In past years, with girls’ hockey section playoffs and Alpine and Nordic skiing section meets taking place this week, there might have been the usual cliches in this space relating playoffs to Groundhog Day, both as hopeful signs of winter relenting.
But who are we kidding? Temperatures are expected to remain below freezing for the foreseeable future.
No reason for hyperbole. As Minnesotans, we’re conditioned to brush aside tenuous hopes. High school playoffs don’t mean the end of winter is in sight, just like heavy snowfall isn’t limited to state tournaments. It just means that it’s time to start determining champions.
A look at the best of what’s on tap this week:
• Thursday: Lakeville North at Prior Lake, 7 p.m. It’s looking more and more like No. 1, 2A Lakeville North will complete the regular season undefeated. With four games left, the biggest threat to the 21-0 Panthers is Prior Lake, which is solidly in second place in the South Suburban Conference with a 10-3-1 league record. The Lakers have been stingy, giving up an average of just 2.05 goal per game, second best in the league. The Panthers won a previous meeting 7-4 on Jan. 8.
• Saturday: St. Thomas Academy vs. Hill-Murray, at Aldrich Arena, 7 p.m. A rematch of Hill-Murray’s 3-2 overtime victory on Jan. 17. The teams are tied for the Metro East Conference lead with 8-1 records. St. Thomas Academy (No. 3, 2A) has won five consecutive games since its loss to the Pioneers. Hill-Murray (No. 4, 2A) will have to survive a dangerous trap game at Hastings on Thursday before it can focus on showing the Cadets their previous victory was no fluke.
• Saturday: Minnesota/Wisconsin Border Battle at Cretin-Derham Hall. If the constant string of losses to Wisconsin in just about every sport bugs you as much as it does me, here’s a chance to get a little revenge on our dairy-gorged neighbors. Six games, all pitting Minnesota against Wisconsin. The lineup: Heritage Christian vs. Columbus Catholic, 11 a.m.; Waseca vs. West Salem, 12:45 p.m.; Minnehaha Academy vs. Gale-Ettrick-Trempeleau, 2:30 p.m.; Hopkins vs. Milwaukee Vincent, 4:15 p.m.; DeLaSalle vs. Kimberly, 6 p.m.; Cretin-Derham Hall vs. Stevens Point, 7:45 p.m.
• Friday: Orono at New Prague, 7 p.m. A regular-season game doesn’t get much bigger than this. Both No. 1, 3A Orono (18-1) and No. 4, 3A New Prague (15-2) are undefeated in conference play and sit tied atop the Wright County Conference’s East Division. Deep and talented Orono has four players averaging between 10 and 14 points per game. New Prague has won 11 in a row.