Wild wheel and deal & State Tourney time baby!

Marc Elliott

The Minnesota High School Boys State Hockey Tournament is all set. The NCAA Men's and Women's D1 Hockey tourneys are shaping up as the Women's tourney selections were formalized just this morning and the Conference tournaments continue forth on the Men's side. And the NHL, youth hockey and more are going full tilt!

If you love the game, you are in hockey paradise right about now! It isn't called The State of Hockey for nothing!  

On Wednesday the Boys HS tourney commenced with play in Class A. With all respect due to every participant, you would have to say that Warroad is the favorite on one side of the brackets and Hermantown is the favorite on the other side. I haven't heard anyone even consider speculating on a State title game other than this one.

Who wins? Great question. Warroad is undefeated (23-0) and that is a tall task to end a season in that same manner. But the Warriors have already beaten the Hawks once this season. Can they do that again? We just might find out. Orono HS could be a "sleeper" team in this Class.  

In the Class AA tourney Minnetonka is the number one seed. But there are other familiar suspects headed for St. Paul too. Edina, Maple Grove and Hill Murray are longtime participants in this dance and any one of them could make this an interesting show.

While I am speculating on a Minnetonka-Maple Grove championship matchup, my sleeper team in this Class is Lakeville South. I did a lot of digging on this and to be honest it was hard to come up with a "sleeper" here. I thought Cretin Derham Hall might be it but I have concerns with their overall record. It could be Edina due to their coaching and roster. But I think mostly I'm going to hold firm and say that we are likely to see a Skippers-Crimson battle for the Crown.  

If you are a diehard puck fan you are probably already aware of some of the rumblings going on in HS hockey locally and in the Twin Cities. A prominent Hermantown hockey alumni recently questioned the school's continued stay in the single A classification.

That's dialogue I've heard before but not to the extent that this individual laid it out. He made many points that a lot of fans already knew but weren't necessarily interested in hearing or talking about. Especially if they aren't in agreement with his viewpoint. My thoughts on this are sometimes realities and truths make people that don't want to hear them uncomfortable.  

My other thought is there are a couple of major items driving the issues here. The Classes are determined based on school enrollment. Has that worked? Open enrollment would be the other driving factor and it seems to have only worked for upper-level athletes looking for better opportunities for themselves. How has that worked out for the youth programs and schools that "brought them up" in the game and then lost them to this rule? It hasn't.      

It has left many of them in the dust, stinging from the knowledge that the one or handful of "stars" they created wasn't enough to sustain their own programs. At least at the AA level it seems it has only created a major event with common entrants year after year after year. How compelling is that to watch?

What are the solutions?  

That's where it gets really tough. When I grew up there was only one eight-team tourney. It mattered not how big or small your school was. The "private" schools had their own tournament. And as a kid on West 7th Street in St. Paul, mere minutes away from the greatest HS event in the entire country, all I can say is that the whole week was nothing short of hockey nirvana.

And now, in the face of how big and even commercialized it has become, this event still gets pretty close to that nostalgic nirvana I recall. How do you protect it without watering down a one-of-a-kind diamond?  

Would you determine Class by a factor other than enrollment? Could that even be done? Is it time for the open enrollment rule to be revised? I can't speak to how often the MSHSL reviews issues to retain event quality, but I'd say it appears there's trouble in River City and it needs to be put under a microscope rather quickly.

To ignore that there are some potential underlying issues lurking would be a disservice to all those whose efforts over the years have made this tourney the best in the land.  

The UMD Bulldog women faced Ohio State in the WCHA semifinals last Friday in Minneapolis but lost a close game 2-1. The Buckeyes would lose to the new Champion UM Gophers the next day by a 3-1 final. The Bulldogs have been placed in the Mpls. NCAA regional and will face Clarkson on Thursday evening with the winner facing the #2 overall seed Gophers on Saturday afternoon at Ridder arena. The winner of that tilt will advance to the Women's NCAA Frozen Four at Amsoil Arena on the 17th and 19th.  

For the Bulldogs Men's squad, after a weekend split with St. Cloud State, they will faceoff with them again this coming weekend in the NCHC Frozen Faceoff quarterfinals. (at SCSU) The winner will advance to the semifinal in St. Paul at the Xcel Energy Center on the 17th.  

The #1 ranked Gophers Men's team had a bye week courtesy of winning the Big Ten regular-season title and will face Michigan State in Mpls. in the B10 semifinals on Saturday evening. The winner will meet the OSU/PSU winner on Saturday the 18th. The Men's F4 selections will be held on the 19th.  

The NHL trade deadline has passed. On a day when it looked like the Minnesota WILD would be passive observers, GM Bill Guerin actually made a handful of deals that will help now, in the playoffs, and potentially in the future.  

The team moved offensively struggling forward Jordan Greenway to the BUF Sabres where he will reunite with his former USNTDP mentor Head Coach Don Granato. The WILD got back a 2023 2nd-round pick and a 2024 5th-round pick. The team retained no salary in the deal so the positive is in shedding Greener's $3mil a year deal for the next two years.  

The club picked up RW Oskar Sundqvist from DET for a 2023 4th rounder, LW Gustav Nyquist from the CBJ for a 2023 5th rounder and former WILD winger Marcus Johansson from WAS for a 2024 4th rounder, and for a steal, offensively gifted D-man John Klingberg from ANA for Andre' Sustr, a draft pick that was never going to sign with the team (Nesterenko) and a 2025 4th round pick. Klingberg has some defensive question marks but should fit into this team's D structure quite well.

I also believe the enhanced offensive play of the team's top-end players will help him as well as the team. He will be the new power-play QB.   While it may appear this is just some deck chair rearranging, the team's regular season and playoff experience level just shot upward tremendously. More on that next week! PEACE