West metro rich in boys' hockey talent

  • Article by: JIM PAULSEN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 27, 2012 - 5:00 PM

The top four teams in Class 2A hail from the west side of the Twin Cities area. And there's more.

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Edina goalie Willie Benjamin, shown making a save in last year’s state tournament, will return to the nets for the star-studded Class 2A Hornets. Photo by Kyndell Harkness • kharkness@startribune.com

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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While long a hotbed of high school hockey, it's safe to say that the west metro is the 800-pound gorilla of boys' puck for the 2012-13 season.

The top four teams in Class 2A, according to the Let's Play Hockey rankings, all reside in the west: Benilde-St. Margaret's, Edina, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka.

And that's not even accounting for others set to make some noise, such as Wayzata, Maple Grove, Holy Family and contending Class 1A teams such as Breck, Rogers, Delano/Rockford and Orono. Here's a quick nuts-and-bolts look at boys' hockey in the west metro.

BEST CLASS 2A TEAM

• (tie) Edina: With such stars as Matt Nelson, Parker Reno, Connor Hurley and Dylan Malmquist, the Hornets are big, experienced and insanely good.

• (tie) Benilde-St. Margaret's: Grant Besse, the overwhelming favorite for Mr. Hockey, heads a deep and talented roster for the defending Class 2A champs. Besse, Dan Labosky and T.J. Moore make up the state's best line.

HONORABLE MENTION

• Eden Prairie: The Eagles return the top five scorers from 2011-12 and have added talent in junior forward Colton Schmidt and sophomore goalie Jake Kielly.

• Minnetonka: Put the Skippers in a different metro region and they're the team to beat. With a rock-solid defensive core and goalie Paul Ciaccio, Minnetonka can play with anyone.

BEST CLASS 1A TEAM

• Breck: Senior forwards Thomas Lindstrom and Matt Colford had a combined 53 goals and 130 points between them last year. That type of firepower is tough to match.

HONORABLE MENTION

• Rogers: With a youth system bursting with players, the Royals have the talent to reload.

• Delano/Rockford: Defenseman Grant Prinsen is a two-way rock to build upon.

WEST DREAM TEAM

(Note: Only one player per team)

FORWARDS

• Shane Gersich, Holy Family, soph. (30-30-60)

• Grant Besse, Benilde-St. Margaret's, sr. (52-41-93)

• Thomas Lindstrom, Breck, sr. (32-39-71)

• Also: Dan Labosky, Benilde-St. Margaret's; Connor Hurley, Edina; Max Coatta, Minnetonka

DEFENSE

• Tommy Vannelli, Minnetonka, sr. (7-18-25)

• Matt Nelson, Edina, sr. (3-16-19)

• Also: Johnny Austin, Benilde-St. Margaret's; Parker Reno, Edina; Frankie Mork, Holy Angels; Jack Ramsey, Minnetonka

GOALIE

• Jake Kielly, Eden Prairie, soph.

• Also: Willie Benjamin, Edina; Paul Ciaccio, Minnetonka; Derrick LaCombe, Holy Family

UNSUNG PLAYER

• Travis Brown, Rogers, sr., D (6-17-23): Excellent size and instincts, plays the puck and the body equally well. Possesses a rocket of a shot.

HONORABLE MENTION

• Jono Lindquist, Bloomington Jefferson, sr. F (13-23-36)

• Mario Bianchi, Holy Angels, sr. F, (25-34-59)

• Grant Payne, Orono, soph. F (25-28-53)

• Mason Bergh, Eden Prairie, sr. F (9-21-30)

GAME OF THE YEAR

• Eden Prairie vs. Edina, Dec. 22, at Braemar, 8:30 p.m. The final game of Edina's annual Holiday Classic is a pre-Christmas treat for puckheads. Go early to catch the first game, Grand Rapids vs. Elk River, at 6 p.m.

HONORABLE MENTION

• Hill-Murray vs. Benilde-St. Margaret's, Dec. 8, at St. Louis Park Rec. Minnesota's premier private school programs.

• Delano at Breck, Dec. 8. Preview of the likely Section 2A final.

GAME THAT WON'T HAPPEN (BUT SHOULD) • Edina vs. Benilde-St. Margaret's. In a sport with plenty of opportunities for juicy matchups, it's flabbergasting that these two will not meet during the regular season.

Predicting the conference races

• Lake: Edina. Runner-up: Eden Prairie, Minnetonka

• Mississippi 8: Rogers. Runner-up: Buffalo

• Missota: Holy Angels. Runner-up: Chanhassen

• Tri-Metro: Breck. Runner-up: Providence Academy

• Wright County: Holy Family. Runner-up: Orono

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