Class A Tournament Preview

by Matt Harrington

For the first time since 2009, there will be no Hermantown in this year's Class A State Tournament. With Mahtomedi being the only team returning from last year's tournament and North Branch and Minnesota River making their first ever appearances, this Class A field is anyone's game. This is part one of a two part series that will go in-depth with each tournament team and look at factors to their success and how they got to the State Tournament. 

#1 Mahtomedi Zephyrs (21-6-1)

Section: 4A

Head Coach: Jeff Poeschl (22nd season overall) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 2-2 (includes AA opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 11- 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019

Road to State

Win 6-1 over Gentry Academy

Win 6-1 over South St. Paul

Win 5-0 over Totino-Grace

Leading Scorers

Nikolai Dulak  15-25-40

Joe Paradise  13-23-36

Dylan L’Allier  10-26-36

Colin Hagstrom  17-17-34

Noah Skillings  7-26-33

Leading Goaltenders

Ben Dardis  12-4-1, 1.70, .934

John Poirer  9-2-0, 2.15, .900

The bottom line

The top-seeded Mahtomedi Zephyrs have become a staple of the Class A Tournament in recent years, and are making an appearance for the 4th time in 5 seasons. With 7 players over 30 points, the Zephyrs have one of the most diverse and dynamic offenses in the state. 

Nikolai Dulak is the team leader in points with 40 (15 goals, 25 assists). The Zephyrs also have 6 players that have over 10 goals. In addition to the offense, Mahtomedi has been backed by a solid goaltending tandem of Ben Dardis and John Poirer. Dardis’ .934 save percentage ranks #9 in the state and his GAA of 1.70 ranks #8 (both classes). 

A dynamic duo has also emerged for the Zephyrs this season: twin brothers Tom and Joe Paradise. They have combined for 66 points (30 goals, 33 assists) up to this point in the season. They are the grandsons of former NHLer Bob Paradise and  the late legendary coach Herb Brooks. 

Mahtomedi played a challenging non-conference schedule this season that include two games against two critical AA powerhouses in St. Thomas Academy and Hill Murray. They lost 4-3 to Hill Murray early and tied them 2-2 later in the year. They dropped both contests to the Cadets, 4-1 and 7-1. The Zephyrs do have two wins over fellow tournament bound teams, including a 5-2 win over Greenway and 6-2 win over St. Cloud Cathedral. 

Top-seeded Mahtomedi will open up the tournament against New Ulm at 6pm on Wednesday. Mahtomedi is clearly one of the tournament's most talented teams and could certainly be on their way to the first title in school history. 

#2 St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (24-4-0)

Section: 6A

Head Coach: Derrick Brown (4th season as St. Cloud Cathedral head coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 3-2 (includes AA opponents) 

State Tournament Appearances: 9- 1993, 1994, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 

Road to State

Win 11-0 over Breckridge/Wahpeton

Win 6-0 over River Lakes

Win 4-1 over Alexandria 

Leading Scorers

Blake Perbix  21-46-67

Jack Smith  27-35-62

Cullen Hiltner  20-18-38

Jackson Savoie  18-14-32

Nate Warner  15-17-32

Leading Goaltenders

Noah Amundson  20-4-0, 1.98, .913

Grant Martin  4-0-0, 0.50, .964

The bottom line

#2 St. Cloud Cathedral spent the majority of the season ranked either #1 or #2 atop the Class A rankings, so it’s no surprise the Crusaders outscored opponents 20-1 in sectional play and have clinched a State Tournament berth for the 4th time since 2014. 

St. Cloud Cathedral has two of the most talented scorers in the entire state in Blake Perbix and Jack Smith. The two have combined to put up 129 points so far this year, among the best in state for two teammates. Perbix is the cousin of former Elk river standout and Anaheim Ducks draft pick Jack Perbix. 

The Crusaders have dominated teams all season long. They have outscored opponents 158-45, which is also among the best in the state. Their only four losses of the season have been Hermantown, Moorhead, Mahtomedi, and Holy Family.

If all goes to plan, the Crusaders are on a collision course to match up with #1 Mahtomedi in the championship on Saturday. The two teams met less than a month ago on February 9th in Mahtomedi,  a 6-2 win for the Zephyrs. Had they not lost game, the Crusaders would likely be the unquestionable #1 seed in the Class A Tournament.

This Crusaders team is scary good and has a real good shot of winning their very first state championship this year. 

#3 East Grand Forks Green Wave (20-8-1)

Section: 8A

Head Coach: Tyler Palmiscno (1st season in his second stint as EGF head coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 2-2 (includes AA opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 12-  1971, 1980, 1982, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2002, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017, 2019

Road to State

Win 9-0 over Red Lake Falls

Win 4-0 over Detroit Lakes

Win 3-1 over Warroad

Leading Scorers

Tanner Mack  19-21-40

Carter Beck  12-20-32

Jake Hjelle   15-14-29

Trey Ausmus  8-18-26

Landon Parker  12-13-25

Leading Goaltenders

Tucker Brown 18-8-0, 2.34, .878

Hunter Twite 1-0-0, 1.94, .888

The bottom line

The third-seeded East Grand Forks Green Wave are returning to the Xcel Energy Center after a one-year absence and for the 5th time this decade. They defeated Red Lake Falls, Detroit Lakes, and Warroad en route to their spot in the Class A tournament. 

Tanner Mack has been the centerpiece of the offense all season long. His 40 points ranks first on the team. Goaltender Tucker Brown has also proved to be a valuable piece. His .878 save percentage is below most of the other starters in the state tournament, but he has only allowed an average of 2.34 goals per game and also recorded two shutouts in the sectional playoffs.

Head Coach Tyler Palmiscno is in his first season back as the Green Wave coach. He was the head coach during the Green Wave’s two state championships in 2014 and 2015, but stepped down following the 2015 season. 

One of East Grand Forks’ strengths this season has been their ability to close out games. They are outscoring opponents 83-38 in the 2nd and 3rd period of games, an advantage that could come in handy during the State Tournament. 

Should East Grand Forks advance past Minnesota River in the quarterfinal round, it could set up a potential rematch with St. Cloud Cathedral. The two teams met early in the season on December 1st, a 7-2 victory for the Crusaders. The Green Wave have also had success against some of the other tournament teams this year, beating Delano and Greenway. 

Third-seeded East Grand Forks will open up the tournament against newcomer Minnesota River at 1pm on Wednesday. 

#4 Greenway Raiders (15-13-0)

Section: 7A

Head Coach: Grant Clafton (4th Season as Greenway Head Coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 0-5 (includes AA opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 10- 1962, 1966, 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1987, 1992, 2001, 2019

Road to State

Win 7-1 over North Shore

Win 6-2 over Duluth Denfeld

Win 3-2 over Hermantown

Leading Scorers

Donte Lawson  27-24-51

Nikolai Rajala  11-21-32

Ben Troumbly  15-16-31

Tristan Birdsall  11-10-21

Mitchell Vekich  10-11-21

Leading Goaltenders

Logan Wright  7-4-0, 1.94, .922 

Tyler Penney  7-10-0, 3.40, .878

The bottom line

A decade ago, the Greenway high school hockey program almost collapsed due to a lack of players. They slowly re-built the program, leading to a berth in the Section 7A Final against Hermantown in 2017. The Raiders would lose that game and the following year’s Section 7A Final to the Hawks, but got another crack at it this season. The Raiders finally defeated 9 time Section-defending Hermantown, and are headed to the State Tournament for the first time since 2001.

Donte Lawson has been far and away the team’s most prolific scorer this season. Lawson has put up 51 points so far, 19 more than second leading scorer Nikolai Rajala. He also scored the game-winning goal in 2OT against Hermantown that sent the Raiders to the State Tournament. In addition to Lawson, the Raiders have two St. Cloud State University commits in Christian Miller and Ben Troumbly.

Greenway has certainly had a roller coaster season to this point. They started out 2-0, but then lost the next five in a row. They also endured a stretch where they only won 3 out of their previous 11 games from late December to mid January, that culminated with a 3-0 loss to Bemidji on Hockey Day Minnesota. But since that game on January 19, the Raiders have been unstoppable, putting up a perfect 9-0 record. 

They will kick off the tournament against the fifth seeded Delano Tigers at 8pm Wednesday, which is expected to be one of the most anticipated quarterfinal matchups. The two teams played early in this season, which ended up being a 4-3 victory for Delano. It’s safe to say this is quite a different Greenway team than the one the Tigers saw last time out.

#5 Delano Tigers (17-9-2)

Section: 2A

Head Coach: Gerrit van Bergen (5th Season as Delano Head Coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams:  1-2

State Tournament Appearances: 2- 2017, 2019

Road to State

Win 5-0 over Southwest Christian/Richfield

Win 3-0 over Minneapolis

Win 2-0 over Orono

Leading Scorers

Hogan Williams  16-18-34

Adam Brown  17-16-33

Quinn Daly  13-15-28

Joseph Blanchard  9-14-23

Tommy Peterson  6-16-22

Leading Goaltenders

Aaron Kruse  13-6-1, 2.47, .905, 6 SO

Cade Lommel  4-3-1, 2.78, .892

The bottom line

After making the State Tournament for the first time in school history in 2017, the fifth-seeded Delano Tigers are returning to St. Paul. Despite starting the season 1-5-1, they fought back and finished the season with 16-4-1 record. 

Goaltender Aaron Kruse has been the star of the team and one of the state’s best goaltenders down this terrific stretch. He did not allow a single goal in any of the section playoff games, including a 30 save shutout against defending State Champion Orono. In addition to three straight shutouts, he has five in his last seven games. 

Hogan Williams and Adam Brown have led the team in scoring, putting up a combined 67 points that includes 33 goals. Williams also produced heavily on special teams, scoring nine power play goals this season.

They will open the tournament against the fourth seeded Greenway Raiders, which is expected to be one of the most anticipated quarterfinal matchups. The two teams played once over the regular season, an Iron Range Invitational Tournament game where the Tigers won 4-3. Joseph Blanchard had two goals for Delano in that game.

The Tigers have had all things go their way lately and have been hot at the right time. This may be a sleeper team to keep an eye on this week at the Xcel Energy Center. 

Minnesota River Bulldogs (20-4-0)

Section: 1A

Head Coach: Shea Roehrkasse (5th season as Minnesota River head coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 1-2 

State Tournament Appearances: 1- 2019

Road to State

Win 6-2 over Austin

Win 6-2 over Albert Lea

Win 5-3 over Rochester Lourdes

Leading Scorers

Hunter Wilmes  29-31-60

Tyson Sowder  21-22-43

Charlie Weick  14-19-33

Jade Reicks  11-17-28

Ken Ringler  14-12-26

Leading Goaltenders

Andrew Regner  17-4-0, 2.13, .919

Gunner Domine  2-0-0, 1.56, .871

The bottom line

In the 2009-10 season, Minnesota River won just 5 games. This season, they haven’t even lost 5 games yet. And for the very first time in program history, the Minnesota River Bulldogs are heading to the Class A Tournament after defeating Austin, Albert Lea, and Rochester Lourdes in Section 1A play. 

Minnesota River has had an incredible season up to this point, and none of it would be possible without top scorer Hunter Wilmes. Wilmes has 29 points and 31 assists for a total of 60 points in just 24 games. He tore it up in sectional play, garnering 7 goals and 2 assists in 3 games. He is one of only roughly 20 players in the state to have a 60 point campaign. 

This is a team that scores a lot of goals. The Bulldogs have outscored their opponents 144-52, an average victory of roughly 6-2 each game. Special teams have also been solid, as the Bulldogs are clicking at 29% on the power play and 88% on the penalty kill. 

Minnesota River, along with North Branch and New Ulm, are the three unseeded teams in the tournament that received a random draw for their opponent. The Bulldogs split the season series with New Ulm and lost to North Branch 5-1 to open the season. 

They will take on #3 East Grand Forks at 1pm on Wednesday. 

North Branch Vikings (19-7-2)

Section: 5A

Head Coach: Matt Cottingham (6th season as North Branch head coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 1-0

State Tournament Appearances: 1- 2019 

Road to State

Win 5-1 over Mora/Milaca

Win 3-1 over Princeton

Win 3-2 over Chisago Lakes

Leading Scorers

Cody Croal  25-23-48

Joey Kirchner  19-16-35

Tucker Sachs  17-11-28

Jacob Richards  13-14-27

Justin Sachs  11-10-21

Leading Goaltenders

Jake Turek  19-7-2, 2.23, .919

The bottom line 

They don’t even have their own rink. The players start their day before 5AM each day. But somehow, someway, the North Branch Vikings have defied all the odds set against them and are heading to the Xcel Energy Center and State Tournament for the first time in school history. The entire community has embraced this program, and the turnout at their opening game should be incredible. 

Head Coach Matt Cottingham has truly built something special at North Branch. As recent as 2013-14, the Vikings were a horrendous 3-21. The team improved slowly season-by-season, winning five games in 2014-15, seven in 2015-16, 16 in 2016-17, 20 last season, and 19 so far this year. 

In addition to the obstacles the Vikings have faced, they lost their two leading scorers last season who both put up 60+ points. Cody Moline is currently in the NAHL with the Minnesota Wilderness. Brady Meyer is currently playing in the USHL and will play for the University of Minnesota-Duluth next season. 

Cody Croal is the team leader in points with 42. Goaltender Jake Turek has played the entire for North Branch, and has compiled a solid 19-7-2 record.

The North Branch Vikings have a tough battle ahead of them on Wednesday morning when they take on St. Cloud Cathedral at 11AM. But this is a team that has been an underdog all season long, and quite obviously, for the entire program’s history. It wouldn’t shock me at all to see North Branch advance to the semifinals on Friday afternoon. 

New Ulm Eagles (17-8-1)

Section: 3A

Head Coach: Ryan Neuman (4th Season as New Ulm Head Coach) 

Record vs Tournament teams: 1-1

State Tournament Appearances: 6- 1992, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2015, 2019

Road to State

Win 8-2 over Windom

Win 2-1 over Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato

Win 6-4 over Hutchinson

Leading Scorers

Glavine Schugel  27-22-49

Josh Seidel  14-18-32 

Landon Strong  15-16-31

Braxten Hoffmann  10-14-24

AJ Arneson  10-9-19

Leading Goaltenders

Jack Raymond  16-8-1, 2.14, .913 

Kyle Esser  1-0-0, 2.00, .833

The bottom line

The New Ulm Eagles are heading back to the Xcel Energy Center for the first time since 2015 after winning the Section 3A Championship. The Eagles fought out of a 2-3-1 start to earn the #3 seed in Section 3A, and eventually ousted last year’s champion Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato in a hard-fought 2-1 semifinal victory. They then eliminated Hutchinson in the Section Final.

Two players have been key to the Eagles’ success this season: forward Glavine Schugel and goaltender Jack Raymond. Schugel’s 49 points (27 goals, 22 assists) puts him among the top 60 players in the state in scoring (Class A and AA). Raymond has been New Ulm’s go-to goaltender all season long, and has impressed with a 2.14 GAA and .913 SV%. Raymond is also the program leader in games played, shutouts, and saves. 

Head Coach Ryan Neuman was an assistant on the 2015 State Tournament team. He took over the Head Coach position the following season. He is a New Ulm High School graduate and has over 15 years of coaching experience. 

New Ulm has only played one tournament team all season long, the Minnesota River Bulldogs. They split the season series against each other. Based on a random draw, the Eagles will have to take on top-seeded Mahtomedi in the quarterfinal round of the tournament. The two teams also met in the quarterfinals of the 2015 State Tournament, when the Zephyrs were seeded at #2. Mahtomedi won that game 6-3. 

You can find live audio coverage of every single tournament game by heading over to our "Tourney '19" page or by clicking here. MNHockey.TV is the go-to spot for information on the 2019 Boys State Tournament.