8 Class A teams battle for High School’s grandest prize

Written by Shafin Khan and Jackson Boline

Eight Class A teams gather together to fight for one grand prize. The Tourney is a place for some to fight for their program’s first state title, and some for their fifth like Hermantown and Warroad. For the kids, it’s a time to step onto the same ice that their childhood role models skated on while repping their hometown colors in front of thousands of people.

Here is a look at the eight teams vying for high school hockey’s grand prize:

Northfield Raiders (22-4-0)

LPH Final Ranking: 8

Goals for-Goals Against: 5.25-1.79

Power Play: 40.4%

PK: 87.1%

Goals Leader: Kam Kaiser (36)

Assists leader: Jake Geiger (38)

Points leader: Jake Geiger (64)

Northfield put together an impressive 22-4-2 record over the course of the year and dominated the Big Nine conference finishing with a 14-1-0 record. They went on to defeat Dodge County 4-1 in the section final to propel themselves toward the state tournament. They will now face a tough test against St. Cloud Cathedral in the first round of the state playoffs at 1 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Raiders have a good amount of depth scoring on their roster. It starts with three players who scored over 50 points this season: Kam Kaiser (55), Cayden Monson (57), and Jake Geiger (64). They also can get some scoring from the blue line, with Ben Geiger, Bridger Riley and Ty Frank all having 19 or more points. The Raiders are led between the pipes with Max Frank who sports a 1.58 GAAm 0.921 Sv% and four shutouts.

The Raiders have only suffered three losses since December 19. They have lost to St. Cloud Cathedral, Owatonna, and Delano. The Raiders have allowed just four goals in their three playoff games, thanks to goaltender Frank and their defense.

They will have a tall task in shutting down Cathedral’s top line, but Cathedral may have the same issue with Northfield’s top line as these two squads probably have the top two lines in the tournament.

Orono Spartans (20-8)

LPH Final Rankings: 5

Goals for-Goals Against: 4.07/2.36

Power Play: 25.6%

Penalty Kill: 85.9%

Goals Leader: Jackson Knight (20)

Assists leader: Joey Mugaas (25)

Points leader: Jackson Knight (42)

Orono finished third in the Metro West Conference with a record of 8-3 behind Chanhassen and Benilde-St. Margarets but were still able to find their way to the state tournament by defeating Minneapolis 4-1 in the section final. They will go up against No. 4 seeded Mahtomedi in the first round of the tournament at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

The Orono Spartans look to make a simular run to a state title as their 2018 state championship win. Photo from @Oronoboyshockey on X

The Spartans are led by Sophomore forward Jackson Knight in goals and points scoring 20-22-42. Knight should be a pivotal piece for Orono in the next few years.

“Jackson played JV all last year and is now our leading scorer. It shows you the dedication these kids have,” said Head Coach Sean Fish.

The Spartans also have a strong blue liner with Joey Mugaas heading the pack. Mugaas has scored 10-25-35 this seasoning has led the defensive group for Orono. They can score and have a strong defense, but they are also strong in the net with Peyton Anderson. Anderson has sported a 1.93 GAA, 0.910 Sv%, and three shutouts.

“We have 12 seniors this year, so we have experience, even if their roles have increased this year,” said Fish.

The Spartans head into St. Paul winning eight of their last ten games, with their only two losses coming against two top Class AA teams in Chanhassen and Benilde-St. Margaret’s.

“Despite it being a loss, the Chan game taught us who we are as a team, and that we can beat and stay with anyone in the state.”

The Spartans also showed how good they are offensively, scoring 17 goals in their three playoff games.

“This is the most confident I’ve been coaching a team in my career,” said Fish.

New Ulm Eagles (23-5)

LPH Final Rankings: Unranked

Goals for-Goals Against: 5.71-2.00

Power Play %:  27.2%

PK %: 81.2%

Goals Leader: Austin Uecker (38)

Assists leader: Austin Uecker (41)

Points leader: Austin Uecker (79)

New Ulm finished second in the Big South conference with a 14-2 record right behind Luverne. The Eagles earned themselves a spot in the state tournament after defeating Marshall 4-2 in the section final. They will now go up against Warroad in the first round of the state tournament at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Eagles are led by their star senior forward Austin Uecker, who has scored 38-41-79. They also have some serious depth behind Uecker with Kaden Larson and Bryer Lang who have scored over 50 points themselves. With these strong forwards, it’s easy to see why they average almost six goals per game, but the other stat is just as good, allowing two goals per game. That is thanks to their good defensive game and goaltending. Bryer Hoffmann has been solid in net, stopping nearly 600 shots, with a 0.910 Sv% and six shutouts.

Not only have the Eagles won 13 of their past 15 games, but they’ve also scored five or more goals in nine of those games. They also started their season hot, winning their first four games and going 8-2-0 through their opening ten games.

Mahtomedi Zephyrs (17-11-0)

LPH Final Rankings: 6

Goals for-Goals Against: 3.93-2.86

Power Play: 22.4%

Penalty Kill: 83.2%

Goals Leader: Jake Hodd-Chlebeck 25

Assists leader: Jimmy Egan 37

Points leader: Jake Hodd-Chlebeck 47

Mahtomedi came in third place in the Metro East conference between Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy this season. They were able to fight their way to the state tournament after defeating Southwest Christian/Richfield in the section final 3-2. They now find themselves matched up again with Orono in the first round of the state playoffs at 8 p.m. on Wednesday.

The 2023 state champions bring two players who have scored over 40 points this season. Jake Hodd-Chlebeck scored 25-22-47 and Jimmy Egan scored 9-37-46. They also have three players with 20 or more, Patrick Egan (21), Sam Harris (26), and Gene Wegleitner (33). This Zephyrs team is chock-full of talent yet again, but will it be enough to repeat as champions?

Wes Strub has a 2.06 GAA, 0.925 Sv% and two shutouts in net for Mahtomedi. LPH HOCKEY PHOTO.

The Zephyrs started the season going 3-5-2 which was not the start they expected, but two of those losses were against Warroad in overtime, and Delano again in overtime. They finally found their stride later in the season, as they carried an eight-game winning streak into St. Paul. A notable win in that stretch was versus Cretin-Derham Hall who will be playing this week as well.

St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (23-4-1)

LPH Final Rankings: 2

Goals for-Goals Against: 4.71-2.11

Power Play %: 19.0%

PK %: 85.3%

Goals Leader: Joey Gillespie (29)

Assists leader: John Hirschfeld (51)

Points leader: John Hirschfeld (75)

The Crusaders put together a strong regular season performance, finishing the year with a 23-4-1 record overall. They continued their high-level play through the postseason and defeated Monticello 4-1 in the section final to earn themselves a trip to the state tourney. They are now pitted against Northfield in the first round which they will play on Wednesday at 1 p.m.

A young team a season ago, the Crusaders are mature and ready to make another run at the title.

“We’re a very deep, experienced team. We’ve got a fantastic first line that has produced a ton of offense this year, but we’ve also got considerable production from our second and third lines as well. We have a fantastic goaltender and defensive corps that have played tremendous hockey down the stretch,” said Head Coach Robbie Stocker.

Just because they’re a year older as a team, doesn’t mean the youth movement of this St. Cloud team hasn’t made an impact. John Hirschfeld leads the team in points again, but this time as a junior. Hirschfeld has scored 24-51-75 and his vision and playmaking ability has improved even from last season. The Crusaders have three 60 point scorers on the roster, with Andrew Dwinnell and Joey Gillespie, as well as Hirschfeld. Nick Hansen has been the usual starter in the crease, and there’s a reaso.. Hansen enters St. Paul with a 16-0-1 record, 1.44 GAA, 0.936 Sv% and four shutouts. He suffered an injury during the first half of the season, but is back and is healthy and ready to lead the Crusaders in their quest of their second state tourney title.

John Hirschfeld has 24-51-75 this season as a Junior for the Crusaders. LET’S PLAY HOCKEY PHOTO BY BRYAN ZOLLMAN.

The Crusaders have young players, but they also have the tournament experience that is needed to make a run.

“I think that being a veteran team that’s got experience playing in this tournament will pay dividends. We’ve played a very difficult schedule this year, which has thrown a lot of different variables at us. I think that experience will also serve us well as the tourney tends to bring some unexpected situations,” said Stocker.

For every team that makes the trip to St. Paul, there is that one player or few players who go under the radar, but without them, the team just wouldn’t be the same. That’s the same for St. Cloud Cathedral.

“Cole Hwang is a phenomenal player and leader on this team that doesn’t always get the accolades. He plays a true 200-foot game and is looked to in all situations on the ice. He’s been a fantastic player for us the past 3 seasons and is a huge part of our success.”

The Crusaders started the season not losing a game for almost a month, before they fell to Rock Ridge on December 16. They ended their regular season pretty similar winning nine straight games before the playoffs, where they swept the section.

Alexandria Area Cardinals (18-9-1)

LPH Final Rankings: 9

Goals for-Goals Against: 4.00-2.04

Power Play %: 16.3%

PK %: 85.2%

Goals Leader: Gavin Olson (19)

Assists leader : Jack Lamski (24)

Points leader : Evan Anderson (35)

Alexandria Area had an up-and-down season in the Central Lakes conference as they finished with a 6-4-1 record. The team found their stride at the right time of the season and caught fire in the postseason, earning themselves a bid to the state tournament. Alexandria defeated Northern Lakes 6-1 in the section final and will now go up against Hermantown at 6 p.m. on Wednesday in the first round of the state playoffs.

Alexandria is a little less experienced team from past years, with four freshmen and four Sophomores in the starting lineup, which made the start of the season one of lessons.

“We took some time to find the chemistry, not to mention we went about a month without a healthy full roster,” said Head Coach Josh Meyers.

The Cardinals dealt with injuries and illnesses for much of the early season, but once they got healthier they hit their stride.

“We started getting healthier and after the Holy Angels win, we got a good mental check.”

Metcalf has sported a 15-8-1 record, and 2.04 GAA, 0.919 Sv% along with three shutouts.

The Cardinals are led in net by Senior Brady Metcalf, who has put together a great first season with AAHS.

“It’s not too often we get players transferring to us, so Brady was a nice refresher, and he earned his way into the net and hasn’t looked back,” said Meyers.

Metcalf has sported a 15-8-1 record, and 2.04 GAA, 0.919 Sv% along with three shutouts.

“He makes big saves when we need them and it swings momentum in games.”

The Cardinals are a defensive-minded squad, who focuses on doing the right thing.

“Our team defense is really strong, we take all six guys to break out the puck. We are physical when we need to be and let the puck do the work,” said Meyers.

Alexandria was teetering with being .500 for most of the season, but after back-to-back Class AA wins, the Cardinals got hot. After a loss to Sartell, AAHS won 11 of their final 12 games to earn their third straight trip to state.

Hermantown Hawks (18-8-2)

LPH Final Rankings: 1

Goals for-Goals Against: 3.93-1.79

Power Play %: 18.3%

PK %: 86.6%

Goals Leader: River Freeman (19)

Assists leader : William Esterbrooks (22)

Points leader : River Freeman (41)

Powerhouse Hermantown finds themselves back in the state tournament after taking care of business against Hibbing/Chisholm 4-0 in the section final. Hermantown handily won the Lake Superior conference and finished with a 5-0-1 conference record. They will now go up against Alexandria Area in the first round of the state playoffs on Wednesday at 6 p.m.

The Hawks are led between the pipes by Dane Callaway, who has been excellent this season, sporting a 1.71 GAA, 0.939 Sv% and five shutouts. Callaway was huge in the playoffs stopping 65 of 68 through three games.

In the three playoff games, Callaway has stopped 65 of 68 shots.

“The Strength of our team is from the goal line out. Dane is as good as any goalie in the state. He’s ultra-competitive and a big strong kid who demands the net. He’s our captain without a letter,” said Head Coach Patrick Andrews.

The Hawks’ leading scorer River Freeman has scored 19-23-42 this season, leading the charge for another state title in Hermantown.

The Hawks are very strong defensively this season, arguably their best asset.

“We have four outstanding next level defensman, starting with our 6’4 St. Thomas commit Henry Peterson, who skates like hes 5’8,” said Andrews.

The Hawks went their first six games without a loss, beating Cretin-Derham Hall, tying Hill-Murray, and beating Centennial before losing to Rosemount for their first loss of the season.

“We lost more games than we’re used to but we learned more from the losses, it taught us great lessons.”

The Hawks are just as strong as they usually are and they are heading into St. Paul with a five game winning streak.

Warroad Warriors (23-5-0)

Record: 23-5

Goals Leader: Carson Pilgrim (29)

Assists leader: Taven James (37)

Points leader: Carson Pilgrim (63)

Warrod capped off a strong regular season with a 23-5 record overall. They narrowly squeezed themselves into the state tournament after defeating East Grand Forks 4-3 in the section final. They will now go up against New Ulm in the first round of the state tournament at 11 a.m. on Wednesday.

The Warriors may have lost their two best players from a season ago in Jayson Shaugabay and goalie Hampton Slukynsky but they still had the best player in the 2023 tournament, Carson Pilgrim. He didn’t take any steps back, scoring 29-34-63 this season and leading the Warriors in goals and points. Taven James and Murray Marvin-Cordes are also huge components of the great season Warroad has put together. These three forwards have been alongside the team in their past two tournament appearances, and have big a big part of making it to the championship game in both years.

“They have experience of playing at the biggest stage in high school, and I know they want to get back there and finish the job,” said Head Coach Jay Hardwick.

The Warroad community has mourned a couple of very influential figures in the community this year, including one of their coaches, Michael Tveidt.

“Carson (Pilgrim) was his stepson, and our starting goalie Ben (Norris) was his nephew. Those two certainly have that in the back of their mind, along with the entire team who grew up with Ben and Carson. They will be playing for something more special,” said Hardwick.

Carson Pilgrim is a finalist for Mr. Hockey a year after Shaugabay took home the award.

“I think you ask Jayson or Slukynsky if they would trade those accolades for a state title they would do it in a heartbeat, so I know Carson is focused on winning the whole thing for the community more than an individual accolade.”

Warroad is a different looking team than they were a season ago, but they all have the same goal in mind.

“We’re much younger than last year, but we found a way to still have success, it’s been very rewarding,” said Hardwick.

Carson Pilgrim is up for Mr. Hockey, the second Warrior in as many years to be a finalist for the award.