The Section 5A quarterfinals are now set after Tuesday night's play-in games and we are looking forward to some very good hockey games in this year's tournament.
#1 Monticello vs #8 Northern Lakes
Monticello is the clear cut #1 seed in Section 5A for the third straight year. (It doesn't hurt that their enrollment is more than double some of the other teams in the section, but that is a rant for a different day.) They get the #8 seed Northern Lakes after the Lightning defeated Becker/Big Lake 8-6 in the play-in game. On paper, this looks like a blow out waiting to happen but if you remember back to December 27th the Lightning took Monticello to overtime before losing 4-3. The Moose won't make the same mistake this time and will try to put the Lightning away early to advance to the semifinals.
#2 North Branch vs #7 Mora/Milaca
The Mustangs won their play-in game against Moose Lake 7-1 on Tuesday night to advance to a rematch of last year's quarterfinals where North Branch defeated the Mustangs 11-0. This game will be closer than last year's matchup. The Mustangs have a star senior in Gavin Orr that is a game changer and Nick Madison in net with save percentage of 90% on the season will be enough to keep this game fairly competitive. The Mustangs went 7-4 on the season but only played one of the top four teams losing to Princeton early 9-4. North Branch was 6-3-1 in section play losing to Monticello twice and Chisago Lakes once. The Vikings are a much more balanced team this year with several players having the ability to score. Many people are predicting this to be the year that the Vikings get over the top and it has a lot to do with Jake Turek in net. Turek only giving up 2.23 goals per game this year with a 91.9% save percentage is very impressive in any conference but especially in the Mississippi 8. Scoring will come at a premium against the Vikings in the playoffs.
#3 Princeton vs #6 Sauk Rapids/Rice
This will be the second time these two teams face off this season and the last time was a high-scoring affair with Princeton coming out on top 7-5. A little controversy this year giving Princeton the #3 seed despite a 5-6 section record with losses to Pine City and Chisago Lakes. But the Princeton Tigers will be tested in their first round game against the Storm. This is a matchup of several very good skill players up top and should see a lot of goals just like their previous meeting. For Princeton its Matthew Swanson and Princeton's single season scoring leader Jack Southard. Both of them have points in the upper 60's this year and both will be looking to get on the score sheet early. For the Storm, its Daymin Dodge who has 51 points. Dodge will be on the ice for over 35 minutes in this game and if Princeton can shut him down they will win this game. Princeton is the highest scoring team in the section this year averaging 4.7 goals per game so expect a shootout but the Tigers will be too much for the Storm to handle.
#4 Chisago Lakes vs #5 Pine City
This is by far the most intriguing matchup in the quarterfinals as the 4vs5 matchup typically is. Those who just look at scoresheets will immediately notice Chisago Lakes defeated Pine City twice in the regular season. But people who follow things a little more closely know that both of those games were one-goal games, one of those games went to overtime, and both games took place before January 8th. Why does that date matter? That is the date the Dragons "woke up" they played much better hockey down the stretch and went 11-1-1 since that date. These two teams are very similar. Both of them don't have that one single player that really stands out on the stats sheet but they have several players that contribute game in and game out. Many times the playoffs comes down to good goalie play and this one pits Brooks Stangl (2.77 GAA 89.1%) against Alex Laven (3.07 GAA 89.9%). This is going to be a nail biter right down the final minute and could possibly be the best quarterfinal game in the state. Special teams will be a factor in this one, the team that stays out of the penalty box will come out on top. It would not shock me if the winner of this game upsets Monticello on Saturday night.