The girls’ hockey state tournament begins Wednesday. The gymnastics state meet begins Friday.
But let’s be honest: It’s the boys’ hockey section pairings that will draw the most interest this week. Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly calls the section playoffs “the best-kept secret in high school sports,” referring to the potentially juicy matchups that loom ahead.
Here are some of the more intriguing story lines that will play out over the next couple of weeks.
No glee for Gleekel
The reward for Benilde-St. Margaret’s undefeated season (24-0-1) was the top seed in Section 6, Class 2A, a bear of a bracket that includes No. 2-seeded Wayzata and No. 3-seeded Edina, which is seeking its 10th consecutive state tournament berth. If the Red Knights hope to make their first state tournament appearance since winning the Class 2A title in 2012, they’ll likely have to do it without leading scorer Cade Gleekel. The senior center suffered an upper-body injury in the Red Knights’ 4-2 victory over Wayzata on Thursday and is not expected to return to the lineup until the section finals on Feb. 24, at the earliest.
Losing Gleekel’s 22 goals and 58 points is a big blow, but the Red Knights are one of the state’s deepest and most balanced teams.
“The good news is we didn’t get to this point because we only have one guy,” Pauly told Loren Nelson of the Minnesota Hockey Hub. “But it is a big piece to take out.”
Big cat battle ahead
Since Jan. 1, reigning Class 2A champ Lakeville North has played like a team bent on repeating. The Panthers (19-5-1) have won 14 of their 15 games in 2016, including a 3-2 Hockey Day Minnesota victory over Duluth East, and earned the No. 1 seed in Section 1. No. 2-seeded Farmington (15-8-1) is only 6-4 in its past 10 games, but the Tigers have proved to be kryptonite to Lakeville North, having won the two previous meetings. Rest assured that the Panthers would love a another shot at a Tigers team that shut them out in their last meeting.
Tough road for traditional powers
Edina has qualified for nine state tournaments, with three championships (2010, 2013 and 2014). Duluth East has a string of seven consecutive tournament trips, with runner-up finishes in 2011 and 2015. Hill-Murray has made it to state in eight of the past 10 seasons, winning a title in 2008 and being runners-up in 2012 and 2013. None of the three 2A stalwarts were seeded No. 1 in their respective sections — Edina is No. 3 in Section 6, Duluth East No. 2 in Section 7 and Hill-Murray No. 2 in Section 4 — setting up the very real possibility that all three could miss the state tournament. The last time all three were missing from the Class 2A field? 2001.
A comprehensive look at the boys’ hockey section pairings can be found on startribune.com/sports/preps; click on “Hockey.”