond, learning to skate. By 5, we were Mites playing organized hockey. Predawn, we shoveled snow and skated before catching the morning bus to school. Afternoons faded to dusk, faded to darkness and we skated and shot pucks against a 4 foot by 8 foot plywood backstop, hoping to find pucks errantly shot into snowdrifts after the spring thaw. We association or "town" hockey teams practiced and played outdoors, day or night. Snow flurries were no obstacle; wind was, and we hoped to get 2 periods with the wind at our backs rather than in our masks. Cold was no obstacle; warm weather was, turning corner-ice to puck-stopping mush, exposing dirt that ground our skate-edges dull. Town to town, warming houses were all the same, like rickety land-locked ice-fishing shanties, cramped, steamy hot and drafty, smelling of cigar smoke and rancid hockey gear. Zambonis were hand-made hodge-podge contraptions created from re-imagined farm equipment or resurrected and refabricated MNDOT machines. But when the latch lifted and the wooden half-door swung open and your skate-blades hit the ice along with your teammates, then there was only hockey. We played well most years, and moved up to North Metro B League, where we got blasted game after game by superior competition. But it was still hockey. I remember intramurals at the U of M, stepping onto the ice at the old "Ucc" and looking up to see #7 hanging from the rafters. Or driving down the embankment onto Lake Bemidji for a between-class pick-up game. Like most, I faded out of organized hockey but often returned to the rink for pick-up games with guys who could barely skate, or with speedy DII-Johnnies, and every ability in between, all competing together on the same ice. And that is hockey.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Player spotlight: Brock Boeser

A lot of attention in the Minnesota hockey world was paid to Brock Boeser this weekend as he made the jump in less than 24 hours from NCAA to NHL hockey. It goes to show you how far down the line player development is these days. A lot of players in NCAA hockey are capable of being on an NHL roster at any time.

So, who is Brock Boeser? A native of Burnsville, he joined the high school varsity roster as a sophomore for the 2013-14 season, and finished fourth in team scoring. Burnsville advanced to the sectional final playoff that season against perennial powerhouse Edina, only to lose in a tightly contested contest, 3-2. The following season, Boeser developed into one of the top talents in the state, known for a sniping shot, and solid offensive and defensive game. He topped team points with 46, and earned Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year honors. Burnsville struggled to find success in the playoffs, as the team was upset by Bloomington Jefferson in the section semifinal, and eventually became Boeser's final high school game. Forgoing his senior campaign for the Blaze, Boeser moved onto junior hockey and the USHL's Waterloo Black Hawks. In the 2014-15 season, his 35 goals was a league best, and third overall in points with 68. Now receiving attention as a top NHL prospect, Boeser was drafted 23rd overall by the Vancouver Canucks in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft. Following the draft, Boeser made the leap to NCAA hockey. After originally committing to Wisconsin, he chose the University of North Dakota as his next stop for the 2015-16 season. As a freshman at North Dakota, Boeser was the NCHC overall scoring champion and finished third nationally in scoring, earning All-America honors. He helped led the school to it's first national championship since 2000. His sophomore season at UND was interrupted by a wrist injury, which caused him to miss several games during the middle of the season. Despite the injury, he managed to finish third in team scoring.  North Dakota made the NCAA tournament, but they suffered a heart-breaking loss to Boston University, 4-3, in double overtime on Friday that was the seventh-longest game in NCAA tournament history. After playing a grueling five periods of hockey, Boeser signed a deal with the Vancouver Canucks, affectively ending his colligate career, and starting a new chapter.  The timing worked out well for Boeser.  He was able to join the Canucks in his debut early Saturday after catching a short flight from Grand Forks, North Dakota to St. Paul, Minnesota where the Minnesota Wild were hosting the Canucks that day. Not only was it his first game, but he notched the first goal of his NHL career in the second period that proved to be the game-winning goal.

While the perfect scenario is in a Wild sweater, that is the kind of road to the NHL young hockey players in the state dream about.

Amateur and professional stats:

Video of Brock Boeser's Canucks debut against the Wild:

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

March Madness: Minnesota Hockey Style

March Madness fever has hit Minnesota Puck. The staff searched every corner of the state to find the best high school sweaters. Vote for your favorite Minnesota high school hockey sweater in our polls below.  Like the March Madness bracket, we will crown a champion in a tournament-style process.

We'll keep the polls up for a week for each round.

Winners of match-ups #1 and #2 will face-off in quarterfinal round match-up #1.
Winners of match-ups #3 and #4 will face-off in quarterfinal round match-up #2.
Winners of match-ups #5 and #6 will face-off in quarterfinal round match-up #3.
Winners of match-ups #7 and #8 will face-off in quarterfinal round match-up #4.

Winners of quarterfinal round match-up #1 and #2 will face-off in semi-final round match-up #1.
Winners of quarterfinal round match-up #3 and #4 will face-off in semi-final round match-up #2.

Winners of semi-final round match-up #1 and #2 will face-off in championship match-up.

Round of 16:

Match-up #1: Holy Angels vs. St. Thomas Academy

Holy Angels:

St. Thomas Academy:

Match-up #2: La Crescent vs. Maple Grove

La Crescent:

Maple Grove:

Match-up #3: Hill-Murray vs. Hermantown



Match-up #4: Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper vs. Lakeville North

Robbinsdale Armstrong/Cooper:

Lakeville North:

Match-up #5: Delano vs. Eden Prairie


Eden Prairie:

Match-up #6: Bloomington Jefferson vs. Edina

Bloomington Jefferson:


Match-up #7: Grand Rapids vs. Moorhead

Grand Rapids:


Match-up #8: Stillwater vs. Duluth East


Duluth East:

Friday, March 17, 2017

Should Hermantown move up to Class AA?

The debate has heated up as of late on whether Hermantown should move up to Class AA. For now, it appears that the Hawks will be staying put in Class A, but official word will come down when section realignments are announced. Hermantown has now been in the state tournament eight consecutive times, winning the championship on the last two attempts. I do not believe a team should be forced to up a class based on success alone.  If their resources are superior to anyone else in the class, then they should move up to remove the roadblock of allowing other teams in the section to reach state.

Looking at the team's regular schedule, over half of the opponents were in the bigger class. This suggests the that the school is at least flirting with the idea of moving up a class.  Since they have a foot in the door, so to speak, why not make the leap? Hermantown fared quite well too.  Their only loss of the season came against Wayzata in the opener.

One of the factors to look at is enrollment. Here are the 2016-17 numbers for the public schools that made the state tournament in Class A:

Hermantown: 614
Delano: 712
Mahtomedi: 1113
East Grand Forks: 468
Northfield: 1141

Hermantown, a suburb of Duluth on the northwest side, is the second smallest school in the tournament, so school size is not much of an argument to move up to Class AA.

Looking at social-economic factors, such as financial resources, the median income for a family is $55,632 in Hermantown.  This is compared to $63,011 in Delano, $81,923 in Mahtomedi, $47,846 in East Grand Forks, and $61,055 in Northfield. Again, this is another factor where Hermantown does not soar above the rest. Hermantown does have the Duluth area to utilize with it's infrastructure, which provides a disadvantage to rural schools that compete in the same class.

Basically, it all comes down to level of competition since enrollment and social-economic factors do not explode of the charts. If Hermantown wants to act like a AA team and fill their schedule with big school opponents, then they should move up already and go all-in.  Obviously, they are having success against the bigger schools, so it makes sense for the school and hockey in the state.  Hermantown would be a great fit for Section 7, and Elk River could move to a more geographical fit in a metro section.  Imagine the excitement at Amsoil for a Hermantown-Duluth East playoff matchup?

It is fun to dream of the possibilities of Hermantown squaring off against one of the metro powerhouses in a state tournament game.  How great would that be?

Monday, March 13, 2017

2016-17 High School Hockey Season Wrap-Up

The 2016-17 high school hockey season has reached it's conclusion with the crowning of two state champions in each of the classes.

Hermantown takes the Class A title by defeating Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake (MAML) in a two overtime classic, 4-3, after having a goal overturned for goaltender interference in the second extra frame. The state tournament utilizes the NHL replay technology at Xcel Energy Center to determine validity of all goals. The same replay criteria used in the NHL applies with the state tournament. New this year was offside plays first introduced by the NHL last year.

Hermantown was tested in each of it's state tournament games by being taken to the extra session three consecutive days. The school has now won consecutive championships after being the runner-up six straight times.  The Class A tournament was perhaps the best tournament played in this class since the two class system was introduced in 1994 with close games and unseeded teams, such as MAML, advancing all the way to the championship game. This part of the tournament really caught me by surprise. I was fully expecting Hermantown to be playing against Delano in the championship

In Class AA, Grand Rapids won it's first title since 1980 by defeating Moorhead, 6-3, in the first all-northern final in a decade. In a rematch of a February game that Moorhead won 4-0, the Thunderhawks' Gavin Hain took over this championship game with a hat trick, and the team got good goaltending out of Zach Stejskal. The Halloween Machine was tested the entire playoff run.  It had to get past Elk River and Duluth East in Section 7, then stunned top-ranked Eden Prairie in the Friday semifinals by surviving a 50 shot onslaught to reach the title game.
The atmosphere was electric Saturday night at Xcel Energy Center.  When the puck dropped for the championship game between Grand Rapids and Moorhead, the building was near capacity, and it stayed that way until Blake McLaughlin bagged an empty net goal to seal the game late for the Thunderhawks. Watching the game from section 200 above the Grand Rapids band, the band was pumped all game. These students are very in tune with the flow of game, and have fun with the music, especially when they jump around while playing "Ole!", much like you would find in a college environment. There probably is not a better band in the state than Grand Rapids. Grand Rapids also has one of the better fanbases around. They tend to be down-to-earth, and like the band, are passionate about their team. Having followed the team quite a bit this season, they are now my favorite outstate team, whether they had won or lost in the final.
After having a perfect AA state tournament bracket last year, I struggled a bit more this year with parity that was not seen in prior years. I had St. Thomas Academy defeating Lakeville South in the quarterfinal and Eden Prairie knocking off Grand Rapids in the semifinal. After Grand Rapids got through Eden Prairie, it legitimized them as contenders for the title, and that they were for real. I knew we were going to be in for a close championship game and thought the score would be 5-3 in favor of Moorhead.  Ended up being in the ballpark for the final score - just had the teams flipped around.

Casey Mittelstadt of Eden Prairie took home the Mr. Hockey award, which was not a huge surprise to anyone that followed high school hockey closely this season.  The Frank Brimsek Award for top goaltender in the state, went to Hill-Murray goaltender Jake Begley.

The day after the state tournament feels a little odd. There is this period of withdrawal after going through all the excitement and pageantry of the tournament during the four days to being over just like that as the victorious team holds the trophy high in the air. There are no more game schedules to ponder over or figuring out the top teams in the state for another eight months. I have to say this has been the most fun I've had watching high school hockey this year in quite some time. I got to witness, either in person or online, many state tournament caliber type games this year, and sharing those experiences with friends and family members. Parity amongst teams made it interesting and provided for many surprises during the year, such as Grand Rapids' run. Very unpredictable to say the least. We also had a talented senior class, led by Casey Mittelstadt, perhaps a top ten NHL prospect that we see come out of the state once in a decade or so. Unlike the Minnesota 2006 top ten draft class of Erik Johnson, Kyle Okposo, and Peter Mueller, Mittelstadt stuck with high school hockey, which deserves much credit. As an Eden Prairie alum and fan of high school hockey, it was a pleasure to see Casey play these last three years, he will be someone special for the Gophers. As we see another senior class move on to success in Division I or junior hockey, another group of kids comes in to fill the void left on the roster. We will watch young raw talent evolve into something special before our eyes, perhaps becoming that next elite player with a bright future. As fall rolls around, we will start to think about how the upcoming season and project where our favorite team will finish. Heck, maybe there will be a chance of a championship run?

High school hockey is hockey played in it's purest form.

Eight months can't get here soon enough.

Monday, March 6, 2017

2017 Boys Class AA State Tournament Preview

The eight teams are set for the Class AA 2017 Boys State Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center, March 8-11. I don't believe it is necessary to analyze the Class A tournament as Hermantown and Delano will be the heavy favorites to square off against each other Saturday morning, so I'm skipping that part of that tournament altogether. Here are the matchups in Class AA:

*Regular season stats and records noted, unless otherwise stated.

#2 St. Thomas Academy (20-4-1) vs. Lakeville South (15-9-1), Thursday, 11 am

St. Thomas Academy (STA) steamrolled their way through the sectional playoffs against East Ridge, Eagan, and Bloomington Jefferson - teams not ranked in the top 20 in the state, according to Let's Play Hockey. In those games, STA gave up one goal, but the competition made them one of the least tested teams coming into the state tournament. During the regular season, amongst other teams making it to state, STA beat Wayzata, split the season series against Hill-Murray a game apiece, and had a regulation tie against Eden Prairie at the Schwan's Gold Cup (Eden Prairie advanced in a shootout). With Hill-Murray being the signature victory, they have played a challenging schedule with games against teams mentioned above, plus Edina, Minnetonka, and Centennial. The team has two players with 20+ goals, and goaltender Atticus Kelly keeps them in games with a terrific .927 SV%.

Lakeville South got past their vulnerable northern counterpart to win the Section 1AA championship. North beat South twice during the regular season, and it's tough to beat a team three straight. It does happen every so often, as Edina completed the trifecta against Eden Prairie during the 2014-15 season. South does not score much, with no single player with more than 13 goals during the regular season. While not a deeply talented team, it is getting respectable goaltending out of Isaiah DiLaura with a .914 SV%. They played a more challenging schedule over the second half of season that included aforementioned Lakeville North, along with Holy Family and Duluth East, but did not get it's defining victory until defeating North in the section championship. South stayed mainly in the bottom tier of the top 20 rankings all year, and they are perhaps generating the least amount of buzz among teams in the tournament.

Pick: St. Thomas Academy

Players to watch:

#23 Willie Reim - 20 goals, 45 points
# 2 Robbie Stucker (NAHL, Minnesota Magicians) - an offensive defenseman with 40 points

Lakeville South:
#10 Josh Ess (Wisconsin) - an offensive defenseman and team leader with 28 points
#21 Sam Malinski - another offensive defenseman with 27 points

#3 Moorhead (19-3-3) vs. Hill-Murray (16-5-4), Thursday, 1 pm

Like St. Thomas Academy, Moorhead got through their section with relative ease. They did not allow a goal during their run to state. The team's primary season scoring came from it's top line of centerman Cole O' Connell, and wingers Carter Randklev and Jack Stetz, that combined for 124 points during the regular season. Moorhead defeated Hill-Murray, 4-3, in the regular season finale and their other notable victory came against Holy Family, one of the top teams in the state. If not for Grand Rapids run through section 7AA, Moorhead would have been the outstate team with the best opportunity of winning the state title.  Both goalies on the Spuds roster have seen a fair number of games, with save percentages better than .920. Like Eden Prairie, Moorhead has not lost a game in 2017, finishing the regular season with a 15 game winning streak.

Hill-Murray defeated a top five team in Stillwater in sectional play to reach the state tournament.  Perhaps a home game for Hill-Murray playing on it's home rink at Aldrich Arena.  Hill-Murray got most of it's production from Brock Bremer and Kyler Yeo, but neither player reached the 20 goal plateau this season. The highlight of this team has been the performance of goaltender Jake Begley, who posted an incredible .936 SV% this season, and is up for the Frank Brimsek Award for top senior goaltender, and is the only finalist from Class AA.

Pick: Moorhead

Players to watch:

#6 Carter Randklev (USHL, Fargo Force) - 46 points, 26 goals
#11 Cole O' Connell - 20 goals, 41 points
#21 Jack Stetz - 27 assists, 37 points

#20 Brock Bremer - 19 goals, 40 points
#9 Kyler Yeo (USHL, Omaha Lancers) - 21 assists, 34 points
#1 Jake Begley (USHL, Cedar Rapids RoughRiders) - Frank Brimsek Award finalist, top Class AA goaltender in the state.

#1 Eden Prairie (19-4-2) vs. Wayzata (7-17-1), Thursday, 6 pm

Eden Prairie comes into the tournament seeking to avenge last year's championship loss to Wayzata.  The Eagles survived a back-and-forth game against Holy Family in the section final that may have ultimately decided who the state champion ends up being this year. Eden Prairie struggled during the first half of the season, failing to put away teams such as Elk River and Grand Rapids at the Edina Holiday Classic, and then turned in a lackluster performance at the Schwan's Gold Cup with a shootout win and two losses. Eden Prairie turned things around in 2017, and they remain unbeaten since the Gold Cup. The team is lead by Mr. Hockey finalist Casey Mittelstadt, an offensive playmaker with 64 points, 43 of those as assists. Hunter Johannes brings a physical, offensive presence, but has an inability to stay out of the penalty box. Nicky Leivermann, another Mr. Hockey finalist, anchors the defense as a two-way player with 34 points. Nick Wiencek is a top ten netminder, and posts a .932 SV%. Eden Prairie is the only team remaining in the top five state rankings by Let's Play Hockey.

Wayzata is the Cinderella story of the tournament, a title shared until Bloomington Jefferson was knocked out by St. Thomas Academy in their section final.  The defending state champions in Class AA couldn't find the same success it had last season, with it's shining moment being a tie to Hill-Murray at the end of January.  Wayzata came alive during the sections and knocked off powerhouse Edina, a team that many believed of having the easy path to state, to claim a spot in the tourney.  Much of that success was due to outstanding goaltending by Reid Waszczenko, who recorded just one-win and a .893 SV% during the regular season. The Trojans production came primarily from three players - Griffen Ness, Colin Schmidt, and Grant Anderson. Will Wayzata see a resurgence and play for a consecutive championship, or will the clock strike midnight on this unbelievable run?

Pick: Eden Prairie

Players to watch:

Eden Prairie:
#11 Casey Mittelstadt (Minnesota, Mr. Hockey finalist) - 64 points, 43 assists
#27 Hunter Johannes (USHL, Lincoln Stars)  - 45 points
#4 Nicky Leivermann (Notre Dame) - 34 points

#22 Griffin Ness - 26 points
#3 Colin Schmidt - 24 points
#1 Reid Waszczenko - 2 shutouts and .983 SV% in section play

#4 Maple Grove (19-6-0) vs. #5 Grand Rapids (17-7-1), Thursday, 8 pm

Maple Grove joins the state tournament after defeating Centennial in the section final.  The Crimson played consistent throughout the season with no real ups or down.  In the state rankings, they found themselves often in the mid-tier of the top 20 all year.  They are not the flashiest team, but Maple Grove snuck out a 1-0 victory over Holy Family and defeated Hill-Murray during the season.  The team does not have a ton of star power, but is lead offensively by Sam Huff (62 points), and Justin Kelley (48 points).  Jack Kelly leads the defense with 30 points on 22 assists.

Grand Rapids drew the four seed in sections, and were able to pull off impressive wins over Elk River and Duluth East. At the start of the season, Rapids was looking like the team to beat in the state, rattling off seven wins before losing to Elk River at the Edina Holiday Classic. After losing three of four games to start the new year, it followed with six wins, then lost three of four to end the season.  Grand Rapids might have as much top end talent as Eden Prairie.  They are lead by Micah Miller (56 points), a St. Cloud recruit, and perhaps the next exciting player in the tournament to Casey Mittlestadt, and like Casey, is a Mr. Hockey finalist. He is joined by other Division I recruits, Blake McLaughlin, and Gavin Hain.  The team is strong defensively with John Stampohar and Michael Heitkamp. In goal is Zach Stejskal, a keeper with a solid .920 SV%. Is this the Grand Rapids team that began the season, or the one at the end?  If it's the former, this team has the ability to win the tournament.

Pick: Grand Rapids

Players to watch:

Maple Grove:
#19 Sam Huff - 62 points
#9 Justin Kelley - 48 points
#6 Jack Kelly - 30 points

Grand Rapids:
#20 Micah Miller (St. Cloud, Mr. Hockey finalist) - 21 goals, 56 points
#7 Blake McLaughlin (Minnesota) - 49 points
#8 Gavin Hain (North Dakota) - 48 points

Semi-finals (Friday):
Moorhead over St. Thomas Academy
Eden Prairie over Grand Rapids

Championship (Saturday):
Eden Prairie over Moorhead