The last time Northfield was the reigning Section 1A champion in 2017 the MSHSL moved them out of the section that spring into Section 4A and they were never given an opportunity to defend their southern hockey throne. Flash forward to this past offseason and it appeared to be deja vu when the MSHSL released the new section assignments and bumped the Raiders up to 1AA. However, this summer a co-op was dissolved, and Northfield is back in Section 1A looking like the favorite to defend their section title. There will be challengers though as the 2-8 seeds in 1A will be Wide Open! Both Dodge County & Winona have vaunted scoring duos back, La Crescent has maybe their best team in program history, and you can never count out the historically tough Southern Class 1A Programs Albert Lea & Rochester Lourdes. Also, the youth movements in Waseca & Faribault are noticeable as both teams could be surprise contenders to keep a close eye on throughout the winter. While it’s the Raiders section to lose as we know it’s tough to repeat in Section 1A a feat that hasn’t occurred in 8 years way back when New Prague, now in 1AA, repeated in 2014 & 2015.
Section 1A Preseason Poll (10 Teams)
2- Dodge County
3- Albert Lea
4- La Crescent
5- Rochester Lourdes
10- Red Wing
1- Northfield- The Raiders are returning a ton of talent from their 22-23 Section 1A Championship team and look to be heavy favorites to win Section 1A again this winter. While they did get hit by the early defection of Cayden Munson, they still return an excellent core of forwards as they bring back Seniors Kamden Kaiser, Jake Geiger, Andrew Winter & Juniors Will Cashin who each had double digit goals last winter. Add in youngsters Michael Stewart & Christian Whiteman coming up from A Bantam team after leading them to state this past winter and both looking to make immediate impacts and there are lots of scoring options and depth available to the Raiders to make them a tough matchup for any other southern program to match. On defense they have two good offensive defenseman back in Senior Ty Frank & Sophomore Bridger Riley, both who were very productive last season, to build a good skating puck moving d-core around. The big question mark will be in net as they lost their phenomenal goalie to graduation, and that will be the key answer for this team to answer and as it looks like on paper their only noticeable hole. However, it appears the Raiders are primed for another Section Title run in 1A.
2- Dodge County- When the new Section 1A realignment originally came out it appeared the Wildcats were the biggest winner as a new section without New Prague and Northfield seemed to point to them as the new section favorites. However, the Raiders are now back but that doesn’t mean that Dodge County should be discounted. The Wildcats return 6 of their top 7 scorers from a year ago of a team that won 16 games. They are led up front by a dangerous scoring duo of Junior Brett Ludvigsen & Senior Gryffon Funke who each had over 20 goals and 50 points last winter to lead the way. They should also have scoring depth as they return Junior Dylan Klomps & Sophomore Jeremiah Peterson-Gordon who both had double digit points and saw top 6 minutes as youngsters last winter. On the defense Seniors Bronson Freerksen & Caeden Smith are both are back having double digit points from the back end to bring experience there and they also return Senior Goalie Jackson Roethler who won 12 games last year and will have lots of experience to help lead what looks like a very good Wildcats crew.
3- Albert Lea- The Tigers are a traditional program in Section 1A that has had staying power near the top of the section over the years and should be given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to the pecking order of contenders. While Albert Lea was hit very hard by graduation this past offseason there are still pieces left over to build with and have another solid campaign this winter. Up front they return Seniors Eli Farris & Spencer Vanbeek along with Junior Connor Pirsig all who had double digits points last year. Senior Derrek Laite & Junior Bryant Johnston return to a blueline group that will need some time to grow early in the year. Albert Leas also has Junior Ledger Stadheim back in net who saw some limited action but does have some experience to bring to what will be a young team. Look for newcomers forward Jacob Kolker and defenseman Zaden Brua to make immediate contributions as the Tigers look to reload instead of rebuild and return to the Top 4 of Section 1A where they have been in many past winters.
4- La Crescent- The Lancers have been building toward this winter for a while. A program that has seen tremendous growth over the last 4-5 years under the vision of NHL Alumni Head Coach Eriah Hayes. Coming off a 18 win campaign and coming up just short in the 4 vs 5 Section Quarterfinal Game a year ago, this team seems primed to have an even better result this winter. They are led by their superstar Senior Wyatt Farrell who is coming off a tremendous 50 plus goals season and will be tough for any southern team to stop. Add in some scoring depth options as they have Senior Colton Holzer and Juniors Mitchell Reining, Ethan Myhre, Alex Von Arx all who had 20-point seasons a year ago. The blueline will need to improve as Senior Alex Donovan & Cooper Johnson return to a unit that was hit hard by graduation. They do however return their starter in net as Senior Collin Morken is back after collecting 10 wins last winter. La Crescent will look to get back to the Semifinals for only the second time in school history and could be a surprise team that should rack up lots of wins this winter.
5- Rochester Lourdes- The Eagles are a really good sneaky pick to have a really big bounce back year after youth and injuries plagued their progress last winter. The Eagles only graduated 3 players off last year’s team and should be able to find plenty of scoring as they return a nice core of forwards in Seniors Peyton Loeslie, AJ Ritter, Liam Barry along with Juniors Colton Rich & Jack Roe who should all be big contributors up front. On defense Sophomore Vinny Harens will lead the way but the reason to really like Lourdes in 1A is in the net. The Eagles four-year starter Senior Xander Carter-Kleven returns in goal and will be the top goalie in Section 1A. He can carry this team and it would not be surprising to see them make a run at a top three seed and find themselves playing in the Section 1A Final at the end of the year.
6- Winona- The Winhawks could also make some noise to be a surprise contender in Section 1A this winter. Winona had a very strong finish to their season last winter after a slow start out of the gates. They should have a better start this winter as they return their dangerous potent scoring of forward Senior Teis Larsen and defenseman Junior Aven Prodzinski both are back coming off a very prolific winter last year, 96 points combined, where they both lit the lamp a ton down the stretch and were difficult to shut down. They will need to replace depth pieces lost to graduation but look for Senior John Vail and Sophomores Paxton Raymond & Myles Bruemmer to try to fill the void there. Winona brings back their starter in net as Senior Michael Dubek is back, and he regularly stopped 30 to 40 plus shots a night down the stretch last winter to make this a scary team to face in 1A.
7- Faribault- Looking for another sleeper team in Section 1A to surprise a bunch of people and win a lot of games? Look no further than the Falcons who after spending the previous few winters going through a serious youth movement look primed for a big year. They will return 11 of their top 12 scorers led by forwards Seniors Oliver Linnemann, Logan Peroutka & Brody Redding all who had double digit goals along with super Sophomore Tommy Kunze who already had two years of varsity experience and over 30 goals during his 8th and 9th grade season. Senior Parker Morrow leads the defense, but they will need to find a goalie and it will be interesting to see who is all back as the Falcons have been hurt by numerous early defections in years past but if they return the main core from last year this could be the surprise team in 1A.
8- Waseca- The Blue Jays are a team to watch in Section 1A over the next 4-5 years. While this year’s team may struggle a bit you need to keep an eye on this program as they will be infusing a serious youth movement of talented hockey players. Their 8th-9th-10th graders have been challenging themselves over the past few years playing the AA level at youth hockey and you will see Waseca move up the ladder and be a serious contender in this section over the next few years. This year it might be a growing pains year, but they do return a core of Juniors in Brayden Hesch-Priem back at forward and defenders Hunter Anderson & Lucas Groll who each had double digit points add in their starter in net is back in Junior Carter Martens and if you infuse the youth of a very good upcoming bantam group lots could happen this year as the season progresses. No matter what, this is again a team to keep an eye on as they will be making noise in the next few years down south.
9- Austin- The Packers showed signs of improvement last winter as they were able to win a few more games than they did in the previous year. This year they will return their 1st and 3rd leading scorers in Juniors Gahvin Schaefer & Grady Carney who both had double digit points as Sophomores last season. There has to be more optimism with this team than they may have had in years prior as Austin will be looking to win more games this year as they continue to rebuild their program.
10- Red Wing- This once very proud southern program has hit incredibly tough times over the last few years. Coming off of a one-win season, the Wingers are hoping to have improvement this year. They do return their goaltender in Senior Ellis Petersmeyer who saw lots of pucks last winter. They will be leaning on him again heavily this year as they look to still be in the process of trying to rebuild their program and recapture the glory of this once Class A Southern Dynasty.