The 2023 Boys Hockey Class A Tournament features plenty of familiar teams as the Big Three of Warroad, Hermantown and Mahtomedi return to St. Paul and they are joined by teams that have become some of Class A’s most successful programs over the years in St Cloud Cathedral, Alexandria and Orono. Add in one of the best Section 1A teams we have seen in a long time in Northfield and the boys from the southwest corner in Luverne who have not been intimidated by the big stage in both their previous two appearances and this looks to be shaping up to be a very good overall Class A Tournament. While many anticipate a State Championship Game Rematch from last year the games leading up to it could be some of the better action we have seen from Wednesday to Saturday in Class A history.
Section 1A Champions Northfield Raiders
Head Coach: Mike Luckraft 9th year
Road to State: W 8-1 Rochester Lourdes, W 6-1 Dodge County, W 6-0 New Prague
State Tournament History: 2nd appearance- 2017 & 2023
Meet The Raiders: Head Coach Mike Luckcraft brings Northfield back to the Class A State Tournament for just the 2nd time ever but both appearances are under his watch in the last nine years. The Raiders were on redemption path all season after being stunned in the Section 1A Semifinals last year as the #1 seed. Many players from that team returned and they have been a force again down south winning the Big Nine Conference and rolling through the Section 1A Playoffs to arrive in St Paul. Up front they have speed and depth as Junior #12 Kamden Kaiser (39-26-65 pts.) is the team’s leading goal scorer and is paired with Juniors #11 Jake Geiger (25-27-52 pts.), the teams 2nd leading leading scorer, and #16 Andrew Winter (15-10- 25pts), who missed the section final game, to make a dynamic first line if all are healthy. They have depth as well Junior #20 Cayden Monson (19-31-50 pts.) along with Sophomores #13 Will Cashin (11-25- 36 pts.) & #22 Mike Olsen (17-15-32 pts.) all have double digit goals themselves. On defense they have two offensive defenseman in Senior #2 Mike Fossum (4-25-29 pts.) & Junior #7 Ty Frank (5-18-23 pts.) both have over 20 points as the top pair. Add in the Riley brothers, Senior #6 Brecken (1-7-8 pts) & 9th Grader #4 Bridger (1-14-15 pts.), and the D-core has good puck skill and offensive ability to allow the team to play an uptempo fast style. In the nets they have a security blanket in goaltender Senior #30 Keaton Walock (23-3-0) 1.23 GAA .932 SV% and he has an eye popping ten shutouts this winter and has been locked in all year. This team is a serious contender from Southern Minnesota and the last time they were at the X they upset the then #3 seed Mahtomedi Zephyrs to advance to the Class A semifinals this team has the depth and talent to achieve that same feat this coming week.
Section 2A Champions Orono Spartans
Head Coach: Sean Fish 1st Year
Road to State: W 2-1 OT Hutchinson, W 8-5 Minneapolis, W 4-1 Delano
State Tournament History: 10th appearance- 1992, 1993, 2002, 2003, 2004, 2006, 2007, 2014, 2018 (State Title), 2023
Meet The Spartans: Head Coach Sean Fish fresh off building a strong girls program in Orono has worked wonders in his first year coaching the boys side bringing the program back to State for their 10th overall appearance. The Spartans were the team to beat all year in Section 2A and while they did have a few close calls they come into St Paul having gone through one of the toughest Class A Sectionals in the State. Orono will roll three lines, but they are led by their 2 offensive spark plugs in Seniors #21 Bradley Walker (19-29-48 pts.) & #7 Avery Anderson (16-28-44 pts.) who have really been the catalyst of the Orono attack all winter. They also get solid contributions from Senior #9 Joey Greennagle (8-13-21 pts.) and nice core of Juniors #15 Cayden Effertz (15-16-31 pts), #6 Easton Sankey (9-15-24 pts.), #22 Tommy Lewin (11-6-17 pts) & #38 Brooks Fegers (9-8-17 pts.). They play a heavy game and if they can play their style without going to the box they are an effective 3 line group that can wear on opponents. The Spartans have a good defensive core as well as Juniors #5 John Engebretson (5-22-27 pts.) & #27 Joey Mugaas (3-27-30 pts.), the human breakout machine, contribute offensively as a top defensive pair. Both are big and mobile defenseman who can join the rush. Add in the veteran Senior #8 Caden Bickett (1-13-14 pts.) and Orono has a very good group of blueliners as well. In goal, Senior #1 Brock Peyton (15-3-0) 1.79 GAA .929 SV% missed the early part of the year due to injury but once he returned in late December he was very strong again this winter. He is a big X factor this upcoming week as he can steal a game where the Spartans get severely outshot making Orono a dangerous match up for anyone. This roster is deep and experienced and they come to state looking to do the same thing they did the last time they were in St Paul and that’s bring home another Class A Title.
Section 3A Champions Luverne Cardinals
Head Coach: Phil Paquette 7th year
Road to State: W 5-2 Windom, W 6-2 Mankato East, W 4-2 New Ulm
State Tournament History: 3rd appearance- 2014, 2017 & 2023
Meet The Cardinals: Head Coach Phil Paquette has done an outstanding job building a very good hockey program in his hometown down in Southwest Minnesota. Through his efforts and dedication he has turned Luverne into a State Tournament contender year after year in Section 3A and produced D1 level talent like Jaxon Nelson and Chaz Smedsrud under his leadership in the far southwest corner of the state. This year he brings in a young but red hot Cardinals team that really took off down the stretch of their season. The Cardinals went (17-2-0) in their last 19 games and avenged all their earlier losses on the year including knocking off #1 seed New Ulm in the 3A Final. They are led up front by Senior #11 Brock Behrend (38-21-59 pts.) who along with Junior #9 Owen Sudenga (17-30-47 pts.) & 9th Grader Maddux Domagala (12-10-22 pts.) make up the first line. They back that up with Senior #8 Brady Bork (17-14-31 pts.) and Juniors #19 Patrick Kroski (20-40-60 pt) & #11 Elliott Domagala (21-19-40 pts.) all of the Top 6 forwards have double digit goals and the Cardinals only played 2 lines throughout the winter which will be helped by TV timeouts at the Xcel. On backend they have Sophomore #13 Blaik Bork (11-25-36 pts.) who has double digit goals as well and Senior #2 Ethan Langseth (2-15-17 pts.) & Junior #23 Henry Hartquist (3-11-14 pts.) both have double digit points on the year. In net Junior #30 Tyler Arends (21-6-1) 2.24 GAA .908 SV% has been very solid playing every minute this winter. Luverne has excelled with the man advantage as their Powerplay unit is clicking at 32.4% and was a catalyst to their playoff run. The Cardinals have proven to be a team that will not be intimidated on the big stage as they pushed Hermantown in their previous state appearances, in 2014 and 2017, and they could be a thorn as a random draw team for whichever seeded team they face in the Class A Quarterfinals.
Section 4A Champions Mahtomedi Zephyrs
Head Coach: Jeff Poeschl 26th year
Road to State: W 10-0 St Paul Johnson, W 9-1 St.Paul Academy, W 3-1 Chisago Lakes
State Tournament History: 14th appearance- 1992, 1994, 1997, 1998, 2001, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 (State Title), 2022, 2023
Meet The Zephyrs: Head Coach Jeff Poeschl in his 26th year at the helm of Mahtomedi will bring the Zephyrs back to the Class A State Tournament for the 14th time. Mahtomedi has prepared itself for another deep tournament run by playing a schedule filled with tough AA teams that they have had good success against this winter. The Zephyrs have rolled three lines much of the winter. They are led up front by a great core of Seniors #11 Charlie Drage (30-21-51 pts.), #4 David Wolsfeld (11-28-39 pts.) and #24 Corey Bohmer (8-23-31 pts.)t makes up their top line. While another group of Seniors #15 Seth Nelson (22-17-39 pts.), #9 Jonny Grove (10-22-32 pts.) and #22 Carter Haycraft (12-23-35 pts.) make up a very good 2nd line. Both lines could be considered their top line and to add to their depth underclassmen 9th grader #21 Jimmy Egan (4-1-21 pts.) and Junior #17 Patrick Egan (7-8-15 pts.) along with Junior #8 Jake Hodd-Chlebeck (11-10-21 pts.) makes for a very deep group of forwards. The defensive unit led by Senior #2 Cav Bruner (7-26-33 pts.) who runs the powerlay and controls the play when he is on the ice and he is often paired with Junior #7 William Brummel (0-7-7 pts.). Smooth skating Sophomore #6 Sam Harris (1-17-18 pts.) is one to watch as he plays mega minutes for a youngster and is very talented. Add in 6’7 Junior #16 Wyatt Tarnowski (4-4-8 pts.), 6’5 #26 Senior Carson Marshall (0-8-8 pts) and 6’3 Junior #5 Cole Swanson (2-17-19 pts.) and there is not a lot of time in space given by the Mahtomedi D-core which has become the backbone and blueprint of their success over the last decade. In net Junior #30 Charlie Brandt (13-8-0) 2.62 GAA .910 SV% ended winning that starting gig and has been steady in net and seems to play his best in the biggest games. This is a deep and experienced team that returned the core of its 3rd place group a year ago and they will look to win their 2nd ever State Title this weekend in St. Paul.
Section 5A Champions St Cloud Cathedral
Head Coach: Robbie Stocker 2nd year
Road to State: W 5-0 River Lakes, W 7-2 Monticello, W 4-3 2OT Little Falls
State Tournament History: 11th appearance- 1993, 1994, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2014, 2016, 2017, 2019 (State Title), 2020, 2023
Meet The Crusaders: Head Coach Robbie Stocker has done a remarkable turnaround job in just his 2nd year at the helm. He inherited a program that had been left in ruins including the program’s first Section Quarterfinal loss in over 20 years in 2021. Coach Stocker proved what good coaching can do as he quickly rebuilt his alma mater back to the standards of when he played for the Crusaders and restored the rich tradition of success they had lost in recent years. He has sparked his programs turn around by using a serious youth movement if you’re looking for a Top 5 Class A team next year the Crusaders are it as they will return nearly everyone on this team and they arrive at State with a lineup filled with underclassmen. Sophomores #6 John Hirchfield (16-20-36 pts.) & #24 Joey Gillespie (20-19-39 pts.) along with Junior #25 Andrew Dwinell (17-16-33 pts.) makes up a potent top line for Cathedral. Add in the depth of Juniors #17 Landon Swenson (14-10-24 pts), #19 Cole Hawg (10-17-27 pts.), #27 Ben Petroske (4-20-24 pts.) and Sophomore #13 Jaeger Wood (10-9-19 pts) all of whom have around 20 points on the year and this team is young and deep. Defensively they are led by 9th grader #21 Griffin Sturm (4-12-16 pts.) who along with Senior #2 Tommy Gohman (4-11-15 pts.) & Junior #3 Vince Gebhardt (4-9-13 pts.) lead a very solid and improving D core. In the net they have Junior #31 Nick Hansen (15-12-0) 2.41 GAA .905 SV% who plays his best against elite teams. The Crusaders have played a very tough Class A Schedule and come in battle tested and will be a very tough draw for whatever seeded team draws them in the first round and could be a good bet for a potential upset bid.
Section 6A Champions Alexandria Cardinals
Head Coach: Josh Meyers 3rd year
Road to State: W 14-0 Breckenridge/Wahpeton, W 7-2 Wadena Deer Creek, W 5-4 OT Fergus Falls
State Tournament History: 7th appearance- 1992, 1996, 2010, 2011, 2018, 2022, 2023
Meet The Cardinals: After a very slow (0-7-0) start to the year, which has been a trend of teams in the three year tenure under Head Coach Josh Meyers, the Cardinals really found their footing in the 2nd half of the year, going an impressive (13-5-1) since the start of 2023 and are making their 7th overall appearance at State. Alexandria does have depth with a good group of forwards in Seniors #7 Tyler Kludt (19-22-41 pts.) & #29 Nicholas Peterson 19-10 29 pts.) and Junior #21 Evan Anderson 6-3-9 pts) on the top line. They back that up with a very good scoring 2nd line in Senior #6 Joe Lamski (13-21-34 pts.) and Juniors #3 Leo Kompelien (13-11-24 pts.) & #8 Gavin Olson (12-12-24 pts.) who have given them some good scoring depth as the winter has gone along. On the Blueline Seniors #16 Henry Ramstorf (1-3-4 pts.) & #19 Mason Loch(0-4-4 pts) along with Junior #2 Jack Lamski (4-12-16 pts.) & 4 Gage Castle (1-10-11 pts.) all play good minutes and their overall D-core has improved as well as the year has gone along. The biggest improvement though has been in the net as goaltender Senior #1 Elijah Rasmusen (12-8-0) 3.04 GAA .874 SV% overall numbers are not pretty but he has played much better in the second half of the season and as he has gained confidence the Cardinals started to pick up momentum toward the end of the year. Alexandria played a scheduled filled with good Class A and AA teams throughout the year they are playing their best hockey right now as they enter the Tourney going (12-2-0) in their last 14 games and they will not be normal cakewalk that the top three Class A seeds are used to seeing in the Quarterfinal round.
Section 7A Champions Hermantown Hawks
Head Coach: Pat Andrews 6th year
Road to State: W 15-1 North Shore, W 3-2 Hibbing, W 3-1 Rock Ridge
State Tournament History: 19th appearance- 1994, 1998, 1999, 2001, 2006, 2007 (State Title), 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016 (State Title), 2017 (State Title), 2018, 2020, 2021, 2022 (State Title), 2023
Meet The Hawks: Head Coach Pat Andrews and the Defending Class A State Champions return to St. Paul for the 13th time in the last 14 years and for their 19th appearance overall. This year’s version of the Hawks is a team that has grown throughout the year playing a road heavy AA schedule and comes into the St. Paul having been tested as they were pushed like never before in the 7A playoffs. The Hawks lineup features their program staple of good depth as Seniors #4 Wyatt Carlson (20-17-37 pts) and #17 Matthew Kauppinen (4-18-22 pts) & #19 Joshua Kauppinen (17-7-24 pts.) have been excellent all year. Add in the scoring threats of Senior #11 Kade Kohanski (16-15-31 pts.) and Junior #24 Dallas Vieau (21-32-53 pt.) and they have an emerging Sophomore #23 River Freeman (12-11-23 pts.) that gives the Hawks a very dangerous top six group of forwards for the opponents to match up with. Hermantown also has good scoring depth as Seniors #3 Samuel Swenson (8-16-24 pts.), #14 Aaron Evjen (8-10-18 pts.), #16 Mason Sundbom (6-8-14 pts) and Junior #7 Evan Gunderson (4-12-16 pts.) all have contributed well this winter and the Hawks who have played 4 lines at times this year. The Hawks blueline is led by Senior #22 George Peterson (12-30-42 pts.) who has been a game changer for them all season running their power play and is currently their 2nd leading scorer. Junior #9 Will Esterbrooks (5-20-25 pts) has been an excellent defenseman in his own right when those two are paired together they are a tough duo to get much done against. Junior #8 Drew Nelson (2-7-9 pts.), Senior #12 Nolan Baker 4-8-12 pts.)and Junior #13 Weston Bohlman (4-10-14 pts.) have helped strengthen the depth of d core. The depth theme is also true in the net for Hermantown as the Hawks have split their goaltenders this year Junior #32 Dane Callaway (14-1-0) record 1.66 GAA .922 SV% was the starter last year and has been good this winter but so has Senior #31 Garron Opsahl (11-1-1) 1.10 GAA .934 SV %. Hermantown took off after the return of Kohanski from injury which really seemed to ignite this team and they will be a very good bet to go back to the State Title game this year where they will look to go back to back.
Section 8A Champions Warroad Warriors
Head Coach: Jay Hardwick 11th year
Road to State: W 8-0 Park Rapids, W 6-1 Thief River Falls, W 5-1 East Grand Forks
State Tournament History: 24th appearance- 1948, 1949, 1953, 1963, 1969, 1970, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1994 (State Title), 1995, 1996 (State Title), 1997, 2000, 2003 (State Title), 2004, 2005 (State Title), 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2020, 2022, 2023
Meet The Warriors: Head Coach Jay Hardwick brings his Warriors back to State for the 24th time in program history and this Warroad team is looking to win the school’s 5th State Title as they enter the field as the #1 team and favorite heading into St Paul. Warroad is led by their high powered 1st line of Senior #17 Jayson Shaugabay (31-56-87 pts.) along with Juniors #18 Carson Pilgrim (45-38-83 pts.) & #22 Murray Marvin-Cordes (23-23-46 pts.) which is Class A’s best line; the trio plays mega minutes and has accounted for a big chunk of Warroad’s offense. They have speed and skill and are a delight to watch and no one they have faced this year has been able to slow them down. They have also gotten contributions up front from Sophomore #15 Taven James (7-16-23 pts.) & Senior #5 Garrett Hennum (6-5-11 pts) to add some depth scoring as the year has progressed. The Warriors have two elite defenseman in Junior #25 Ryan Lund (18-25-43 pts.) and Senior #2 Erick Comstock (7-27-34 pts.) who are polar opposite players but both outstanding defenseman. Lund is a big sized physical in your face and jumps up into the rush defender with a heavy shot, while Comstock is tiny in stature but one of the best skaters I have seen with incredible gap control and his outlets and playmaking ability is outstanding. Add in the 2nd D pair of the coaches son Junior #27 Will Hardwick (1-9-10 pts) and promising big Freshman #21 Broden Hontvet (2-6-8 pts) and Warroad has a solid back end. The reason why this team has been so tough to beat all season though is in the net as Goaltender Senior Hampton Slukynsky (26-0-1) 1.28 GAA .948 SV% is as good as they come and his presence in the net makes the Warriors nearly impossible to defeat. If Warroad wasn’t dangerous enough you don’t want to feel confident when they get a penalty as the Warriors have a crazy 25 shorthanded goals on the year. This team has been the Top Class A team all winter and now they will look to get their own redemption for last year and take a title back to hockeytown USA by the end of next week.
5 Storylines and Notes on the 2023 Class A State Tournament
Hockeytowu USA or TitleTown Minnesota?
Two weeks ago the Warroad Girls Hockey team took home the 2023 Class A Title and now the Boys team comes to St. Paul looking to do the same. The number one ranked Warriors boys teams has been a story to watch all winter as they feature the Senior Duo of Mr Hockey favorite Jayson Shaugabay up front and Frank Brimsek award favorite Hampton Slukynsky in net who have been outstanding all year. Hockeytown USA would love to put on the welcome to town billboard home of the 2023 Girls & Boys State Hockey Champs by the end of this upcoming weekend.
Back for another weekend in St Paul
Many of our Boys State Class A teams’ fan bases will be making a return trip to St Paul after a week to rest as four programs (Luverne, Orono, Hermantown and Warroad) qualified for both the Girls and Boys Hockey State Tournament this winter. That is an impressive feat for the small school communities and a testament to the work their youth program and community members are putting in to produce really good hockey players both on the boys and girls side.
Back to Back Champs?
Some doubted Hermantown’s chances to repeat in Class A at the beginning of the year when it was announced they were hit hard by an unusually high number of early departures as Zam & Max Plante and Ty Hanson all announced they would not be returning. However, this has not slowed the 2023 Hermantown version as they have been outstanding again this winter and while they lost some serious elite talent they make up for it with waves of depth up front on the blueline and in the net. The Hawks will return to St Paul this week with the thought of going back to back like they did in 2016 & 2017.
Alumni Head Coaches
This Class A tournament features 5 of the 8 teams being coached by alumni Head Coaches. Jay Hardwick of Warroad, Pat Andrews of Hermantown, Josh Meyers of Alexandria, Robbie Stocker of St Cloud Cathedral and Phil Paquette of Luverne all are coaching the teams they once wore jerseys for in high school this week. It’s a really great trend to see Alumni coming back to the community and teaching the game they love to the next generation of program stars where they once grew up and attended.
A competitive Class A Wednesday Quarterfinals?
One of the knocks on the Class A State Tournament is the blowouts produced on Wednesday in the Quarterfinals between the seeded and unseeded teams. I think we all expect the #4 vs #5 game to be a good one in the nightcap but could this year’s group of random draws give the Big Three better games than in the past? Both Alexandria and St Cloud Cathedral are proud programs and play tough schedules and won’t be intimidated and will be used to the speed of the top seeded A teams and should be competitive. Even Luverne in the previous two appearances gave us an entertaining game in the Quarterfinals pushing Hermantown both in 2014 and 2017 producing some of the better 3A representative results. Does this mean we could be in store for a decent slate of game(s) plural on Wednesday?