You have found the 2011 Tourney coverage. 2012 Tournament coverage is also available. Check the front page for this year's coverage.
Hello Wilderness! For a hockey fan, there is no better week than that of the State Tourney. This year is no exception. It doesn't matter how little you pay attention, the time is magical and the kids look younger and younger every year. Sure, it makes me feel old, but the tournament brings back so many emotions and memories that it has become an institution.
For a fabulous preview check out the Star Tribune's Hockey Hub
Oh, and there is a to watch the state tournament online
So without further ado, let's take a look at the opening day in Class A
• Alexandria (12-15-1) vs. Hermantown (No. 2 seed, 23-3-2), 11 am
• Hibbing/Chisholm (17-9-2) vs. Rochester Lourdes (No. 3, 24-3-1), 1 pm
• New Ulm (21-4-3) vs. St. Thomas Academy (No. 1, 22-6), 6 pm
• Thief River Falls (19-8-1) vs. Breck (No. 4, 20-8), 8 pm
With no Warroad around (yes, I support the real Hockeytown), class A typically falls to a private school and this year is no exception. Breck and St. Thomas Academy spend most of the season playing AA metro-area schools and as such seem to come in better prepared than many of the outstate teams and (recruiting issues aside) have dominated class A since the move to two classes (no, I'm not acknowledging the Tier I/Tier II debacle).
Follow us after the jump for a preview of each team
Breck is looking to three-peat and their experience will serve them well in the pressure cooker that is the tourney. Sure, they lost 12 players from last season's team, but this squad knows how to win, and that was never more evident than their double overtime win over Orono in the section final. The scary thing about Breck is that their top talent is all underclassmen, so while many saw this as a rebuilding year for the Mustangs, they are my odds-on favorite to three-peat and four-peat next season.
St. Thomas Academy comes into the tournament as the #1 seeded team and looking to make up for a two year absence from the tournament. Only one of their six losses came to a class A opponent and this team is hungry to make up for the "choker" badge pinned on them the past two seasons by detractors. The Cadets live and die by their offense. Playing an up-tempo brand of hockey, STA's major area of concern coming into the season was replacing two experienced goaltenders, but Sophomore David Zevnik has performed admirably with a 1.89 GAA and .911 save %. However, will he be able to step up on the biggest stage? If the Cadets are going to take down a team like Breck, he's going to have to be stellar.
Hermantown (Thanks to Bruce Ciskie for this preview of the Hawks, check out The Ciskie Blog) won 23 games, and nine of them were by at least five goals. They won their last two section games -- albeit in a bad section -- by a combined 12-1. The Hawks got to the state final with a bit of a surprising run last year, and darn near beat a Breck team that looked untouchable before that. Senior Garrett Skrbich is one goal away from the school single-season record. They have experience back from last year, and there's a lot of young talent on this team. Goalie Connor Lucas won 19 games, but there were games in there where he didn't have to be very good. That will change in the state tournament, where every goal allowed could be a killer. Bruce Plante -- father of former UMD star and current assistant coach Derek -- is nearing 400 wins in his coaching career, and he's one of the best coaches in the state. If you don't believe me, look what he was able to do at state last year, despite not having the best team on paper. With that in mind, look for his team to flourish this year, because they're one of the better teams on paper.
Rochester Lourdes comes into the tournament 24-3-1 and scored 17 goals in their three section tournament wins, the Eagles relies upon their defense to stymie the opposition and counter attack. Facing an offensive powerhouse in Hibbing/Chisholm, the Eagles know all to well what can happen when a defense-first team can run against an offense-first team in the tourney after losing 9-0 to Warroad last year. This Lourdes team still has the upperclass defensemen and senior leadership who were embarrassed by the Warriors last season and are looking to bounce back and build upon a tough schedule this season.
Hibbing/Chisholm (again, thanks to Bruce) Before last week, Hibbing had experienced a run of six straight trips to the Section 7A final without winning. Their ninth final in a row ended up breaking that curse, as they trampled rival Virginia 5-0 to get to state. Sophomore Adam Johnson (38 goals, 80 points) and senior Nick DeCenzo are the top players, with DeCenzo having performed very well in the section final. He's a senior captain who raised his level of play at both ends of the ice as Hibbing simply out-worked and out-hustled a team thought to have superior talent in Virginia. Goalie Nathan Tromp has 57 saves on 58 shots so far in the playoffs. That's a decent statistic.
Thief River Falls: I am always partial to teams coming out of the 8. Call me nostalgic, but raised by a father who went to Bagley high school (home of the last team to play their games on an outdoor rink) I was born and bred to jump on the bandwagon of the Roseau's, Warroad's, Thief River Falls', Moorhead's of the world. This Prowlers team is a surprising entry to the tournament, upsetting the heavily favored Warroad Warriors 4-1 in the section 8 final (beating them for only the second time in the past 10 section finals). Beating Warroad shows that this team can get up for the big game, which should help them as they are once again underdogs to the two-time champion Breck Mustangs. TRF will have to dig in and reach back and find every ounce of will and strength they can muster to repeat the performance. While not top-heavy (aside from leading scorer Micah Ranum), the Prowlers play a solid team game and will have to rely on each other to be confident in their system and in each other.
New Ulm: Home of Friend of the Wilderness David Berg (@schellbrewer) the Eagles are looking to not repeat the performance of last season that gave up four goals in 52 seconds to Breck and ended up losing 11-1. This year they face St. Thomas Academy, and while are very unlikely to win, will rely upon their goaltending to keep things close and hope for opportunities on which they can capitalize. Expect them to test the Cadets early and often, but even that shouldn't matter as they are pretty severely over-matched.
Alexandria is likely just happy to be in St. Paul. The Section 4 teams (Fergus Falls, Little Falls, ) have been cannon fodder in the tourney over the past decade, and this year will likely be no different. Facing a team like Hermantown, with that offense, could get ugly early. It's not often a sub-.500 team can have an impact in the tourney, but Alexandria has faced adversity this season, getting off to a very slow start before peaking at the right time, and that's really the point of the season right, to be peaking in March?
So there you have it, the eight Class A teams fighting for the state championship. Who do you choose?