1 THREE-TITLE TOUR FOR SKIPPERS?
Experienced (two consecutive Class 2A state championships) and ultra-talented (five players committed to NCAA Division I schools), Minnetonka is in position to become the first team to win three consecutive state titles. It starts with defense and goaltending, units that helped the Skippers hold opponents to 38 goals in 31 games last season. But the seas could turn rough. Mark this game down: Section 6 championship on Feb. 15. The Skippers likely will see Benilde-St. Margaret's in a showdown of the state's two best teams.
2 ANY BEASTS IN THE EAST?
While Minnetonka, Benilde-St. Margaret's (located in St. Louis Park) and Edina are some of the best in the west metro, what about the other side of the horizon? Graduation hit Hill-Murray (located in Maplewood) and state runner-up Roseville hard. And Stillwater has struggled of late in the postseason. The trio resides in what is typically a tough Section 4, but this season, at this point, it looks less capable of producing a real title challenger.
3 FUTURE GOPHERS
A half-dozen of the state's finest players are bound for reigning national champion Minnesota in 2013-14: forwards Dani Cameranesi (Blake), Kate Flug (Roseville), Kate Schipper (Breck) and Megan Wolfe (Eagan) and defensemen Kelsey Cline (Bloomington Jefferson) and Paige Haley (Red Wing).
4 TALENT BEHIND THE BENCH
Local legends Natalie Darwitz and Krissy Wendell are in their second seasons as Lakeville South head coach and Cretin-Derham Hall assistant coach, respectively. Three additional former standouts are making their head coaching debuts: Aubri Lindberg (North Metro), Laura May (Mathomedi) and Allie Thunstrom (North St. Paul). May and Thunstrom return to their alma maters; Lindberg played at Anoka.
5 NEW HEAD CONTACT RULE
The Minnesota State High School League took unprecedented steps midway through last season, leveling stiffer penalties and zero tolerance for three dangerous hits: checking from behind, boarding and contact to the head. This season, referees have more discretion in contact-to-the-head situations. Direct contact will result in a five-minute major penalty and potential 10-minute disqualification. If referees believe the contact is indirect, they can call a minor penalty. The rule change also applies to boys' hockey.
DAVID LA VAQUE