Ahh, its officially March. That means its officially time for some good old March Madness! In Minnesota before the basketball tournaments start dominating the new cycle, there is one big event. The Tourney—aka the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. While the main event for both the A and AA schools does not begin until next week at the Xcel Energy Center, tickets to St. Paul are getting punched this week. And tonight will be a very exciting night for high school hockey fans who are also Gopher Hockey fans.
The Section 2AA and 6AA Finals will be back to back at 6 and 8 PM tonight at Mariucci Arena. The 2AA final pits Eden Prairie against Holy Family, and the 6AA Final pits Edina against defending AA State Champion Wayzata. Now, normally this would be enough for a great night of hockey with three of the top five teams in the state competing, but for Gopher fans, they will get a special preview of six players who will soon be skating much more regularly on the Mariucci Arena ice sheet. Here is a quick preview of the matchups and the future Gophers:
Section 2 AA—6PM
#1 Eden Prairie vs #5 Holy Family
In what has the chance to be the best section final matchup in Minnesota High School Hockey this season, the #1 ranked Eagles will take on the #5 ranked Fire. Holy Family does not have any Gopher commits but features senior defenseman Matt Anderson who is headed to UMD. Meanwhile a pair of Gophers skate on Eden Prairie’s top line. The favorite for the Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award will be senior Casey Mittelstadt. He has scored 21 goals and 45 assists in 26 games this season. He is also a highly ranked NHL draft pick and should go in the top ten of this year’s draft. Mittelstadt decided to come back to EP for his senior season to try and win a State title, and if they can get past Holy Family they should be the favorites in St. Paul next week. Mittelstadt will step in immediately for the Gophers next fall and is a favorite to step in at the center spot that will be vacated by senior captain Justin Kloos.
Mittelstadt’s wing with the Eagles is sophomore Jack Jensen. He scored 17 goals and 22 assists on the season for Eden Prairie. While his numbers may be a bit elevated playing with Mittelstadt, he has a natural scoring touch and will look good in maroon and gold in two more seasons. The Eagles also have Nicky Leiverman on defense who is committed to Notre Dame.
#2 Edina vs Wayzata
The 6AA final features perennial powerhouse Edina taking on defending State Champion Wayzata. The Trojans are having a down year after losing a lot from their championship team but appear to be turning it on at the right time. Wayzata has two DI commits on their roster, defenseman Grant Anderson who is committed to Nebraska-Omaha and junior forward Colin Schmidt who is committed to the Gophers. Schmidt has ten goals and 15 assists on the season for the Trojans. While not the offensive outburst he may have hoped for, he does have scoring ability as shown in the High Schol Fall Elite League where he scored ten goals in nineteen games.
Meanwhile Edina is loaded again. There’s a shocker. But this time instead of several of their players headed to Notre Dame or elsewhere, three of the four DI commits on the roster are headed to play for the Gophers.
Junior Sammy Walker is a dangerous forward who can put the puck in the net. He scored 24 goals and had 27 assists this season for the Hornets. Walker is probably a few years away as he will be expected to play at least one year in the USHL, but could be another forward scoring thread for Minnesota. The Gophers have two young defensive commits from Edina as well. Sophomore Ben Brinkman is the captain for Edina, and scored 23 points on the season. A great skater and ap layer whose ability is on a rapid accent, Brinkman is a huge commit for Minnesota and could play a major role on the Gopher blue line in two or three seasons. Freshman Jake Boltman is still developing for Edina, but he has all the tools to be a great player. He tallied 14 points on the season but has shown flashes of ability that make Minnesota fans excited for the future.
If you can’t get to Mariucci in person tonight, both games will be broadcast on 100.3 KFAN in the Twin Cities. The State Tournament starts with the A quarterfinals next Wednesday and the AA quarterfinals next Thursday from the X. It should be a great weekend of hockey as always.