David LaVaque: My look ahead and prognostications

Most awaited games

In girls’ hockey, Edina plays at refurbished Blake Ice Arena in Hopkins on Jan. 20, a meeting of last season’s state champions. Both teams boast a wealth of star power. And this game means something more since Blake opted up to Class 2A this season and both teams play in Section 6. A likely section final rematch awaits Feb. 16 at Parade Ice Garden with a state tournament trip on the line. In boys’ hockey, the outdoor game Jan. 20 featuring Moorhead and Centennial in St. Cloud is the pinnacle of Hockey Day Minnesota.

Big-picture news

The Minnesota State High School League will make news in 2018. Erich Martens will become the league’s first new executive director since 1988. But his start date is uncertain. Current executive director Dave Stead will step down around Feb. 1. The league is in talks with the Minnesota Vikings about bringing football games to its 6,000-seat, synthetic turf Twin Cities Orthopedic (TCO) Stadium in Eagan. The team hopes to have football games there in the 2018 season. The stadium also could host soccer state quarterfinals and the lacrosse state tournaments.

(Mostly) fearless predictions

Talent-rich Edina gets its first Mr. Hockey recipient and his name is Sammy Walker. For Ms. Hockey, Red Wing’s Taylor Heise gets the nod in a supremely talented Class of 2018 and breaks a six-year run of suburban or private-school recipients. In basketball, Moorhead scoring machine Sam Haiby shoots her way to Ms. Basketball while Duke-bound Tre Jones takes Mr. Basketball. OK, so, my final prediction wasn’t too fearless.

 

Jim Paulsen: My Three wishes

Bridging the gap

Along with the voluminous praise for the boys’ hockey state tournament as a uniquely Minnesota experience like no other for players and fans alike, there’s another narrative that separates teams into a Good Guys vs. Bad Guys scenario that too often rings untrue. Kids are kids, no matter where they go to school. In short, northern teams are not more worthy than metro teams (does anybody really believe that kids Up North still hone their games on frozen ponds?), private school kids work just as hard as those at public schools, and Edina’s continuous success is worth celebrating, not castigating.

A 64-team Class 4A boys’ basketball field

It’s time for a large-school boys’ basketball state tournament bracket that seeds teams from one to 64. The Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association has put forth a number of such plans in recent years, only to have them rejected by the Minnesota State High School League for a possible lack of regional representation and a feeling that metro teams would have an unfair advantage. The idea has momentum, however, and the league has indicated it would reconsider if the athletic directors at Class 4A schools supported it. Of the 63 current 4A teams, 56 are located in the metro. That should be enough to move the needle in favor of a change that almost certainly would generate interest and ensure the best teams get the chance to play in the state tournament.

Sanction prep fishing

The remarkable growth and success of clay target shooting has many looking toward turning another lifetime hobby into a sanctioned sport. High school-based fishing clubs have taken off and are flourishing. Last August, more than 90 two-person teams competed at the Minnesota BASS Federation High School Fishing Championships on Lake Mille Lacs. The Minnesota Junior BASS Nation estimated that 600 students took part in high school fishing in 2017. Finding enough qualified boat captains is an issue that needs to be solved, but the interest is certainly there.

 

Ron Haggstrom: My Three teams to watch

Eagles soar on court

The Eden Prairie boys’ basketball team vaulted to No. 1 in Class 4A by winning its first five games before dropping a heartbreaker to Lakeville North in overtime. Look for coach David Flom’s squad to continue to give teams fits all season, and become well acquainted with that top spot over the next couple of years. The Eagles’ top four scorers, all of whom average double figures, are sophomores. They are 6-5 forward Austin Andrews, 6-6 forward Connor Christensen, 6-foot guard Drake Dobbs and 6-4 forward John Henry.

Lakeville strong

Lakeville North’s gymnastics team won its first Class 2A state championship since the school district split into two schools in 2005. With a young core returning, one would expect the Panthers to repeat. But the team on the other side of town has different ideas. Senior-laden Lakeville South, is currently ranked second in the state and will host the Section 2 meet that also includes No. 1 North.

Destructive Tornadoes

State wrestling power Apple Valley has won 12 consecutive Class 3A team championships. Unlucky No. 13 looms. Anoka recently won the prestigious Christmas tournament in Rochester for the first time in the event’s 31 years. The Tornadoes, with a solid lineup from top to bottom, have positioned themselves to halt the Eagles’ streak. Look for that to come to fruition at the beginning of March.