A decade ago, in the 2014 State Tournament the entire state was introduced to “ROLL CARDS ROLL” when Luverne, the tiny program from the Southwest Corner of the state showed up at X with an unbeaten record and then shocked many by going toe to toe with mighty Hermantown. Section 3A seemed to be theirs to win for years to come and they were destined to become a southern dynasty in Class A but that dominant run never really materialized. While they did make their 3rd appearance in the last 10 years this past winter the theme in Section 3A that has prevailed is “expect the unexpected” when it comes to this southern section. Section 3A hasn’t had a repeat champion in the last 10 years and rarely has the #1 seed prevailed to get to St Paul. The favorite based on what is coming back should be the Cards but New Ulm, Mankato West & Mankato East all with State tourney appearances of their own in the last decade will be solid and will contend and the Class A world surely won’t be shocked by whoever comes out of 3A because as again we have been trained to “expect the unexpected.”
Section 3A Preseason Poll (10 Teams)
2- New Ulm
3- Mankato West
4- Mankato East
6- Minnesota River
10- Redwood Valley
1- Luverne- This version of Roll Cards Roll will look to do what the previous 2 teams coming off a state tourney berth and returning loads of talent couldn’t do and that is repeat as 3A champions. The Cards on paper appear to be the favorites in 3A this winter as they return Seniors Patrick Kroski, Owen Sudenga, Elliot Domagala and Sophomore Maddux Domagala who all had big numbers up front for a team that primarily plays two lines. Add in top returner in defender Junior Blaik Bork who is an elite young player in the Southwest Corner of the State, he along with Senior Henry Hartquist will bring back good experience on the blueline this winter. Luverne also returns goalkeeper Senior Tyler Arends who has 2 full years of varsity experience under his belt. They also have help on the way to maybe build some depth as their A Bantam team that went to Regions and this team again should be very good but will they be able to repeat?
2- New Ulm- For the second year in a row the Eagles rolled through the Big South racking up wins and extending a 50 plus game conference winning streak. They again entered the 3A playoffs with the number 1 seed, but they again were unable to get over the hump as they were taken down in the section final. Injuries played a massive role in this and they will return a good team and be hungry to take that final step and back to the X for the first time since 2019. Up front they return their dynamite line of Seniors Austin Uecker, Kaden Larson, & Bryer Lang who were the teams three leading scorers with a combined 68 goals between the three of them. They also return Junior Ian Brudelie who chipped in double digit goals of his own as a youngster last year. They return their starter in net Senior Bryer Hoffmann who had a very good season last year and they will need him to be good early as they graduated nearly their entire d-core. This Eagle version looks very good again and they will be looking to finally punch that ticket to state that has eluded them the past few winters.
3- Mankato West- The Scarlets could just be the favorite to win Section 3A this year. After suffering through some tough seasons recently there appears to be a pretty good core returning this winter at West they could make a run in this section this winter. Up front they bring back their top player in Junior Jaeger Zimmerman who along with Seniors Gage Schmidt & Hunter Rigdon should give West some scoring punch up. Defensively, Senior Derek Stierlen is back after having double digit points last year and the development in net of Sophomore Mason Schreiber will be a thing to watch as he is one of the top young goalies in all of Southern Minnesota who learned on the job as just a freshman last year. There is a lot to like about this Scarlets squad who will be looking to take over the label as the top team in town this winter.
4- Mankato East- The Cougars appeared to be on the verge of a dominant run coming off the heels of their walk to the State Tourney through the 2022 Section 3A Playoffs. They had found the formula to play a very tough regular season schedule that included very few 3A games vs rival West and Minnesota River and then overwhelm the Big South Competition when it mattered most. However, last year was simply a bad year for East. They got off to a slow start and never really found consistency and ended up getting knocked out by Luverne in the Section 3A Semis. This year they do return Seniors Christian Theuninck & Rafe Bowman up front who should have a good year and they also bring back elite defender Sophomore Luke Lebens to build around. They will need better play from Goaltender Junior Brody Kunst who struggled as a sophomore. Overall though it’s a tough bet against this team and they will be a factor again just based on tradition of past winters expect the Cougars to be in the thick of 3A come February again.
5- Marshall- The Tigers will look to be an improved team this winter and build off an 11-win season that saw them fall just short in the Section Quarterfinals. This should be another good year as Marshall brings back their top forward in Junior Owen Renslow who put up 30 plus points as sophomore and 4-year veteran Senior Chase Mellenthin. They return their top player in Senior Talan Plante who was their leading scorer from the blue line with an eye opening 40 points last winter as a defender. They will also return their starter in net as Senior Gavin Welsh will look to build on and up and down year last season. This will be a team to watch as they could be a very serious contender in 3A this winter.
6- Minnesota River- The Bulldogs are another team that should be much improved this winter as they return a Senior heavy team with lots of varsity experience. They return 6 of their 7 leading scorers including the 1st and 2nd point leaders from last winter in Seniors Travis Kotek & Kellen O’Keefe. On defense Senior Isaac Schaffer returns on the blueline with double digit points and Senior Ayden Christ is back as the starter in net. With a wealth of experience in many areas, look for Minnesota River to improve on their 12 wins from the previous winter and be thorne for many 3A teams to play this winter.
7- Windom- The Eagles should put another quality team on the ice this winter. While depth again will be an issue and they were hurt by graduation there is still a trio of scorers coming back that should give this team a boost up front. Seniors Wriley Haugen & Sonny Heil both had nearly 20 goals on the winter and add in Junior Nicholas Espenson having 10 goals of his own and Windom should be able to score. They also return their starter in net as Senior Adam Dahna is back and this should be another strong team that will look to push for a top 5 seed like last season in Section 3A.
8- Fairmont- The Cardinals are coming off one of their better seasons in recent times and they look like they will have a very strong team coming back this winter. Leading scorer Senior Nate Rakness is back coming off a 20 goal season. Add in their 3rd and 4th leading scorers are also back in Junior Luke Kester and 9th grader Teveldal Jace who had double digit goals as a middle schooler last winter. This team should make more positive traction this winter and maybe have one of their best seasons in program history.
9- Worthington- The Trojans should improve upon their 3-win season last winter. They return nearly their entire roster, only one player graduated, which includes Senior Easton Newman and Junior Spenser Nickel both of whom had double digit goals and they will return a lot of kids who played varsity hockey last year. They will need to defend better and get better goaltending but a team with a bunch of guys a year older and more experienced should show growth this winter.
10- Redwood Valley- It was a very rough season for Redwood Valley last winter as they were unable to get a win all winter. This year the prospects don’t look much brighter and hopefully they can just continue to work to keep their struggling program alive. They will return leading scorer Junior Kilen Cilek who was the only player to break double digits points and hopefully this winter they can get back in the win column and have a better overall year.