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Dark horse galloping: With enduring hockey powers Edina, Hill-Murray and Blaine making the No. 1 ranking in Class 2A a game of musical chairs this season, you might have missed Lakeville North’s charge into the top 10.
The 10th-ranked Panthers take a 7-0-1 unbeaten streak into Tuesday night’s game at Eagan. They tied No. 4 Blaine 3-3 at the St. Louis Park Holiday Classic tournament and stunned No. 2 Hill-Murray with a 3-0 victory on Jan. 4.
The keys to Lakeville North’s success? Good goaltending and the ability to close out games. Freshman goaltender Jake Oettinger stopped 34 shots to blank Hill-Murray. And the Panthers have outscored opponents 21-9 in the third period.
Section 6 looks mortal: The state’s toughest section in recent seasons, Class 2A, Section 6, lacks its usual prestige. No. 6 Benilde-St. Margaret’s can score but struggles to keep opponents off the scoreboard. No. 7 Eden Prairie lacks depth to supplement some high-end players. Minnetonka disappeared from the top-20 rankings. The favorites right now are No. 3 Wayzata, which defends well and scores in the tough areas. And watch No. 17 Holy Family Catholic, which lost star power but emerged with more balanced scoring.
Goal-getters: White Bear Lake junior Jake Wahlin ranks second in the state and first in the metro area with 22 goals, ahead of Forest Lake’s Brett Gravelle (20), Benilde-St. Margaret’s Spencer Naas (19) and Trey Rooney (18) of Robbinsdale Cooper.
West is the best: Minnetonka defeated Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the Class 2A, Section 6 final in the past three seasons en route to an unprecedented three consecutive state championships. The emergence of Wayzata and Hopkins, however, makes another section final meeting no sure thing. The four teams began this week with a combined five losses and held the top four spots in the rankings.
No. 1 Minnetonka once again relies on defense and goaltending. Defenseman Sydney Baldwin, who committed to the Gophers, leads a group of three Division I-bound players. No. 2 Wayzata wins with a no-star and no-quit approach while No. 3 Hopkins boasts three players (goaltender Erin O’Neil, defenseman Grace Bizal and forward Nina Rodgers) invited to the Under-18 nation team tryouts. No. 4 Benilde- St. Margaret’s, boasting six Division I players, won its past nine games.
Stepping outside: Minnetonka and Eden Prairie will play the first outdoor high school hockey game on Saturday at TCF Bank Stadium. Puck drops at 10 a.m. as part of the High School Hockey Faceoff. The Lake Conference rivals will be followed by four boys’ games.
Roster shake-up: Christi Vetter and younger sister Brianna left the Lakeville North program, said Panthers coach Buck Kochevar, who declined further comment. Christi had signed to play at Penn State. Both sisters joined the Nordic skiing team.
DAVID LA VAQUE