A look at what to watch for during the 2013-14 season:
1. State's toughest section
Minnetonka has owned Class 2A, Section 6 the past three seasons en route to winning an unprecedented three consecutive state titles. A fourth consecutive trip to state is less certain than ever. Graduation claimed five Division I players and left the Skippers searching for goal scorers. Meanwhile, fellow Section 6 opponents Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Hopkins rank among the state’s strongest teams. Motivation will not be an issue for the Red Knights, who ended the past three seasons with section final losses to Minnetonka.
2. Jefferson, Kennedy merge
In another sign of leaner hockey times in some suburbs, the girls’ programs at Bloomington Jefferson and Bloomington Kennedy high schools formed a co-op this season. Kennedy, which lacked the participation numbers to field a program, has nine players in the varsity or junior varsity. “The camaraderie is really good,” Jaguars coach Mark Stephan said. “Everybody wants to have a good experience.”
3. Future Gophers
Three of the state’s top seniors are bound for two-time defending national champion Minnesota in 2014-15: forwards Kelly Pannek (Benilde-St. Margaret’s), Nina Rodgers (Hopkins) and defenseman Sydney Baldwin (Minnetonka).
4. Edina's Slominski not coaching
Edina coach Laura Slominski will not be behind the bench this season as she recovers from surgery in October for a neck fracture suffered in a women’s hockey game. Slominski, who said she is expected to fully recover, has watched from the stands this season and visited the locker room between periods. The Hornets started the season 4-0-1 under interim head coach Dean Williamson.
5 Stiffer penalties remain
The Minnesota State High School League took unprecedented steps midway through the 2011-12 season, leveling stiffer penalties and zero tolerance for three dangerous hits: checking from behind, boarding and contact to the head. Referees once again have discretion in contact-to-the-head situations. Direct contact will result in a five-minute major penalty. If referees believe the contact is indirect, they can call a minor penalty. The rule change also applies to boys’ hockey.