Ava Lindsay, who played for Breck last season and has committed to the Gophers, is among six newcomers at already-powerful Minnetonka. (Carlos Gonzalez, Star Tribune)
1. Minnetonka made waves throughout the offseason as talented girls’ hockey players kept transferring into its program. Six in all. Three of them now Division I-committed players, including former Breck standouts and future Gophers Elly Klepinger and Ava Lindsay. They join a talented nucleus of players, some of whom played in the Class 2A state tournament semifinals in each of the past two seasons. All that’s left is reaching the championship game, which no Minnetonka team has done since 2015. Coach Tracy Cassano, the state’s first female hockey coach to reach 200 career victories, believes her Skippers are coming along nicely. “There’s an abundance of talent but what has stood out to me is their intensity, their compete level and their relentless pursuit of the puck,” she said. “That’s what separates teams.”
2. Don’t order that Minnetonka state championship banner just yet, however. Holy Family Catholic of Victoria, another team fortified by recent transfers, also calls Section 2 home. Minnetonka extinguished the Fire 4-1 in the section final last season — Holy Family’s deepest playoff run to date. A Fire team with zero seniors last season wants a rematch. And this time, Holy Family will have Andover transfer Maddie Kaiser, a forward committed to the Gophers. Kaiser scored 17 goals as a sophomore in 2019-20, helping the Huskies win the Class 2A state championship. She was ineligible for varsity competition last season. The Fire should also benefit from a full season with forward Shae Messner, who committed to Dartmouth. She scored 10 goals in 12 games after a midseason transfer from Breck.
3. Candidates for the state’s toughest section include Section 4 in the east metro. Stillwater beat Hill-Murray for the section crown last season. Those perennial favorites face tough competition from a Roseville team with 15 seniors and the addition of Gentry Academy, a Vadnais Heights charter school which lost in the Class 1A state tournament championship game last season. Stillwater made an early case for the top seed by edging Hill-Murray 2-1 in the season opener. The Ponies are led by sophomores Josie St. Martin (forward) and Lily Timmons (goalie). St. Martin was one of eight Minnesota high school players chosen to represent USA Hockey in the 2022 IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship taking place Jan. 8-15 in Sweden.
4. Wait, what about Andover and Edina? Graduation and untimely departures threaten to dull two teams sharp as Bowie knives the past two seasons. Edina graduated 57% of its goal scoring while the Huskies are without the younger sisters of 2021 Ms. Hockey Award winner Peyton Hemp. Both transferred to Minnetonka. Josie, a junior defender, recently made a verbal commitment to the Gophers. Layla is a freshman goaltender. Still, both the Huskies and Hornets are favorites to reach Xcel Energy Center for the Class 2A state tournament. Andover, with several strong forwards returning from its 2020 state championship team, beat Minnetonka 1-0 last weekend. Edina meanwhile, returns a deep and talented defensive corps and three-time state champion goalie Uma Corniea. The Hornets begin their season Saturday in Duluth.
5. And don’t worry about Andover and Edina, they remain a box office draw. Their game kick-starts the 16th annual Hockey Day Minnesota, taking place Jan. 22 at Minnesota State University’s Blakeslee Field in Mankato. Puck drop for the televised game is scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Produced in partnership with Bally Sports North, Minnesota Hockey and the Minnesota Wild, Hockey Day Minnesota stretches an unprecedented five days this time. On Jan. 19, the girls’ programs from Mankato East and Mankato West will be the first to play on the outdoor ice. Their game starts at 7 p.m.
Danielle Burgen, Chisago Lakes
Superior vision created myriad scoring opportunities for the Wildcats last season. Tallied 27 goals and 26 assists. Helped her team to the Class 1A state tournament semifinals. College commitment: Minnesota Duluth
Maddy Christian, Elk River/Zimmerman
Combines great speed with a fierce will to win. Her 27 goals and 16 assists meant she factored into 65% of her team’s scoring last season. College commitment: Penn State
Hailey Hansen, Blaine
Currently 41 stops away from becoming Blaine’s all-time saves leader. Impressed opposing coaches with her remarkable efforts throughout a recent preseason scrimmage jamboree. College commitment: Minnesota State Mankato
Vivian Jungels, Edina
Essentially a forward on the blue line with wheels for days. Scored 12 goals and assisted on 31 more for the undefeated Class 2A state champion Hornets. College commitment: Minnesota
Taylor Otremba, Lakeville South
Considered by one opposing coach as the most dangerous member of the Cougars’ stellar top scoring line. Finished last season with 25 goals and 15 assists. College commitment: Minnesota State Mankato
Nora Stepan, Eastview
Changes the game merely by her presence on the ice. Logged big minutes last season, helping the Lightning reach the Class 2A state tournament semifinals. College commitment: Undecided
All players seniors unless noted. College commitment in parentheses.
Sami Bowlby, F, Burnsville (Quinnipiac)
Claire Enright, F, Lakeville South (Minnesota)
Chloe Finnerty, D, North Wright County (Minnesota Duluth)
Allie Franco, F, Hill-Murray (Minnesota)
Kaitlin Groess, G, Centennial/Spring Lake Park, soph. (undecided)
Makayla Moran, F, Apple Valley, soph. (undecided)
Sloane Matthews, Wayzata (Clarkson)
Emma Peschel, D, Benilde-St. Margaret’s (Ohio State)
Lilie Ramirez, D, South St. Paul (Minnesota State Mankato)
Katelyn Roberts, F, Chaska/Chanhassen (Penn State)