Minnesota High School Hockey: 2023-24 Section 5A Preseason Preview

Boys Class A Hockey celebrates its 30th anniversary this winter and since the first Class A State Tournament was held back in 1994 one 5A blue blood program over the last 3 decades has been there on a consistent basis. That program is St Cloud Cathedral and this winter looks like a big year for the Crusaders who have been to the Class A Tournament 11 times in the past including 1994, 2004, 2014 which would make it obvious that in 2024 we are bound to see them back in St. Paul again. There is good reason to believe that is a safe bet as they return nearly their entire team and Coach Stocker’s rebuild has been remarkable after the program was left in ruins in 2021. However, 5A will always have the two main contenders and traditional Class A powers in Monticello & Little Falls who will both be looking to knock off the heavily favored defending section champs. Princeton, River Lakes & Pine City will try to grow off of respectable finishes to last winter and have some good scoring returning to build around. But on paper it appears that Cathedral will be doing what they normally do in years that end with the number four and that is playing in St. Paul when the calendar turns to March.

Section 5A Preseason Poll (9 Teams)

1- St Cloud Cathedral

2- Monticello

3- Little Falls

4- River Lakes

5- Princeton

6- Pine City

7- Sauk Rapids

8- Mora/Milaca

9- Becker Big Lake

1- St Cloud Cathedral- The Crusaders were an extremely young team that got a taste of the State Tourney last winter and ended up winning Consolation after pushing Warroad in the Quarterfinals and they look absolutely loaded this winter. They only graduated one senior who played last winter and they return all 9 of their forwards including their top line of Juniors John Hirschfeld & Joey Gillespie along with Senior Andrew Dwinell. Add in the depth of Seniors Landon Swenson, Cole Hawg, Ben Petroske & Junior Jaeger Wood all of whom have around 20 points on the year and this team will have serious depth. Toss in the return of Sophomore Griffin Sturm who along with Senior Vince Gebhardt return as their top defenseman and in the net they have 3 year starter Senior Nick Hansen and wow this team looks primed to not only win Section 5A but all of Class A this winter.

2- Monticello- The Moose have become a Section 5A and Class A program that should never be counted out. They will have some lineup holes to fill but they do return Seniors Roman Thompson & Gunnar Simon along with Junior Landen Scherber which will give them experience up front as all three of them had over 20 points on the year last winter. On defense they return Senior Cameron Schmitz & Junior Aidan Widmark who both had double digit points on the back end as well to build off of with what d-core. Monticello also returns goaltender Senior Owen Soderholm who was very strong as the starter last winter winning 16 games and sporting a .915 SV% to be steadying force in the net. Add in a good group of A Bantams led by Sophomores Ashton Stoll & Liam O’Donnell coming into the program who went to State this past year and there will be plenty of pieces for Coach Nelson to build another contender with and make another competitive Class A team and make a run at as always in Section 5A.

3- Little Falls – The Flyers were once again hit hard by graduation this offseason after coming up just short in 5A. Little Falls will again have depth concerns like what was their undoing the last two winters, but they do return some good individual pieces that should allow them to remain competitive and not be overlooked this winter. Up front Senior Carter Oothoudt & Junior Joey Welinski return who had 44 goals just between the two of them. They also have Junior Ryan Oothoudt & Sophomore Remi Chisholm who are a year older and will look to build off very good double digit point seasons as underclassmen last winter. Defender Junior Luke Avery will be back to start to rebuild a D core around which will be a big question mark. However, Little Falls will also have outstanding goaltending as Sophomore Goalie Izaak Kalis will return in net and keep the Flyers in games all winter and there is enough here to build another good team and get a top 3 seed in Section 5A and make a good run come Section time.

4- River Lakes- The Stars had a slow and disappointing start to their year last winter and never really were able to capture the momentum needed to make a serious run. This year the lineup is less deep but they do return enough to be in contention for a top 4 seed and home ice come the Quarterfinals. Junior Blake Schultz & Senior Anthony Fink are back up front both having double digit goals last winter and add in the depth of having Senior Matthew Dotzler & Junior Jace Griffin back with double digit points so they should have some scoring. They also bring back their starter in Senior Carson Cronquist who has split time in the net the last two years but appears primed for a big senior year with the net more to himself. Overall, this will be a rugged team and a throne for any opponent to play.

5- Princeton- The Tigers had a strong finish to their 2022-23 campaign but fell to their arch rivals again in the Section Quarterfinals. This winter will be an interesting one to watch play out for this team that was hit hard by graduation. However, there are some glimmers of optimism as Juniors Lane Olson & Brody Kok are both back coming off very strong sophomore years where they each had double digit goals. Defenders Senior Eli Christopher & Junior Dominic Patnode return on the blueline with double digit points. However, there are many depth questions and also questions on who starts in net that need to be answered. Again, the Tigers will be an interesting one to watch as they develop a young core to contend hopefully in 5A.

6- Pinc City- The Dragons could be the section’s biggest surprise team this coming winter. Coming off a winter last year where they got progressively better and nearly upset #2 seed Monticello in the Section Quarters. They return star Sophomore McCall Leger who had 20 goals and 40 points as a 9th grader last year. They also have Senior Gavin Broz who had double digit goals and 30 points of his own back along with Junior Blake Painovich who had double digit points. Defensively, Junior Logan Kirby is back along with an experienced core of blue liners. Goaltending starter Junior Aaron Rootkie is back in net after coming on strong last season and this team could easily be a top 4 seed this winter as they look to grow on last year’s progress.

7- Sauk Rapids- The Storm will again count on their do everything star Senior Teagan Dodge to lead the way coming off a 26 goals 40 point plus season last year. He will need to get some help as depth again could be a major issue, but Senior Nick Anderson does return with double digit points. In net they will need to get better play from Senior Zander Parker to be a real factor here. However, they did push the Flyers as #8 seed at the end of last year to try to build some momentum off that this year.

8- Mora/Milaca- The Mustangs will be looking to be improved this winter as they return their two leading scorers in Seniors Rowan Tramm & Austin Neyssen up front who both had 20 plus points from last winter. Their top scorer and top player is back to patrol the blue line in Senior Trenton Fore. However, to make a bigger step this winter they will need growth in the net as their two goalies from last year are both back but they both had their struggles last year and they will need more consistent play this upcoming season.

9- Becker Big Lake- The Eagles should be able to build on their 10-win season from a year ago. Up front they return their two leading scorers in Seniors Brayden Graning & Jase Tobako both who had nearly 20 goals and 40 plus points last winter. They also return their goalie tandem as both Seniors Andrew Holm & Declan Weber are back in the net and this could be a team to watch grow this winter.