Forget Punxsutawney Phil, the start of girls’ hockey section playoffs this week means winter is losing its grip.

North metro teams rank among the favorites to emerge and qualify for the state tournament taking place Feb. 18-21 at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

In Class 2A, Elk River/Zimmerman earned the No. 1 seed in Section 7. The Elks, under first-year coach Dale Sager, play host to Cambridge-Isanti/Mora/Pine City at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

The Elks (18-6-1) ended the regular season with one-goal losses to Centennial and Duluth. Abbie Canton leads the team with 17 goals, followed by Madison Bizal and Breanna Simon, each with 12, Raelyn Korinek with 11 and Shae McLean with 10.

No. 2 seed Andover (11-12-2), the defending section champion that lost goaltender Maddie Rooney to the Huskies’ boys’ program, plays host to Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at 7 p.m. on Thursday.

Andover’s leading scorers are Morgan Czech and Michelle Holmes (15 goals each), Sidney Portner (14) and McKenzie Sederberg (10). Goaltender Cassidy Stumo won 10 of her team’s 11 games, posting a 2.76 goals-against average and an .885 saves percentage.

In Section 6, with one of the state’s most challenging collection of teams, Maple Grove earned the No. 2 seed. The Crimson plays host to North Metro at 6:45 p.m. Saturday. Maple Grove entered this week ranked No. 3 in the Let’s Play Hockey coaches’ poll and garnered one first-place vote.

The road to a section championship likely goes through top-ranked and No. 1 seed Minnetonka.

Taylor Wente paces the Crimson attack with 23 goals. Lauren Kaufmann (13 goals) and Abby Larson (12) add punch. But the Maple Grove goaltenders are the story. Breanna Blesi and fellow sophomore Coco Francis have combined to go 23-1-1 with a 1.09 goals-against average and turned away 94 percent of shots they faced.

Streaking Saints

Two victories last week make it 10 in a row for the St. Francis boys’ basketball team. The closest game in that stretch was decided by seven points. The trio of Blake Moreno (15.1 points per game), Ethan Scheuring (14.4) and Robbie Whitney (12.5) have fueled the Saints’ success. The team started this week 16-4 overall and 6-0 against fellow Class 4A, Section 7 teams.