Hockey Day Minnesota features a potential state championship preview as host Stillwater faces Eden Prairie on Jan. 21 outdoors at Lowell Park. Fans can watch elite players Noah Cates (Stillwater) and Casey Mittelstadt (Eden Prairie).
Postseason positioning also plays a part in host Elk River’s game against Duluth East on Feb. 4. The Elks dispatched Grand Rapids earlier this season. A victory over Duluth East likely would mean the top seed for them in Class 2A, Section 7.
The South Suburban Conference title chase gets interesting during a seven-day span in late January. Lakeville North gets its chance to avenge a loss to Eastview on Jan. 21 and a tie against Burnsville on Jan. 28.
Delano (Class 1A) and Holy Family (2A) will meet Jan. 12 and Feb. 7, and each game means something in the Wright County Conference race. Both solid teams will use those games to prepare for what they hope will be deep playoff runs.
Edina and Wayzata seem headed for a Class 2A, Section 6 title game collision. Whichever team wins Jan. 24 at Wayzata will have the edge. That game is a better measure than the Jan. 7 game, which both Natalie Heising (Trojans) and Emily Oden (Hornets) will miss to play with the U.S. U-18 team.
Two additional U-18 forwards meet on Jan. 24 as Breck and Grace Zumwinkle travel to face Maple Grove and Taylor Wente.
Lakeville South, with an 8-0 start, is ahead of the pack in the South Suburban Conference. Eagan is second, and the two meet at the Wildcats’ rink on Jan. 31. Lakeville South won their first meeting 4-3.
A nonconference showdown featuring Hill-Murray at Centennial takes place Tuesday. The Pioneers have won two of the past three Class 2A state titles. The host Cougars, however, will be without prolific scoring linemates Gabbie Hughes and Anneke Linser.
The 11th annual Wisconsin vs. Minnesota Border Battle is Jan. 28 at Apple Valley High School. The seven-game event, which begins at 10 a.m., will feature 14 Division I prospects from 11 teams. Top Minnesota talent in action includes Jalen Suggs and JaVonni Bickham of Minnehaha Academy, Jordan Horn of Tartan, Daniel Oturu of Cretin-Derham Hall, Nathan Reuvers of Lakeville North, Tre Jones of Apple Valley, and Goanar Mar and Gabe Kalscheur of DeLaSalle.
Cretin-Derham Hall plays Stevens Point (Wis.) at 2:45 p.m., followed by DeLaSalle vs. Kaukauna (Wis.) at 4:15, and Lakeville North vs. La Crosse Central at 6 p.m.
The last game at 7:30 p.m. features host Apple Valley against Milwaukee Riverside, which has Division I recruits Terrence Lewis and Carlos Curtis.
Hopkins might be the state’s top-ranked team, but in terms of best conference, the nod goes to the South Suburban. Eastview, ranked No. 2 in Class 4A, led by Allie Pickrain (14 points per game), Rachel Ranke (12.5) and Megan Walstad (11), looks to repeat as conference champions. To do so, the Lightning will have to hold off Lakeville North and Apple Valley, both ranked in the top 10 as well.
Eastview hosts both conference rivals eight days apart — the Panthers on Jan. 19, Apple Valley on Jan. 27. The Panthers’ offense runs through versatile scorer Temi Carda (17.6 points per game), but Lakeville North needs to find a supporting cast if it wants to make a run at the conference championship. The title could be decided in the last week of the regular season when Eastview plays back-to-back road games against those same foes.
Shakopee, in its second season with former Apple Valley coach Jim Jackson, upset the 10-time defending state champion Eagles in its season opener. The Sabers are led by two University of Minnesota recruits in 138-pounder Brent Jones and 145-pounder Alex Crow. The Eagles have junior Gable Steveson, a two-time 220-pound state champion who has not lost a match since eighth grade. He is competing as a heavyweight this season. The two programs, which both compete in Class 3A, Section 2, look to be on a section final collision course.
Swimming and diving
The boys’ True Team section meets are Jan. 21, with the state meet set for the following weekend at the University of Minnesota. When Lake Conference teams compete, they tend to win. Last year Wayzata won the Section 5 True Team meet, while Minnetonka won the Class 2A True Team state meet. Then Eden Prairie won the Class 2A swimming and diving state championship.
The Lakeville Invitational at Lakeville North on Jan. 14 is a regular season meet to flip for. Sponsored by both Lakeville high schools, the meet's solid field includes Roseville, featuring two top 10 all-arounders in Kayla Soplata and Jessica Strecker. Cambridge-Isanti and the co-host Panthers each qualified for the Class 2A state meet last season. And Prior Lake brings talent to the mix, led by senior Kailey Dobransky.
Some of the metro area’s top skiers will compete in the Buck Hill Invitational on Jan. 20 in Burnsville. Teams and individual skiers who do well in this meet often go on to successful state meet performances. A year ago, the Lakeville South boys’ team and the Eden Prairie girls’ team took first place.
The Mesabi East Nordic Ski Racing Invitational will be Jan. 7 at Giants Ridge Ski Area in Biwabik, Minn. For more than 20 years, the meet has been the biggest high school Nordic ski racing meet in the country, with a combined 1,300 varsity and JV skiers.