Local high school hockey playoffs start in a little more than a week, and it's almost time for the best time on the area sports calendar.
Playoff seeds should be out by the end of next week, and there are a few things left to be decided. That said, here's a look at what teams are worth keeping a real eye on once the postseason begins.
Defending champion: Hermantown
Local teams: Hermantown, Proctor
Hermantown should be the No. 1 seed, as the Hawks lap the field in strength of schedule. The negative there is the Hawks don't have a ton of section games under their belt. St. Cloud Cathedral, who will draw a top three seed, beat Hermantown in St. Cloud earlier this season. Princeton (16-5-1) could be a dangerous team, too, but the Tigers lost to SCC this week. They split their season series, with each winning at home. Hermantown didn't play Princeton. Proctor hasn't had a good first season under Steve Rodberg, winning just four games out of 21 so far and dropping seven straight.
Legacy Christian has a gaudy 9-1 in-section record, but that loss came to Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson, not exactly a juggarnaut. Expect nothing better than a fifth seed for the Lions.
Defending champion: Duluth Marshall
Local teams: All
Looking for its first trip to state since 1989, Duluth Denfeld should have the top seed. The Hunters are 6-0 in the section, 15-7 overall, and have wins over Hermantown and Duluth East outside of section play. Look for the defending champions and Hibbing to be seeded behind Denfeld. Virginia/MIB and International Falls will fight for the last home-ice quarterfinal game, but I think VMIB has the upper hand, having won and tied in the season series.
The Broncos could be a tough out, thanks to strong defensive play and a formidable top line.
Defending champion: Duluth East
Local teams: Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, Duluth East, Grand Rapids
The local representation should all be really tough. East and Rapids should be the top seeds, with the potential existing for Elk River to swipe the third seed. What would hurt CEC in that regard is -- for example -- this week's 3-0 loss to Andover, a team the Elks beat twice. Elk River doesn't have much in the way of sectional play, with the two Andover wins and a loss to Grand Rapids.
Andover is a darkhorse, floating around .500 but possessing perhaps the best goalie in the section in Chase Perry. The Huskies won two games in the section tournament last year, so there's no reason to assume they can't get to Amsoil Arena again.