Goaltender Mari Johnson and Hill-Murray will again be formidable. The Pioneers are two-time defending Class 2A champions.
1. Co-ops create concern
Declining participation numbers forced Coon Rapids, Hopkins and North St. Paul — all programs with recent state tournament success — to merge with other programs for survival. Coon Rapids paired with Spring Lake Park, Hopkins did likewise with St. Louis Park, and intradistrict schools North St. Paul and Tartan combined. In addition, St. Anthony left its co-op with Spring Lake Park to join forces with Irondale, a program with three Class 2A tournament appearances from 2009-13. “It’s a trend that hopefully we can reverse,” said Dale Sager, coaches association president.
2. Shifting sections
The 2015-16 season features new playoff section assignments. Two teams formerly in rock-solid Class 2A, Section 6 were moved by the Minnesota State High School League. Minnetonka went to Section 2 and Maple Grove to Section 5. Both teams now face a less-cluttered path to the state tournament. Conversely, the addition of Cretin-Derham Hall and Edina keeps Section 6 as the state’s toughest. The Raiders and Hornets join holdovers Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Wayzata.
3. Checking in with the champs
Hill-Murray remains equipped for a run at a third consecutive Class 2A title. The Pioneers boast six skaters with Division I college commitments. Last season Thief River Falls coach Whitney Restemayer made history as the first female coach to direct a girls’ hockey state championship team. The Prowlers return Class 1A all-state tournament team selections Briana Jorde and Kora Torkelson.
4. Future Gophers
Among the talented high school players committed to defending NCAA champion Minnesota are several who are two or three seasons from donning the Maroon and Gold: Emily Brown (Blaine, jr.), Crystalyn Hengler (Eden Prairie, soph.), Kippin Keller (Minnetonka, sr.), Katie Robinson (Kasson-Mantorville, sr.), Catie Skaja (New Prague, soph.), Taylor Wente (Maple Grove, jr.) and Grace Zumwinkle (Breck, jr.).
5. Tournament change helps
A state tournament championship format change last season that helped boost attendance by 31 percent will be continued. Fans could buy one ticket good for the Class 1A title game (moved from noon to 4 p.m.) and the Class 2A title game at 7 p.m. The offer drew an announced attendance of 3,709.