The boys hockey regular season has come to a close and the Pine City Area Dragons finished the regular season with a 20-5 record. This 20-win season is the first 20-win season for Pine City since the 2006-2007 season. This is just the third time Pine City has finished with 20 wins (1998-1999,2006-2007) The Dragons haven't lost since December 26th and finished the year on a 13-game winning streak. The Dragons won the Two Rivers Conference Championship for the third straight season. They even saw the all-time school points record get broken by their senior captain Jonah Bergstrom. Everything is going right for the Dragons: 20 wins, a conference championship, and a record breaking performance, but Pine City has one goal left: the team's first State Tournament Appearance.
The Dragons 20-win season is not enough for them to get statewide recognition. In fact, the narrative surrounding the Dragons is a good team playing a weak schedule. Pine City is looking to prove people wrong with a deep playoff run. Pine City, historically, has not had a lot of playoff success. They have never reached the State Tounament and have only reached the Section Finals three times. Recently, Pine City is just 2-8 in playoff games since 2010. One major difference between this season and the previous few years, is the Dragons are beating section opponents. Previous years saw them lose to teams like Princeton and Chisago Lakes and get blown out by North Branch and Monticello. This year, Pine City significantly outplayed all section opponents outside of Monticello and only lost to North Branch by one in overtime.
Pine City is very excited to be the #3 seed in this tournament and is looking forward to hosting a quarterfinal game for the first time in the Pine City Civic Center. The Dragons will try to do what the teams from 1999 and 2007 couldn't do, make it to the State Tournament. All the pieces are in place for the Pine City Dragons to make a deep run in the playoffs. They have scoring power on the top line, a very strong defense, plenty of depth, great goaltending, experienced coaching, and a home playoff game. But in all sports, especially hockey, once you hit the playoffs anything can happen.
The Section 5A Seedings are finalized and let's take a look at each team in the tournament.
#1 Monticello (16-7-2)
The Moose are the defending Section 5A champs and are still building off the momentum of their State Runner Up season last year. Monticello finished a perfect 11-0 in the section with two wins over North Branch and a win over Pine City. They are the clear favorite in the section and will have home ice advantage in every game. They didn't score as much as some of the other teams in the section with only 3.7 goals per game and only one player in the top 15 in points scored in the section. But the Moose got great goaltending from Tyler Klatt giving up just 2.29 goals per game. Monticello ended the season on a bit of a slide going just 2-5-1 in their last eight games. Both of those wins were 4-1 victories over Princeton and Chisago Lakes, their two potential quarterfinal opponents.
#2 North Branch (20-5-0)
The North Branch Vikings were almost more impressive than the Moose this season averaging 5.0 goals per game. The QRF rankings have the Vikings slightly higher than Monticello in the section rankings, but it's hard to give them the #1 seed when they lost to Monticello twice this season. Those two losses were the only section losses for North Branch who finished 10-2 in section play. They edged out Pine City 3-2 in overtime and beat Princeton and Chisago Lakes twice. North Branch boasts the top two point scorers in the Section, Cody Moline and Brady Meyer. They both finished with 32 goals this season which is good for 7th in the state. They are tied for 4th overall in the state in points. North Branch finished the regular season on an eight-game winning streak that included wins over Rogers, Chisago Lakes, and Princeton. Much like Pine City, the stage is set for the Vikings who are looking to make it to their first-ever state tournament. In fact, the Vikings have never made it to a section championship game.
#3 Pine City (20-5-0)
The first three seeds in this section tournament were very easy for the coaches to put together. The Dragons finished with a section record of 13-2 and their only two losses were to the two teams who were ranked above them. Pine City led the section in goals scored with 5.2 per game and goals against giving up 2.0 per game. Jonah Bergstrom finished the regular season with 61 points, just one point behind the two leaders from North Branch. The Dragons will look to sophomore Alex Laven to continue his great season into the playoffs. Laven ended the year with a 91 percent save percentage giving up just 2.06 goals per game. The Dragons haven't lost in 2018, but will face their biggest challenges yet in the section playoffs.
#4 Princeton (10-14-1)
Don't let the record fool you, these Princeton Tigers are not a sub .500 team. The Tigers come from a very tough, Mississippi 8 conference where they have to play the likes of Monticello, North Branch, and St. Michael-Albertville. The Tigers are a hard team to figure out with a section record of 5-8. They lost big in two games against North Branch and two games against Pine City. But they played Monticello close in both of their losses to them. They were able to beat Chisago Lakes twice this season and that is why they get to host the quarterfinal game. History is on Princeton's side as they, by far, have the most playoff success of any team in the section. The Tigers will look to Hunter Orrock and Matthew Swanson to lead them in the playoffs.
#5 Chisago Lakes (7-15-3)
Chisago Lakes is by far the hardest team to read in this tournament. Coming out of the gate this season they looked like they were going to be a force to be reckoned with beating Mora 8-0, taking Pine City to overtime and beating Princeton 6-4. Since then, the Wildcats have had little success finishing with a section record of 4-7. Chisago Lakes is trying to get back to the section finals for the second straight season, but to do so will have to go on the road through Princeton, probably Monticello, and then a likely championship round matchup of North Branch or Pine City. The Wildcats struggled to score this season only averaging 2.7 goals per game.
#6 Sauk Rapids-Rice (7-18-0)
Similar to Chisag Lakes, the Storm are kind of a wild card team in this playoffs. They finished with a 5-5 record in the section losing to Pine City, Monticello, and North Branch but picking up a nice win over Princeton. The Storm play a tough conference schedule finishing just 2-10 in conference play. They are the highest seed needing a play-in game and will get Moose Lake who they beat earlier in the season. The Storm are led by Daymin Dodge, who scored 37 points on 23 goals this season. They struggled defensively and with goalie play giving up 5.6 goals per game.
#7 Mora/Milaca (11-14-0)
The Mustangs play victim to the coaches vote seeding in the section finishing with more overall wins and section wins than the Princeton, Chisago Lakes, and Sauk Rapids-Rice. Starting the season with a 4-3 loss to Princeton and a 8-0 loss to Chisago Lakes didn't help the Mustangs case and history in this section has placed Sauk Rapids-Rice generally higher than teams from the Two Rivers conference. Mora ended the season stronger giving Monticello everything they could handle holding a lead in a game they eventually lost 5-3.They also had a big win over Proctor. The Mustangs have Legacy Christian in the first round, a team they beat fairly easily twice this season. Mora/Milaca is led by Gavin Orr who finished fourth in the section with 58 points.
#8 Northern Lakes (5-20-0)
Northern Lakes is the newcomer to the section coming in from section 8A this season. The Lightning are hosting a play-in game despite an unsuccessful season in section 5A. They only had one win in the section this season, a 5-4 overtime win over Sauk Rapids-Rice. It's surprising that the coaches gave them the home game over Becker/Big Lake considering the Lightning had a worse overall record, a worse section record, and lost to the Eagles 3-2 in their lone matchup. Northern Lakes scored 2.7 goals per game this season giving up 5 goals per game. The Lightning's first round game against the Eagles will be a very good game, but they will have a tough time against Monticello if they do get past the Eagles.
#9 Becker/Big Lake (10-15-0)
The Eagles cannot be happy having to make the 90+ mile drive to Breezy Point ice arena for Tuesday Night's play-in game. The Eagles had five section victories this season and played a lot of teams very close. They gave Pine City two close games, beat Northern Lakes, and had two very close losses to Mora/Milaca. In fact, the Eagles are just a couple goals away from possibly being a six-seed in this tournament. One thing that is often said about hockey is "a good goaltender can make a lot of difference" and the Eagles will look to Zach Piehl to carry them through the playoffs. Piehl ended the season with a save percentage of 88 percent and gave up 4.52 goals per game. The Eagles don't have much depth, but they do have two scorers in the top six in the section. Weston Schug and Aubrey Hartfiel finished with 49 and 52 points respectively.
#10 Legacy Christian (3-21-0)
The last two teams in this section could've been decided by a coin flip. Legacy Christian Academy split its games with Moose Lake area this season beating them 3-1 but then losing 3-2. The will travel to Mora to take on the Mustangs who beat them twice this season. The high note for the Lions this season was the North Shore tournament where they won 4-1 against Red Lake Falls and 5-2 against Ely.
#11 Moose Lake Area (2-22-1)
The Rebels will travel to Sauk Rapids in Tuesday's play-in game. They lost to the Storm 10-2 on January 30th. Moose Lake Area struggled with numbers this season having only 12 guys on the roster. They were hoping for the #10 seed with the one win against Legacy Christian this season, but will have to settle for the bottom of the section.