Lakeville North takes a 28-0 record and No. 1 seed into this week's Class 2A boys' hockey state tournament, but history is not the Panthers' side.
Only two No. 1 seeds have won the title in eight previous years of tournament seeding: Eden Prairie in 2011 and last season's Edina team. Lakeville North is the first undefeated Class 2A qualifier since Roseau in 2008. The big-school portion of the tournament begins Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. The Class 1A tournament starts Wednesday.
"The one part of this you have no control over is your seed," Panthers coach Trent Eigner said. "But the formula now is simple — play well and you advance."
Edina coach Curt Giles can relate. In 10 trips to state, Giles has coached top-seeded teams to championships and watched others fall short. The Hornets also won it all without a high seed. Teams are seeded 1-5 with the remaining teams slotted by blind draw.
Edina (24-1-2), going for its third consecutive state championship, went 7-1 against the state tournament field this season. But past success does not comfort Giles.
"Any benefit to that is familiarity," he said. "All the teams in the tournament are different from when we saw them. Every team is going well right now."
This year is the fourth time six or more teams boasted at least 20 victories, making it one of the strongest fields since seeding began.
All the classic tournament elements are in place. There's a talent-laden favorite (Lakeville North), a time-honored heavyweight (Edina), private schools to draw ire (Hill-Murray and No. 3 seed St. Thomas Academy) and a beloved underdog from northern Minnesota (Bemidji). The Lumberjacks return to St. Paul for the first time since 1986.
"I've seen them all play and I truly believe any one of the eight teams can win it," Giles said. "All these teams have tremendous skill."
In Class 1A, Hermantown (25-2-1), runner-up in the past five tournaments, earned the No. 1 seed. The Hawks play Spring Lake Park (16-11-1), which is making its state tournament debut. Mahtomedi (24-2-2) received the No. 2 seed and could advance to play No. 3 seed and defending champion East Grand Forks (23-4). Breck (21-7) is the No. 4 seed.