Wednesday, February 12, 2014

High School Hockey Musings: Playoffs Approach

By this time in two weeks, we'll be on the verge of sending teams to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament.

Yes, it happened that fast.

Here are my thoughts on the local sections ahead of the upcoming playoff seeding announcements.

Section 5A
Local teams: Proctor, Moose Lake Area
Top dogs: Chisago Lakes, Princeton, Spring Lake Park

While Proctor hasn't had a great season, the Rails are actually in position for a seed as high as fourth in this section. Wins over Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson and Legacy Christian might be enough to offset a 7-17 overall record and lift Proctor to fourth. Moose Lake Area has five wins after a terrible 2012-13, but I still expect the Rebels to bring up the rear in the seedings.

1. Chisago Lakes
2. Princeton
3. Spring Lake Park
4. Proctor
5. Mora/Hinckley-Finlayson
6. Legacy Christian
7. Providence Academy
8. Pine City/Rush City
9. North Branch
10. Moose Lake Area

Section 7A
Local teams: All
Top dogs: Hermantown, Duluth Marshall

This section could be one of the more entertaining in the state. Hermantown joins this year after the MSHSL re-drew the sections. Those responsible for staging the section tournament have to be thrilled with this. While the Hawks haven't lost a section game and stand as the favorite, they haven't played great down the stretch, with ties against Duluth Denfeld and a Superior team that they beat 8-2 last month.

Of course, the Hawks also haven't lost to a Class A team all season (losses to Grand Rapids, Wayzata, Eagan, and White Bear Lake). So bet against them (figuratively) at your own peril.

Defending champion Duluth Marshall is strong again, and the section has potential darkhorses in Virginia/MIB (9-1-1 in section), Duluth Denfeld (hot lately), and Hibbing (strong defense but must score more).

1. Hermantown
2. Duluth Marshall
3. Virginia/MIB
4. Duluth Denfeld
5. Hibbing
6. North Shore
7. Eveleth-Gilbert
8. Greenway
9. Ely

Section 7AA
Local teams: Duluth East, Grand Rapids, Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
Top dogs: Duluth East, Elk River, Grand Rapids, Forest Lake

We'll save the toughest section to figure out for last.

Duluth East appears to be a lock for No. 1, even though it lost to Elk River and Cloquet/Esko/Carlton, both at home.

The fact the Elks are 3-2 against a limited section schedule doesn't help them here. Grand Rapids has a case for a high seed thanks to a 5-1 section record, but the Thunderhawks haven't helped their cause with losses to Class A foes Denfeld, Marshall, and Virginia. But Grand Rapids beat Elk River.

Forest Lake is 14-6-4 and has some nice out-of-section wins (including Tuesday over White Bear Lake), but the Rangers lost to Rapids and got pasted at home by Duluth East. Andover has been hot lately, but the Huskies lost to East and Forest Lake and split with Elk River. They also have a loss to sub-.500 Robbinsdale Armstrong.

While I'm hesitant to make final decisions based on games played in November and December, there's also a body-of-work component to this bit.

Good luck with this.

1. Duluth East
2. Elk River
3. Grand Rapids
4. Forest Lake
5. Andover
6. St. Michael-Albertville
7. Cloquet/Esko/Carlton
8. St. Francis
9. Cambridge-Isanti

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