Last season was a fun one in Section 4AA as we saw perennial power house Hill-Murray advance thru the section playoffs and represent the section at the 2013 Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. They defeated St. Paul Como Park, Stillwater, and then White Bear Lake to do it. They made it all the way to the championship game of the State Tournament, defeating Eastview and Wayzata to get there, but fell to eventual State Champion Edina in the final.
Over the offseason the section saw a few changes of note. St. Paul Como Park has been re-aligned to Class A, Section 4. In their place, Irondale has been re-aligned to Class AA, Section 4 from Class AA, Section 5.
The section also saw an early departure. Alex Fredberg will not be following his Irondale team to Section 4AA this season, as he has decided to play for the Minnesota Wild of the NAHL this season. That's a tough loss for an Irondale team that will have to replace over 50% of their scoring and their starting goaltender this season.
Finally, the section also saw some coaching changes over the offseason. After leading the United States to the Gold Medal in the World Junior Classic last year, coach Phil Housley (a former NHL star and Minnesota Hockey legend) has decided to move on. He will be replaced behind the bench at Stillwater by coach Matt Doman. Roseville Area also made a coaching change over the offseason. Coach Pete Aus has moved on and will be replaced this season by coach Ryan Adams.
Below are my predicted seedings for this season's section playoffs, including who I think will advance to the State Tournament. I have also included a review of each team's key stats from last season as well as their key losses and leading returning scorers.
Have thoughts or comments on these previews and predictions? I would love to hear them. Feel free to post a facebook comment below, or visit the FORUM TOPIC for this section preview and let me know what you think!
While I think this section will be competitive this year, there is one team that will undoubtedly be a cut or two above the rest this season. I think both White Bear Lake and Tartan have realistic chances of getting hot at the right time and making a run thru the section playoffs, but it will be an uphill battle to defeat a stacked Hill-Murray squad this season.
Hill-Murray will be absolutely loaded this season. They are returning over 60% of the scoring from a team that put up almost 5.5 goals per game last season. True, they will have to replace the production of some excellent players that include Zach LaValle (22-30-52) and Sam Becker (23-29-52). However, with players like Mitch Slattery (23-29-52), Willie Brown (9-24-33), Josh French (10-15-25), Tyler Funk (10-12-22), Zach Mills (6-11-17), Joey Anderson (8-7-15), Dustin Krueger (2-8-10) returning this season, they have an absolutely embarrassment of scoring riches.
Joey Anderson (Minnesota Duluth commit) is a player that really intrigues me. He was an 8th grader on Hill-Murray's varsity squad last year, and will only be a 9th grader this season. Yet, he really impressed in this year's Upper Midwest Elite League season season. I think he is poised to have a really big season this year. I've also heard that his younger brother Mikey Anderson will be following in his brother's footsteps and suiting up for Hill-Murray's varsity squad as an 8th grader this season. Future is bright for the Pioneers.
One challenge is see for Hill-Murray this year will be replacing the absurdly strong play of goaltender John Dugas (0.938SV%) in net. Dugas was one of the best goaltenders in the state last year, and was undoubtedly a big reason why Hill-Murray only allowed a mind-boggling 1.48 goals a game last season. He was also their best penalty killer, and helped that unit keep opponents off the board on 91.7% of their power play opportunities last year. That is going to be really tough production to replace.
That aside, because of their scoring depth and returning leadership, as well as the fact that this team always seems to bring in great, young talent every season (Mikey Anderson is just the most recent in a long line), I am going to predict Hill-Murray to win Section 4AA this season and advance to the 2014 Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament.
Hill-Murray had a fantastic season last year, defeating St. Paul Como Park, Stillwater, and White Bear Lake to advance to the State Tournament. They came up short of their ultimate goal at the State Tournament, but they bring back a big part of their arsenal this season. Zach LaValle, Sam Becker, and John Dugas have all graduated, but with players like Mitch Slattery, Willie Brown, and Josh French back this season, this team is going to be very, very tough to defeat.
Irondale's season ended quickly last year, as they were blanked in the opening round of the Section 5AA playoffs by Maple Grove. They make the move to section 4AA this year, and will be looking to build on last season. That task became more difficult over the offseason, as not only do they have to replace leading scorer Jack Tuomie and other graduating seniors, but they must also move on without Alex Fredberg, who has decided to play with the MN Wild of the NAHL this year.
Jack Tuomie (8-8-16)
Logan Johnson (6-8-14)
Tony Bridgeman (7-7-14)
* Alex Fredberg (6-7-13)
Esko Aukee (0.903SV%)
* Early Departure
Mounds View's season ended in heart break last year, as they lost a tight game in the opening round of the section playoffs to Stillwater. This season will be a rebuilding year of sorts, as they graduated almost 80% of their scoring. They will be without leading scorers Andrew Bjorklund, Jacob Tretsven, and Darian Romanko this year, so players like Matt Hunt and Tucker Gran will need to step up.
NORTH ST. PAUL
North St. Paul had an early exit from the section playoffs last year, as they lost to White Bear Lake in the opening round. They lost some good players to graduation over the offseason, including Mark Meister. However, they do return leading scorers Justin and Tyler Oliver, so they do have a nice core of players to build on this season. While they didn't light the lamp a ton last season, the primary focus this season must be on keeping more pucks out of their own net.
After stunning Tartan in the opening round of the section playoffs last season, Roseville's season ended at the hands of White Bear Lake in the sem-finals. This season they will have to replace the production of graduating seniors Colton Brausen and Robb Stautz, but with leading scorers Ryan Larson and Andrew Colvard returning, that should be easier. A key for this season will be improving their special teams, as their 14.9% power play and 75.8% penalty kill underwhelmed last year.
Stillwater had a good season last year. However, it ultimately ended sooner than they would have liked as they lost to eventual section champion Hill-Murray in the semi-finals. Not only will they have to move on without some key seniors this year, including Tyler Fitzsimmons and starting net minder Colton Anderson, but they will need to adjust to a new coach. Former coach Phil Housley (a Minnesota Legend) has moved on, and will be replaced by coach Matt Doman.
What was a very promising season came to a heart breaking end for Tartan, as they lost a close, high scoring game to Roseville in the opening round of the section playoffs. They will need to replace a lot this season, as they lost over 60% of their scoring. Leading scorer Jake Jackson and others have graduated, but Tartan does return some nice players that include Brady O'Sullivan and Zach Ledman. Their power play was elite last season, but the penalty kill (76.1%) could improve.
WHITE BEAR LAKE
White Bear Lake had a fantastic season last year. Coming into the section playoffs as the #2 seed, they advanced all the way to the section final, where they lost a tight battle with eventual section champion Hill-Murray. They will be in great position to build on that success this year, as they return a majority of their scoring. With leading scorers Jake Wahlin and Tommy Giller back on the ice, and starting goaltender Chase Gorman back in the net, they will be primed for a run this year.