1. Three-peat in sight
Undefeated Hill-Murray (27-0-1) seeks to become the second Class 2A program to win three consecutive titles, following Minnetonka (2011-13). The Pioneers boast experience and depth of talent. Seven players have committed to play for Division I college programs. But the most impressive statistic: Hill-Murray has allowed only 19 goals in 28 games.
2. Championship session returns
Once again this year, Saturday’s Class 1A title game starts at 4 p.m. rather than noon, and the Class 2A title game starts at 7 p.m. Fans can buy one ticket good for both games. The format change, begun last year, helped draw more fans. The announced attendance of 3,709 was up 31 percent from the 2013-14 tournament.
3. Stars on the rise
Two Ms. Hockey finalists — Mekenzie Steffen of Hill-Murray and Blake’s Carly Bullock — lead their top-seeded teams. Both players were selected to the Star Tribune All-Metro first team, along with Eastview junior Natalie Snodgrass. Electric in clutch situations, Snodgrass scored the tying goal in regulation and added the overtime winner in the Class 2A, Section 3 championship game. She did the same thing to Canada in the Under-18 World Championship gold medal game.
4. Under their own power
St. Paul United, the No. 3 seed in the Class 1A bracket, took a more conventional rout to its second state tournament. Two years ago the team, made up of players from St. Paul Academy and Summit School and Visitation, got placed in the state tournament when Achiever Academy withdrew from competition hours before the section final. United junior Joie Phelps tallied a school-record 59 points this season.
5. Faces fresh and familiar
Four teams are making their state tournament debuts: Luverne and Northfield in Class 1A, and Maple Grove and Sartell/Sauk Rapids in Class 2A. The payoff is extra sweet for Luverne coach Tony Sandbulte. In 2013-14, he jumped from the Cardinals boys’ program to the girls and missed the boys’ first state appearance. Maple Grove coach Amber Hegland, meanwhile, led a second program to its first state tournament. Her first came with Wayzata in 2005.
DAVID LA VAQUE