At least half the Class 2A girls' hockey teams ranked in the top 10 won't survive this week's section semifinals and championships.
Skilled, passionate play will decide which of these state tournament-caliber teams advances to the Xcel Energy Center.
In Section 6, No. 1 Edina, the defending state champions, plays Cretin-Derham Hall on Wednesday at Parade Arena. The second game of the semifinal doubleheader features No. 2 Blake against No. 9 Wayzata. The favored Bears, defending Class 1A state champions, opted up to play with the larger schools by enrollment. An anticipated Edina-Blake showdown would take place Friday.
Section 5 also features a trio of top-10 teams. No. 3 Centennial plays Rogers on Tuesday at Roseville Ice Arena, followed by No. 4 Maple Grove against No. 8 Blaine, the state tournament runner-up last season. Centennial, which last reached the state tournament in 2008, is led by 12 seniors, including dynamic forwards Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser.
"As a team, we are confident in our abilities," Hughes said. "That's a component that we've been missing. We know this is our time."
The section final is set in Section 7, where No. 6 Andover plays No. 7 Forest Lake on Thursday night at Fogerty Arena. In the teams' Dec. 14 meeting, Andover beat the Rangers 4-2.
In Class 1A, Section 4, No. 6 St. Paul United and No. 7 South St. Paul must win their respective semifinal games Tuesday to reach Thursday's final.
Ready for Round 2? Barring a major upset, the Class 3A, Section 2 wrestling team finals are expected to pit Shakopee, ranked No. 1 in Class 3A, against No. 2 Apple Valley, seeking its 35th consecutive state tournament appearance. The Eagles have won 12 consecutive Class 3A state titles but are the No. 2 seed in the section, the result of a 32-30 loss to Shakopee on Jan. 25 that earned the Sabers' the top seed.
The circumstance mirrors last season, when Shakopee defeated Apple Valley during the regular season, ending the Eagles' 11-year dual-meet undefeated streak. Apple Valley got payback in the section finals with a 28-19 victory.
Of course, both must first reach the finals. Apple Valley coach Josh Barlage noted that No. 3 seed Prior Lake, the Eagles' opponent in the semifinals, is "very tough again this year."
The Class 3A, Section 2 team competition is Friday at Lakeville North. Quarterfinals begin at 4 p.m. with the highly anticipated final scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
State meets begin
This week also brings the first state tournaments of the winter season. The Alpine skiing state meet is Wednesday at Giants Ridge in Biwabik, followed by the Nordic skiing meet on Thursday at the resort.
First runs in the Alpine meet begin at 10 a.m. and the second run at 1 p.m. The race is held on two adjoining hills, with the boys and girls' racers trading hills after the first run.
The Nordic meet consists of two races of different styles, with the combined time determining the overall winner. The 5K freestyle race begins at 10 a.m. for the girls, 11:15 for the boys. The second race is also 5K and is raced in the traditional classic cross-country skiing style. The girls' classic race starts 2 p.m., the boys' at 3 p.m.
Friday, the dance team tournament opens with the jazz competition at Target Center, followed by the high-kick tournament Saturday.