Minnesota Boys' High School Hockey Tournament: Class AA Preview

If you want parity, look no further than the 2012 Class AA bracket. 5 of the top 6 AA teams are in the tournament, and 7 of the top 10 are in the field. The lowest ranked team in the AA tournament will be Lakeville South, who finished the season at #12. Every single AA team can make a legitimate argument for the AA Championship. The top 5 squads from AA are all incredibly potent teams with loads of talent.

Yesterday we previewed the Class A field. Today, the cheat sheet for the Class AA Tournament teams is available after the jump.

Lakeville South Cougars
Section 1AA Champions
Final Record: 20-8
The Cougars are making their 2nd trip to St. Paul since the 2008 split of Lakeville North and Lakeville South. They will be led by superstar Justin Kloos, the favorite to win the Mr. Hockey Award. His fellow forward Alex Harvey put together a very good season in his own right, but the talent pool takes a steep drop off beyond those two. The goaltending situation in Lakeville is unclear. Hunter Ziniel saw the majority of the starts in the regular season, but Tyler Schumaker got the bulk of the action during the Section Tournament. It's too late in the season to be unsure of who will be the man between the pipes. The Cougars needed one of the two to take the job and run with it. If Lakeville South wants to claim their 1st State Championship, Kloos is going to need help, both with secondary scoring and a legitimate #1 goaltender.

Edina Hornets
Section 2AA Champions
Final Record: 23-5
The Hornets may be the example of a perennial team in the State Tournament. This is the 23rd trip to the Tournament, and 7 of those have ended with Edina taking home the hardware. The Hornets have a very good duo in Connor Hurley and Dylan Malmquist. In the net, Willie Benjamin has been solid all year long. The Hornets have played very good defense through the year, and while a lot of the attention has been given to the Greyhounds, Red Knights, and the Crimson, the Hornets should be considered right there with them. They're battle tested, as they play in a very tough Lake Conference. While there may not be a top-tier star player in Edina this year, this Hornets squad is a committed team that plays exactly like that: A unified team. Don't count them out.

Eagan Wildcats
Section 3AA Champions
Final Record: 24-3-1
Eagan will be led to St. Paul by their top-line trio of seniors: Nick Kuchera, Will Merchant, and Michael Zajac. Both Zajac and Merchant are up for the Mr. Hockey Award. Will Merchant is the highest ranked player by Central Scouting that's up for the award, so don't kid yourself. The talent is there. The Wildcats can score in bunches and have played staunch defense all year. The Wildcats will need senior goalie Christian Butler to take his game to the next level against some of the premier offenses in AA hockey. If Butler can hold up his end of the bargain, this is an Eagan squad that could make some real noise this year.

Hill-Murray Pioneers
Section 4AA Champions
Final Record: 22-6
Another team that is a perennial State Tournament qualifier, the Pioneers were able to survive their Section Championship game to make their 26th appearance in the State Tournament. The Pioneers will have two lines that can score, as their top line will be led by junior Jake Guentzel and their 2nd line by senior Charlie Sampair. The defense and goaltending are going to have to be significantly better, however, if the Pioneers want to compete against a stacked AA field. They didn't get any favors by drawing against a high-powered and well-balanced Maple Grove team.

Maple Grove Crimson
Section 5AA Champions
Final Record: 24-2-2
The Crimson put Class AA on notice when they blew out Blaine by a score of 15-1. There's a ton of offensive firepower on this team. To add to their embarassment of riches, goaltender Kyle Koop is up for the Frank Brimsek Award, given to the top senior goaltender. The powerplay is deadly, the penalty kill is anchored by a top goalie, and they have plenty of scoring from their top 2 lines. The only real question mark about this Crimson team is their experience. They've never been to a State Tournament before, so will the jitters be there or not? The top seniors (Dylan Steman, Tony Paulson, Shane Wolden, Alex Mason, Spencer Bell) will have to be the calming influences in the locker room and on the ice.

Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights
Section 6AA Champions
Final Record: 22-6
The Red Knights come in as the only non-#1 seed from their section, having ousted a dangerous Minnetonka team in the Section 6AA Final. There is a lot of offensive firepower up front for Benilde, who will be led by Grant Besse, T.J. Moore, Christian Horn, and Dan Labosky. The goaltending, though, is up in the air. Anders Jecha saw the majority of time in the regular season, but he gave way to Justin Quale for the Section Tournament. There are plenty of teams that can score in Class AA. The difference between real contenders and hopefuls is goaltending. The Red Knights need Quale to play like a #1 if he's the man they've chosen to go with for the Tournament.

Duluth East Greyhounds
Section 7AA Champions
Final Record: 27-1
The Greyhounds were a Kyle Rau swipe away from winning the Class AA title last year, but were fortunate enough to return their core for one more run. The goals for Duluth East have been checked off so far: #1 in Class AA, win Section 7AA, earn the #1 spot in the Tournament. Now, only one goal remains. The Greyhounds are at full strength going into the Tournament. The senior trio of Dom Toninato, Jake Randoph, and Trevor Olson will be asked to carry the load, while Meirs Moore and Nate Repensky will have to anchor the blueline for Duluth East. Dylan Parker has been lights out all season, and considered one of the best goalies in the state. The powerplay is deadly for the Greyhounds, with a regular season percentage of just over 44%. If teams march to the box against the Greyhounds, the game is over. East might be the most well-rounded team in Class AA.

Moorhead Spuds
Section 8AA Champions
Final Record: 21-6
The Spuds are a scoring-by-committee team this year, lacking a star point producer; however, the Spuds don't necessarily need guys putting up 6 goals a game with Michael Bitzer between the pipes. Bitzer, like Koop, is up for the Frank Brimsek Award. For a high school goalie, Bitzer has been unbelievable. He's played every single game this year for Moorhead, compiling a 2.02 GAA and a .927 SV%. Going against the common theme, the Spuds have the goaltending but need top-end scoring to go deep this year. Tony and Nicholas Uglem will have to find a way to get more offense if the Spuds want to claim their 1st ever State Championship.

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