No NHL, who cares?!?! For fans across the State of Hockey, many of them have always gravitated towards the high school game regardless if the NHL is in a lockout or not. The lockout only gives those fans just a little more of a push to go to their local rink and watch their prep teams battle it out. Minnesota's strong passion for High School hockey for both Boys and Girls is really what sets it apart from the rest of the United States. I think its just about impossible not to get caught up in the enthusiasm, energy and excitement of prep hockey and I look forward to it every year. Now, without the NHL to really talk about; unless you want to read more about two groups of people that are kind of sort of talking to each other it gives me a chance to follow it that more closely. Hopefully, you find yourself to a few more high school games yourself and while the talent certainly isn't the same as the NHL I think you'll find out that most of these kids could skate circles around us all even when we were in our playing days. The skill level of your average high school player is far beyond that of kids that played 10-20 years ago. However, I doubt they're having anymore fun than we did.
I am going to 5 teams each for Class A and AA for the boys and girls as ones to watch for in the 2012-13 season. I would encourage anyone who feels I am overlooking certain clubs to share who they think will be hoisting a championship trophy to comment and explain to me why they feel (insert team here) will be bringing home a state title instead. Its a long season, but for anyone involved in it goes by fast. Games blur on by and while Christmas is nearly upon us, so are the numerous holiday hockey tournaments that take place all over the State of Hockey. I plan on attending the South St. Paul Premier Hockey Tournament as I have for the last 9 years. Its a place to see your future college and perhaps NHL stars play the game. Just at the South St. Paul Tournament alone I can say I watched the Gophers' Adam Wilcox and Travis Boyd, Princeton's Michael Zajac, Maine's Will Merchant, Colorado College's Archie Skalbeck just to name a few. It's a great, cheap ticket where you get closer to the game than you likely would if you went to watch Division 1 college hockey or the pros. So what teams should you watch for in 2012-13?
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Girls Hockey – 5 Teams to watch for
1. Minnetonka – To say the Skippers are loaded is a huge understatement. With five Division 1 commitments in Hannah Behounek (RPI), Laura Bowman (Penn St.), Amy Petersen (Penn State), Sydney Rossman (Quinnipiac) and Sidney Morin (Minn-Duluth) the Skippers are ready to steamroll their competition. Minnetonka has speed, scoring, defense and goaltending, they're the total package and a near unanimous favorite amongst prep hockey experts. The real question is, can any other team in the state dethrone them? We don't think so.
2. Benilde-St. Margaret's – Perhaps the team with the best chance to track down the mighty Skippers are the Red Knights. Benilde is led by its blueliner Liv Halvorson (Providence) and have a team that has great depth and solid team speed. They may not have the huge array of Div. I scholarships, but they're a tough match up for anyone.
3. Lakeville North – The Panthers are not led by a star studded cast, but they make up for their lack of star power by being one of the hardest working teams in the state. Lakeville North has a senior-laden squad that never gets frazzled and knows what it needs to do to finish in the key moments of games. Their biggest question mark is do they have enough offense to beat teams like Benilde and Minnetonka?
4. Edina – The Hornets are led by Penn State recruit Sarah Nielsen. The Hornets have terrific depth all through their lineup and always play a brutally tough schedule that sets them up well for the high pressure of section and state tournament play. Their defense is a minor area of concern and might come back to haunt them if they have to play one of the other top cubs.
5. Anoka – The Tornadoes, like the Panthers have an experienced squad priming themselves for a big run this season. Led by Maine recruit Emilie Brigham, Anoka can put up the points (who already has 19 points in just 4 games already) but is she enough to carry the Tornadoes past the other elite teams?
1. Blake – The Bears return to the ice with another loaded team, led by speedy senior Dani Cameranesi (Minnesota) who already has 24 points in just a few games thus far. Blake has plenty of experience and a metro-area schedule that makes it tough for outstate foes like Warroad to match.
2. Warroad – If any team can take down the Bears its Warroad. Warroad has the firepower up front with an incredibly talented line of Lisa Marvin and Kayla Gardner that will likely be on the state leaderboard for scoring all season long. The question is, do the Warriors have enough depth beyond Marvin and Gardner to overwhelm Blake?
3. Breck – Breck is another strong favorite to be amongst the elite at the end of the season. The Mustangs are led by Golden Gophers' recruit Kate Schipper who has just recently been selected to represented the U.S. for the U-18 World Championship team meaning she'll be away for a bit as she participates. Is Schipper enough for the Mustangs to get by powerhouses Warroad and Blake?
4. Red Wing – The Wingers are a team that has already been lighting the lamp with tremendous regularity so far this season. Nicole Schammel already has 15 goals and 29 points in just 7 games so far, but she is perhaps not even the team's best player as that goes to Golden Gophers recruit Paige Hailey who is an offensive defenseman who really leads the attack for the Wingers.
5. Irondale – The Knights are led by junior scoring machine Samantha Donovan who is coming off a 54-goal season and has already started out of the game with a 1st game hat-trick making Irondale a threat. However, can Irondale show the rest of Class A that isn't just a one trick pony?
1. St. Thomas Academy – The Cadets have more or less created a dynasty at this level and their dominance looks to continue this season as they have another loaded team. St. Thomas Academy is led by senior Alex Johnson who had 21 goals last season the Cadets have two very strong scoring lines that make them difficult for any team Class A or AA to match up against. Defenseman Jack Dougherty is one of the best defenseman in the metro area and was just selected to represent Team USA in the U-17 World Championships. Look for them to repeat.
2. Breck – The Mustangs are hoping they can unseat the Cadets as the kings of Class A, and they have a talented group to do it. Breck defeated a very tough Duluth Marshall Hilltoppers squad in a quality early season test. Breck had a lot of players graduate last season but Matt Colford will be counted on to lead the way.
3. Hermantown – Head Coach Bruce Plante has created quite a powerhouse up just north of Duluth in Hermantown. The Hawks have lept out of the gate in 2012 showcasing another team that seems to have a lot offense combined with a stingy defense as they've outscored their opponents 21-0 in their first 2 games. The Hawks return most of last year's roster and are led by Travis Koepke who already has 8 points in 2 games. While regular season and sectional success has become expected in Hermantown will this finally be the year they can upset either Breck or St. Thomas Academy?
4. East Grand Forks – The Green Wave made a ncie statement early in the season by blanking 4th ranked St. Cloud Cathedral, 4-0 in St. Cloud. East Grand Forks may not have the go to scoring threats of other clubs but they have a deep team that can roll 3 solid scoring lines led by Dixon Bowen and Tommy Hajicek. The Green Wave will have to show it can best fellow Mariucci Conference foes Warroad and Thief River Falls to really earn the respect of the metro area ranking authorities.
5. Duluth Marshall – Duluth Marshall bench boss Brendan Flaherty has done a tremendous job with the Hilltoppers who have continued to be an elite Class A program year after year. While the 2-1 loss to Breck hurts they still have a very formidable team led by Michael Damberg and Connor Flaherty. The Hilltoppers do play a strong schedule but do they have enough to outplay powerful conference foe and arch rival Hermantown?
1. Benilde-St. Margaret's – The Red Knights who mezmerized everyone last year by storming to a state title, brings back many of their players for from that championship squad for another kick at the can. Led by Wisconsin recruit Grant Besse who turned the State Title game into his own personal showcase, Benilde has tons of firepower to overwhelm opponents. Yet, they are not invincible as questions about its defense and goaltending still remain to be answered.
2. Edina – The young, scrappy squad from a year ago now has experience on its side as well as tremendous depth as Edina is poised to really challenge Benilde for the Class AA crown. Head Coach Curt Giles has a dynamic group led by explosive forward Connor Hurley, but the Hornets have 3 solid scoring lines. The Hornets should be improved from a season ago, but is it enough to win a state title?
3. Duluth East – The Greyhounds, the pre-eminent northern big school that regularly challenges for a state tournament should have another solid squad this season. While they lost some of their star power from a season ago, they still have some great up and coming talent like Jack Forbort, the brother of Los Angeles Kings' 1st round pick Derek Forbort. Greyhounds Head Coach Mike Randolph always manages to get the most of his players but does this team really have the talent to take down either Benilde or Edina? An 11-1 rout of Cambridge-Isanti is hardly surprising, so its a bit early to tell if they have what it takes.
4. Minnetonka – The Skippers believe they might have the talent to upset fellow Lake Conference foes Benilde-St. Margaret's and Edina. A big reason for that is the uber talented Sam Coatta who already on a torrid scoring pace with 11 points in just 4 games. Minnetonka hasn't played anyone too challenging just yet but that should change on Tuesday when they face Eagan. The Skippers do have a lot of scoring depth which makes matching up against them very difficult. However, after playing perhaps in the toughest conference in Minnesota will they have enough in the tank to win a state title?
5. Hill-Murray – Pioneers' Head Coach Bill Lechner is one of the state's most respected coaches. His teams seem to always be in contention for a State Title and this year's squad is no different. Hill-Murray has an experienced and battle tested core that is led by Mitch Slattery and Zach LaValle. Unlike most of the other teams on this list the Pioneers have already passed two tough early season tests by earning two one-goal victories over Burnsville (2-1) and Eagan (3-2 OT). The Pioneers should again be favored to make it back to the State Tournament, but will they be able to really contend against the elite teams listed above them on this list? I'm not so sure of that.
So what do you think? Who would you say is a team to watch or a team that should be on these lists? Please leave a comment below and let's keep the hockey talk going!