Minnetonka and Benilde-St. Margaret's once again rank as the top two seeded girls' hockey teams in Class 2A, Section 6.
But a third consecutive finals showdown is less assured, given tough section opponents Hopkins, Buffalo and Wayzata. All five teams are ranked among the state's top 11 and none came through the regular season unscathed against fellow section teams.
"No question about it, Section 6 is the toughest it's ever been," Minnetonka coach Eric Johnson said. "There are five teams with a legitimate shot to win."
Top seed and two-time defending Class 2A champion Minnetonka split the regular-season series with Benilde-St. Margaret's. The Skippers lost to No. 7 Hopkins and No. 11 Wayzata in consecutive games, their first two-game skid in four years.
Meanwhile, No. 1-ranked and second-seeded Benilde-St. Margaret's fell 3-1 to No. 9 Buffalo, when the Red Knights played without standouts Kelly Pannek and Liv Halvorson.
Both the Red Knights and Skippers recovered down the stretch. Benilde-St. Margaret's, which has not reached the state tournament since 2008, won its final 10 games by a combined margin of 75-4.
Minnetonka finished the regular season on a 6-0 surge, featuring four victories against teams ranked in the top five of Class 2A or 1A. The Skippers posted four shutouts and allowed only two goals.
"I like the way we're playing right now; it looks familiar to how we've looked in the past," Johnson said. "We didn't always play that way this year."
Class 2A, Section 5
A loss and a tie closed an otherwise brilliant season for No. 1 seed and third-ranked Mounds View (22-1-2). Repeating as section champions will require strong goaltending. The Mustangs duo of Paige Kittleson and Mary Dingman are joined by Andover's Maddie Rooney and Blaine's Courtney Jensrud among the state's statistical leaders between the pipes.
If the seedings hold, Rooney and Jensrud will meet in the section semifinals. No. 2 seed Andover and No. 3 seed Blaine split their regular- season series.
Class 1A, Section 5
Breck and Blake have played in five consecutive section title games, and Breck has won the past four. But the Bears, led by Ms. Hockey semifinalist Dani Cameranesi, could gain some ground in the rivalry.
No. 1 seed Blake is 1-0-1 against No. 3 seed Breck this season, including a 6-1 victory against the defending state champion on Dec. 1.