Class A Tournament Preview

by Matt Harrington

St. Paul, MN-- The 2020 Minnesota Boys High School Hockey Tournament kicks off Wednesday afternoon. 

In Class A, the teams that have been ranked 1-3 all season long, Warroad, St. Cloud Cathedral, and Hermantown, all won their respective sections. While they will be among the clear favorites, there are other teams that have a legitimate shot to win it all in Class A. 

MNHockey.TV went in-depth with every team, so here's a preview of the Class A Tournament.

Mankato East Cougars (14-13-1)

Section: 1A

Head Coach: Adam Fries (6th year)

Streak: W3

Record Last 10 games: 6-4-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 1-1

State Tournament Appearances: 3- 2006, 2018, 2020 

Road to State:

Win 4-2 over Minnesota River

Win 5-3 over Dodge County

Win 3-1 over Mankato West

Leading Scorers:

Layten Liffrig 31-41-72

Matthew Salzle 32-29-61

Brett Borchardt 8-26-34

Jake Schreiber 7-21-28

Jake Kazenbach 11-16-27

Leading Goaltenders:

Caelin Brueske 14-11-1, 3.39, .881

Riley Madsen, 0-1-0, 7.00, .863

Powerplay %: 16.2

Penalty Kill %: 78.9

The bottom line: 

The Mankato East Cougars are back at the Xcel Energy Center for the second time in three years. However, it has been a bumpy road for the team this year- and quite frankly, surprising, that they won Section 1A.

The Cougars finished the regular season two games below .500, but had two big wins in sections to propel them to the State Tournament. They knocked off top-seeded Dodge County in the semifinals (who had won 14 straight), and beat arch-rival Mankato West in the championship. 

Mankato East boasts a pair of elite scorers in Layten Liffrig and Matthew Salzle. Liffrig’s 72 points are good enough for team lead, while Salzle’s 61 aren’t far behind. They will be an important factor in determining whether or not this team will advance to the semifinals. 

Mankato East has also yet to win a quarterfinal game at the State Tournament. In 2006, they lost to Little Falls 6-5, and then in 2018 fell to Mahtomedi, 4-2. While they would like to be optimistic, it is hard to see the Cougars advancing past a lethal St. Cloud Cathedral team. 

Delano Tigers (22-6-0)

Section: 2A

Head Coach: Gerrit Van Bergen (7th year, 123-46-5)

Streak: W12

Record Last 10 games: 10-0-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 3-1

State Tournament Appearances: 3- 2017, 2019, 2020 

Road to State:

Win 3-2 over Southwest Christian/Richfield

Win 4-2 over Breck 

Win 3-2 (2OT) over Armstrong Cooper

Leading Scorers:

Adam Brown 21-19-40

Gunnar Paulson 10-23-33

Jesse Peterson 15-18-33

Michael Weber 12-17-29

Trevor Oja 10-16-26

Leading Goaltenders:

Caden Lommel 17-5-0, 2.09, .915

Colin Rowbotham 4-1-0, 1.21, .927

Powerplay %: 22.5

Penalty Kill %: 82.5

The bottom line: 

The Delano Tigers will be making the trip to St. Paul for the third time in four years, and have started to assert themselves as a Class A regular. 

The Tigers had an outstanding season, and are perhaps the state’s hottest team with an active 12-game winning streak. It hasn’t come easy though-- twice in sections, the Tigers snuck by with a one goal victory-- including an epic 2OT win vs Armstrong Cooper in the 2A Section Championship. 

Perhaps Delano’s biggest strength may be their scoring depth. They have eight different players with over 18 points. Adam Brown leads the team with 40, but has shown his versatility with 21 goals and 19 assists. 

Delano has lost a couple of heartbreaking games in their previous state quarterfinals, but this year may be their best shot to advance past the first round, and potentially even further. Don’t be surprised to see this Tigers team make a deep run in the State Tournament. 

Hutchinson Tigers (19-8-1)

Section: 3A

Head Coach: Matt Telecky (17th year)

Streak: W5

Record Last 10 games: 8-2-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 0-3

State Tournament Appearances: 5- 1995, 1997, 2000, 2009, 2020 

Road to State:

Win 10-0 over Fairmont

Win 6-1 over Luverne 

Win 8-1 over Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato

Leading Scorers:

Austin Jozwick 33-26-59

Hayden Jensen 20-16-36

Blake Schmidt 7-14-21

Nik Johnson 7-12-19

Riley Anderson 7-10-17

Leading Goaltenders:

Austin Hagen 16-5-1, 2.15, .915

Griffin Telecky 2-3-0, 3.69, .850

Powerplay %: 25.3

Penalty Kill %: 77.5

The bottom line: 

After an 11 year drought, the Hutchinson Tigers are finally heading back to the State Tournament.

It’s been a complete 180 turn for Hutchinson this season. After a brutal 8-17 finish last season,  the Tigers turned it around, and thoroughly dominated the Section 3A playoffs, outscoring opponents 24-3. They have also won eight out of their past 10 games.  

Austin Jozwick is far and away the team’s leading scorer and heart and soul. His 59 points, including 33 goals, are 23 more than second place’s Hayden Jensen. Goaltender Austin Hagen has also been solid between the pipes this season, and his 2.15 GAA and .915 SV% are very respectable. 

Hutchinson will look to try and avenge their previous State Tournament history. They have never won a quarterfinal game in four tries, and will be running into Warroad for the third time in five state trips. They Tigers previously lost to the Warriors 7-3 in 1997 and 7-1 again in 2009, their most recent trip. In addition, Section 3A has not won a State Tournament quarterfinal in the past 10 seasons. 

Mahtomedi Zephyrs (20-8-0)

Section: 4A

Head Coach: Jeff Poeschel (27th year, 393-228-22)

Streak: W6

Record Last 10 games: 7-3-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 3-4 (includes AA opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 12- 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 

Road to State:

Win 7-1 over Henry Sibley

Win 2-0 over Tartan 

Win 5-1 over South St. Paul

Leading Scorers:

Nikolai Dulak 26-24-50

Adam Johnson 14-32-46

Ethan Peterson 9-28-37

JD Metz 7-23-30

Ryan Berglund 13-9-22

Leading Goaltenders:

Ben Dardis 20-8-0, 2.07, .932

Cole Barr’e 0-0-0, 4.66, .833

Powerplay %: 25.3

Penalty Kill %: 77.5

The bottom line: 

Mahtomedi is heading to the Class A Tournament-- how many times have we heard that before?

The Zephyrs won Section 4A for the fourth consecutive season, and have become a staple in Class A over those years. 

Although Mahtomedi lost a handful of seniors that finished 3rd in Class A last season, they found a way to get it done in sections-- outscoring opponents 14-2 in that stretch. 

On offense, The Zephyrs are led by forwards Nikolai Dulak and Adam Johnson, who have combined for a total of 96 points so far this season. In addition, sophomore goaltender Ben Dardis has had a terrific season, with nearly ⅓ of his wins coming as shutouts (7).

Oddly enough, in their first 11 trips to the State Tournament, Mahtomedi has never reached the championship game. Zephyrs fans know all too well the heartbreaking losses that have happened over the years, especially the last two. In 2018, Orono knocked off Mahtomedi in OT of the semifinals, and would eventually go on to win the championship. Last year, top-seeded Mahtomedi was upset in the semifinals by Greenway, also in OT. 

The path to a first championship game will be a difficult one. They’ll face red-hot Delano in the quarterfinals, and then will most likely face a date with #1 Warroad in the semifinals, if they get through the Tigers.  

Monticello Moose (20-7-1)

Section: 5A 

Head Coach: Eric Nelson (5th year, 90-49-6)

Streak: W3

Record Last 10 games: 8-2-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 0-3

State Tournament Appearances: 3- 2017, 2018, 2020

Road to State:

Win 8-0 over Sauk Rapids/Rice

Win 5-1 over Priceton 

Win 6-4 over Pine City Area

Leading Scorers:

Jeffrey Henrikson 22-24-46

Brian Cornelius 19-23-42

Wilson Dahlmeier 17-21-38

Gunnar Sibley 10-17-27

Huntley Hintz 14-13-27

Leading Goaltenders:

Nash Wilson 20-7-1, 2.18, .919

Michael Biller 0-0-0, 2.69, .864

Powerplay %: 34.1

Penalty Kill %: 84.2

The bottom line: 

After being upset by Chisago Lakes in Section 5A Semifinals in 2019, the Moose responded with a section title this year, and clinched their third state tournament appearance in the past four years. 

The Moose dominated the quarterfinal and semifinal rounds of sections, before edging the Pine City Area Dragons with two late goals in the section final. 

The trio of Henrikson, Cornelius, Dahlmeier has been a massive factor for the Moose. Their combined 126 points has propelled the team to 20 wins this season and a date with Hermantown in the quarterfinals. 

Monticello is no stranger to Hermantown in the State Tournament, having played them in each of their first two trips. In 2017, the Moose lost to Hermantown in the Class A Championship, then were eliminated again by Hermantown in the 2018 quarterfinals. 

If Monticello wants to pull off the upset, they’ll need to avenge their previous history against the Hawks.

St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders (23-3-1)

Section: 6A 

Head Coach: Derrick Brown (11th year, 248-66-9)

Streak: W3

Record Last 10 games: 8-2-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 5-2-1 (includes AA Opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 10- 1993, 1994, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020

Road to State:

Win 11-1 over Prairie Centre

Win 5-1 over River Lakes 

Win 8-1 over Alexandria

Leading Scorers:

Blake Perbix 29-56-85

Nate Warner 29-39-68

Mack Motzko 27-30-57

Jack Smith 23-19-42

Cullen Hiltner 14-26-40

Leading Goaltenders:

Grant Martin 22-3-1, 2.46, .892

Matthew Vazquez 1-0-0, 2.00, .833

Powerplay %: 38.1

Penalty Kill %: 84.5

The bottom line: 

The St. Cloud Cathedral Crusaders were dominant last season, which ended in their first ever Class A Championship-- and this team may be even better. 

The Crusaders are loaded with Division 1 talent, elite scorers, and an impressive defense. Mr. Hockey finalist Blake Perbix leads the way with a whopping 85 points, but the Crusaders have six other players that have 30 or more points. They had a stretch of 18 games during the regular season without a loss. Plus, they’ve locked down defensively lately, allowing just three goals in their sectional games. 

Perhaps the only concern for the Crusaders is the teams they’ll likely have to get through en route to a second straight Class A Championship. The Crusaders dropped a 5-2 contest to Warroad back in November, and tied with Hermantown 5-5 in January-- however, they rallied back after being down 5-2 in the 2nd period. 

Those games were a while ago, and the Crusaders have surely put them in the rear view mirror. This team is stacked, and it would be no surprise to see them celebrating another championship on Saturday afternoon.

Hermantown Hawks (21-3-4)

Section: 7A 

Head Coach: Pat Andrews (3rd year, 65-14-8)

Streak: W3

Record Last 10 games: 8-2-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 2-2-1 (includes AA Opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 16- 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020

Road to State:

Win 12-1 over North Shore

Win 8-0 over Eveleth/Gilbert 

Win 6-0 over Duluth Denfeld

Leading Scorers:

Blake Biondi 43-45-88

Zach Kilen 24-42-66

Ethan Lund 16-36-52

Joey Pierce 15-36-51

Aaron Pionk 10-20-30

Leading Goaltenders:

Jacob Backstrom 19-3-4, 1.87, .899

David Rutka 1-0-0, 0.00, 1.000

Powerplay %: 28.0

Penalty Kill %: 88.9

The bottom line: 

After a rare absence from last year’s Class A Tournament, the Hermantown Hawks are back for the 10th time in the last 11 years. 

After dropping their final two regular season games to Lakeville South and Grand Rapids, the Hawks found their stride and absolutely blazed their opponents in sections, outscoring them 26-1. 

They also have Mr. Hockey finalist Blake Biondi, who is among the favorites to win the award. He leads the Hawks with 88 points (43 goals, 45 assists), and is projected to be a 2nd round pick in this summer’s NHL Draft by many major media outlets. 

Hermantown had an unbeaten streak of 20 games at one point during the regular season, among the best in the state. That streak included four different ties against Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Cloud Cathedral, Grand Rapids, and Cretin-Derham Hall.

Although seeded at #3, low for their standards, Hermantown will be among the clear favorites for this year’s Class A Championship. 

Warroad Warriors (26-2-0)

Section: 8A 

Head Coach: Jay Hardwick (8th year, 131-82-9)

Streak: W3

Record Last 10 games: 9-1-0

Record vs Tournament teams: 2-0 (includes AA Opponents)

State Tournament Appearances: 22- 1948, 1949, 1953, 1963, 1969, 1970, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 2000, 2003, 2004, 2005, 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2020 

Road to State:

Win 8-0 over Lake of the Woods

Win 7-0 over Detroit Lakes 

Win 4-0 over East Grand Forks

Leading Scorers:

Grant Slukynsky 34-55-89

Jayson Shaugabay 27-37-64

Anthony Foster 26-28-54

Owen Meeker 18-21-39

Blake Norris 3-31-34

Leading Goaltenders:

Zach Foster 21-2-0, 1.42, .919

Jack Orchard 5-0-0, 0.39, .973

Powerplay %: 38.5

Penalty Kill %: 93.3

The bottom line: 

A 10 year drought is over. “Hockeytown USA” is headed back to the State Tournament for the first time since 2010. 

Warroad is the top seed in this year’s Class A Tournament, and for good reason. 

They only have 2 losses on the season-- both to AA opponent and arch-rival Roseau. Their goal differential is nearly at +100, and their special teams are far and away the best in this year’s tournament. 

On offense, Warroad has a blend of upper and lowerclassmen leading the charge. Senior Grant Slukynsky is a Mr. Hockey finalist with 89 points, and freshman sensation Jayson Shaugabay is 2nd with 64 points.   

The Warriors will open the tournament against Hutchinson, but have a clearer path to the title game than other favorites such as St. Cloud Cathedral and Hermantown. But one thing is for certain-- this is Warroad’s best team since their 2005 title-winning team. 

The quarterfinal round kicks off Wednesday morning at 11:00 as Mankato East battles St. Cloud Cathedral.