There is little doubt that the west metro is the epicenter for girls’ hockey in Minnesota. Of 37 state champions determined across two classes since the Minnesota State High School League began sponsoring a state tournament in 1995, more than half — 19 in all — have called Minneapolis and its western suburbs home.
The season got underway more than a week ago, somewhat overlooked by the fall frenzy of state tournaments. Here’s a look at teams to watch:
It has to start with Eden Prairie. The defending Class 2A champs lost some big names to graduation but, as usual, there is plenty back to keep the Eagles soaring. Senior forward Naomi Rogge, who committed to Minnesota Duluth and is a Ms. Hockey candidate, and senior Emily McLaughlin will carry the load up front. The defense is in solid hands with Crystalyn Hengler, Sammie Morton and Becca Berg. When the puck reaches the net, there’s senior Alexa Dobchuk, who should end her career owning every goaltending record in school history. She set the tone by opening the season with a 25-save shutout in a 4-0 victory over Lakeville South.
The Eagles’ opponent in the 2016 Class 2A final, Maple Grove, will be in the mix thanks to the Crimson’s elite goalie tandem of seniors Coco Francis and Breanna Blesi and a senior-dominated lineup of skaters led by future Gopher Taylor Wente, who put up 57 points last year. … The Crimson got an early-season wake-up call from Edina, which showcased its offensive firepower with a season-opening 6-3 victory. The Hornets have scoring throughout the lineup, led by Sophie Slattery, who has committed to Penn State, and a pair of dangerous juniors in Lolita Fidler and Emily Oden, who also has committed to Minnesota. And don’t overlook the two-way leadership of Wisconsin-bound defenseman Grace Bowlby.
Among the other Class 2A teams to note are longtime power Minnetonka, which lost 70 goals and its starting goaltender to graduation. But the Skippers skate well and have a strong defensive corps led by Camille von Steinbergs, Sarah McDonnell and Kailey Langefels, a sophomore whom coach Eric Johnson says “has Bobby Orr moments.” At Wayzata, new coach Jess Christopherson (formerly at Coon Rapids) has brought in some well-known names — former Gophers Rachael Bona and Mira Jalosuo — to coach an already loaded group that includes preseason All-America Natalie Heising. Chaska/Chanhassen, which boasted the best season in team history (17-6-2) last year, returns 11 seniors led by Lydia Passolt.
Is the top team Blake or Breck? It would be easy to see these two schools trading the No. 1 ranking back and forth as the season progresses.
With three state championships in the past four years, Blake gets the nod as the west metro’s top team. The Bears have graduated top-end talent over the past couple of seasons, including superstars Carly Bullock and Sylvie Wallin from their 2016 championship team. They return a dazzling young core led by junior forward Sarah McClanahan and sophomore Madeline Wethington, a two-time member of the Team USA U-18 team who has already committed to Minnesota.
Speaking of Minnesota, many consider future Gopher and Breck senior Grace Zumwinkle to be the best player in the state. A veteran of the Team USA U-18 team, she has a blistering shot and the size and skating ability that make her dangerous anywhere on the ice.
Circle these dates: Dec. 10 and Jan. 10. These are the two scheduled dates when the Bears and Mustangs square off.
And don’t overlook Mound-Westonka. With a goalie as good as senior Emma Polusny, the White Hawks have the potential to beat anyone.