The defending champions in adapted floor hockey are back but they face plenty of competition in the state tournament on Friday and Saturday at Bloomington Jefferson High School. Here is a breakdown of some of the top-seeded teams in the cognitively impaired (CI) and physically impaired (PI) divisions:
New Prague (CI)
An undefeated season complete with a state title brought high expectations into the 2014-15 season for New Prague Adapted.
At 11-1-0, the co-op of New Prague, Tri-City United, Le Sueur-Henderson, Belle Plaine and Jordan drew a No. 2 seed after defeating Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka 20-3 in a sectional matchup.
The next step in its title defense will be a game against Maple Grove.
“We have high expectations for ourselves, but we’re trying to be realistic and go in and enjoy the moment,” coach Shellie Kriha said.
One of those high expectations was to finish the season undefeated, something disrupted in mid-February by a loss to Dakota United.
But though Kriha said the loss was tough for the team, it also helped.
Since the loss, the Trojans, who have been led offensively by senior Matthew Schoenbauer, have outscored opponents 44-10 in three victories.
“It got us back to focusing on what we need to do,” Kriha said, noting that included not taking winning for granted.
Sophomore Cole Denny has played for the Mustangs since he was in seventh grade.
But though his team has been to the postseason, Denny, the Mustangs’ leading scorer, never has played in the state tournament.
The tournament has fallen during Anoka-Hennepin’s spring break the past few years, and Denny’s family has traveled.
This year, Denny will help lead the Mustangs as they take on Owatonna in the first round.
Coach Bill Newell estimated Denny had scored 60 of his team’s 104 goals this season.
“He’s just kind of one of those natural scorers, and I think every team that’s successful has somebody who’s pretty natural at scoring,” Newell said.
In goal, the Mustangs have seventh-grader Jaden Chamberlain, who is joined on the team by his older siblings Luke and Elena.
Newell said the position is new to Jaden Chamberlain, who has a 3.5 goals-against average.
Elena Chamberlain, one of nine seniors, has been on the team for the past six years.
“We have kind of young group that kind of leads us, but we need the older players with a little more experience that have been around the block,” Newell said. “You need both to balance … our team.”
Dakota United (PI)
Sidelined by a leg injury, Dakota United’s top scorer last year, Grayson Nicolay, has missed the entire season.
Nicolay’s coach, Brett Sadek, said the junior might be cleared to play in the state tournament.
But if not, the Hawks will carry on without their star, as they have all season.
The Hawks are set for a meeting with Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka, a rematch of the past three championship games, which they lost.
“We’re planning on not having him and if he comes, it’ll be exciting and help us because we don’t have much depth,” Sadek said.
The Hawks have become a better passing team as a result of Nicolay’s absence, Sadek said.
One of the team’s captains, Nick Kuefler, said, “We’ve had to pass more and work more as a team since we haven’t been able to rely on him. [We] rely on each other instead of relying on him to score a bunch of goals for us.”
The Hawks will need to do that in the tournament to knock off the Robbins.
“We all kind of expect to just go in and win. It’s our No. 1 goal to just go in and win the whole thing. None of us expect anything less,” Kuefler said.
Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka (PI)
The Robbins enter the state tournament as the four-time defending champions and as one of the favorites.
But coach Marcus Onsum knows that this year’s field will make repeating a difficult task.
The Robbins are the No. 2 seed from the North Conference after finishing the season 12-2.
“They know that this year, they’ve got a lot more work to do than in years past when it comes to the potential of being able to win another state championship,” Onsum said.
Onsum mentioned Brainerd/Pillager and Anoka-Hennepin as possible challengers. The Robbins split two games with each team during the regular season.
After Brainerd/Pillager defeated the Robbins 9-2 in early February, Onsum said the team flipped a switch.
“I could see the team wake up and kind of take on this attitude that ‘You know what, nobody’s going to hand anything to us,’ ” Onsum said.
Since then, the team has gone 6-1 and held all opponents to four goals or fewer.
Junior James Charlton has taken over in goal after never playing the position before, holding a save percentage near 90 percent and a goals against-average around three per game.
“To do those things in a position that’s totally new to [him] was a real big factor in our success,” Onsum said.