Another high school hockey is back, and it feels good to write about it again after the offseason hiatus. Class AA is wider open this season as early indicators point towards more parity at the top of the rankings. Teams that were at the top last year return to prominence. A few young teams trying to prove themselves take a stake in the top ten. Here are the preseason rankings:
Player stats are from the 2017-18 regular season.
Player stats are from the 2017-18 regular season.
After finishing third at state last year following a regular season with high expectations, the Hornets look to have another strong season and start this year atop the Minn Puck rankings. They lose Mr. Hockey winner Sammy Walker, Ben Brinkman, and Demetrios Koumontzis, and will look to Mason Nevers, Jett Jungels, and Liam Malmquist to replenish the scoring. Jackson Borst and Brett Chorske will provide additional offense. Defensive depth is a strong suit for Edina with Jake Boltmann, Mike Vorlicky, and Mason Reiners. Edina should have the depth to be contending for a state title. Goaltending is a question mark, but then again, it was not a strong suit last year in Edina’s run to state.
Forwards - Mason Nevers (21 goals, 34 assists, 55 points), Jett Jungels (23 goals, 25 assists, 48 points), Liam Malmquist (13 goals, 12 assists, 25 points)
Defense - Jake Boltmann (2 goals, 13 assists, 15 points), Mike Vorlicky (1 goal, 12 assists, 13 points), and Mason Reiners (1 goal, 9 assists, 10 points)
The defending state champions lose forward Bobby Brink to juniors and Luke Loheit to graduation, but retain top talent, primarily defensively, to make another run as one of the top teams in the state. Grant Docter and Josh Luedtke anchor the blue line, perhaps the top tandem in the state, and Charlie Glockner is a pre-season favorite for the Frank Brimsek Award, given to the top senior goaltender. The Skippers will rely mainly on Jack Bayless and Teddy Lagerback to contribute offensively. Mack Motzko, son of Gophers coach Bob Motzko, transfers in from St. Cloud Cathedral, and is expected to be a contributor offensively. The knock on this team is that they are not particularly deep but can shut down opponent scoring.
Forwards - Jack Bayless (19 goals, 25 assists, 44 points) and Teddy Lagerback (17 goals, 14 assists, 31 points)
Defense - Josh Luedtke (6 goals, 21 assists, 27 points) and Grant Docter (7 goals, 19 assists, 26 points)
Andover came a couple minutes away from upsetting Duluth East and making it to the state tournament last season. This is a team on-the-rise and expected to make some noise in Section 7AA. They return two of their three 50+ point scorers with Charlie Schoen and Nick Dainty. Luke Kron should play a big role offensively. Defensively, they are junior heavy with prospect Wyatt Kaiser leading the way. Ben Fritsinger is one of the top goalies in the state with a 1.77 GAA and .929 SV% last season.
Forwards - Charlie Schoen (26 goals, 28 assists, 54 points) and Nick Dainty (19 goals, 34 assists, 53 points)
Defense - Wyatt Kaiser (3 goals, 10 assists, 13 points) and Mitchell Wolfe (2 goals, 13 assists, 15 points)
4. Duluth East
The runners-up from last year's state tournament are looking for another shot at winning the Class AA title. They come into this season losing two-thirds of the WMD line and Luke LaMaster. Returning is one of the top forwards in the state in Ryder Donovan. Fredrick Paine anchors the defense. The Hounds will need to rely on their young core of players to support Donovan in order to have a successful season. There is just too much uncertainty with the younger players on Duluth East to give them one of the top three spots to start the season.
Forwards - Ryder Donovan (11 goals, 42 assists, 53 points)
Defense - Frederick Paine (4 goals, 20 assists, 24 points)
5. Cretin-Derham Hall
The Raiders return prolific forward Matt Gleason. Cretin has a lot of depth at forward with four players with 20+ points last season: Matthew Gleason, Nick Davison, Grayson Milosch, and Zach Bridges. Depth drops off quickly on the defensive side and could be cause for concern. Outside of Danny Magnuson, the cupboards are bare.
Forwards - Matthew Gleason (28 goals, 22 assists, 50 points)
Defense - Danny Magnuson (9 goals, 24 assists, 33 points)
6. St. Thomas Academy
The Cadets lose a lot of its roster from last year to graduation, but retain Rob Christy, Brendan McFadden, Ryan O'Neill, and Luke Herzog among the 20+ point scorers from last year. There is not much depth defensively, which like Cretin-Derham Hall, could be an issue this year. Tom Winges returns on defense. St. Thomas loses Atticus Kelly between the pipes, who was a major contributor to the Cadets' success last season. If they can get solid goaltending this year, St. Thomas will be a contender. With the questions on defense and in net, St. Thomas starts outside the top five.
Forwards - Rob Christy (14 goals, 16 assists, 30 points) and Brendan McFadden (9 goals, 17 assists, 26 points)
Defense - Tom Winges (2 goals, 10 assists, 12 points)
This Chaska team has been on the rise for the last few years that could culminate into a state birth bid. Minn Puck had their eye on this team last year as a top team coming into this season. The Hawks may be the most exciting team to watch among the top ten with four Division I commits in Michael Koster (Mr. Hockey candidate), Rhett Pitlick, Shane LaVelle, and Blaine Warnert. The questions facing Chaska are their conference schedule and lack of reputable opponents. They will need quality wins in their non-conference schedule to stay among the state's elite teams. In addition, outside of Michael Koster, there isn't much depth defensively. Of the teams listed in the top ten rankings, they may the most volatile to movement within the rankings.
Forwards - Rhett Pitlick (20 goals, 26 assists, 46 points), Shane LaVelle (18 goals, 13 assists, 31 points), and Blaine Warnert (10 goals, 6 assists, 16 points)
Defense - Michael Koster (14 goals, 41 assists, 55 points)
8. Holy Family
Holy Family lost a lot of their offense from last season to graduation but return Garrett Pinoniemi. Pinoniemi will need support from the likes of Trey Fechko and Lucas Jorgenson, who transfers in from Class A champion Orono. Defensively, Holy Family is led by Nikolai Charchenko, Dan Reddan, and Michael Spinner. Bailey Huber transfers in from Mahtomedi to play in goal. Even with transfer roulette, Holy Family still finds itself a top contender.
Forwards - Garrett Pinoniemi (12 goals, 32 assists, 44 points)
Defense - Nikolai Charchenko (4 goals, 9 assists, 13 points)
9. Eden Prairie
Eden Prairie looks to rebound from their upset loss to Chaska in the section quarterfinals last year. Jack Jensen returns and will be up for the Mr. Hockey award, and the Eagles will need to find ways to replace scoring lost to graduation. Expecting John Mittelstadt, Sam Wilhite, Spencer Rudrud, Keegan Langefels, and Garrett Smith to step up to fill that void. Eden Prairie adds another Mittelstadt in Luke, who will play on the blue line. If the underclassmen gel together, this could be a sneaky team playing for a Section 2AA title.
Forwards - Jack Jensen (20 goals, 18 assists, 38 points)
Defense - Keegan Langefels (5 goals, 9 assists, 14 points)
Perhaps having the youngest roster among the teams on the top ten list, Hill-Murray looks to make a return trip to state despite a sub .500 record. Head coach Bill Lechner is one of the best in the state, which makes the Pioneers a threat most years. Nick Pierre was an eighth grade call-up last year that boasted 11 points in eight regular season games. He is one of the top young players in the state and could certainly have a breakout year. Michael Fleischhacker and Brent Oberle return as the top scorers from last year. Like Eden Prairie, the ceiling is high if everything comes together.
Forwards - Michael Fleischhacker (16 goals, 11 assists, 27 points) and Nick Pierre (8 goals, 3 assists, 11 points in 8 games played)
Defense - Brent Oberle (5 goals, 17 assists, 22 points)