Minnetonka is currently the No. 2 team in Class 2A Minnesota boys high school hockey. Eden Prairie is No. 6. Benilde-St. Margaret's is No. 8, and Wayzata is one spot back in ninth.
No, that's not half of the state tournament bracket. Those are the top four teams in Section 6AA, meaning under the current system, three of them will not make the state tournament.
Last year, those same four teams were at the top of the section—though in a slightly different order—and Eden Prairie advanced from the bracket. The Eagles ended up as the top-seed in the state tournament and, a few games later, had a state title in their hands.
But the Red Knights, Trojans and Skippers were no slouches. In fact, BSM and Wayzata—who met in a section semifinal, ultimately won by Wayzata—were ranked No. 5 and No. 4 in the state, respectively. Think about that for a second: The No.5 team in the state (BSM) didn't even make the section final, much less a state tourney final.
And that's why something needs to change with Section 6AA.
The eight-team state tournament should truly feature the best teams in the state, but when three of the top eight—as well as a close ninth—are in the same section, that can't happen.
By comparison, Duluth East—the state's current No. 1—has No. 11 Grand Rapids, No. 14 Elk River/Zimmerman, No. 15 Andover and No. 18 Cloquet/Esko/Carlton in its section. Good, but not nearly as top-heavy.
No. 3 Eagan has no top-20 teams in its section. No. 4 Maple Grove has two challengers between 10-20. No. 5 Edina faces one such team. No. 7 Moorhead gets the two teams at the very bottom of the state's top-20.
Clearly, no other section has the top-end talent that Section 6AA does—four teams in the state's top-10.
If Minnesota boys high school hockey was NCAA Division I college basketball, this wouldn't be nearly the problem. Conferences such as the Big East and Big Ten produce a number of great teams, but those that don't win their conferences still are assured at-large bids to the Big Dance.
Major professional sports operate in the same way. Teams that don't win their divisions can still vie for wild card spots into the playoffs.
That model could be adopted with the boys state hockey tournament. Allow the eight section winners in, but also create up to eight at-large spots for those teams that deserve a chance. How great would a 16-team state tournament be?
If that doesn't suit you, re-arranging the sections is always an option. As mentioned, Section 6AA has been loaded the past two years. But Edina's Section 2AA doesn't have near the depth, with No. 16 Burnsville being the next best team. Geographically, the section's teams aren't too distant from the teams of Section 6AA. Why not make a few swaps to even things out a bit? An example: Flip-flop Chanhassen (2AA) with Wayzata. Section 2 would end up with Nos. 5, 9 and 16. Section 6 would have 2, 6 and 8. Not perfect, but better.
Either way, something has to change. Otherwise, too many good teams will be watching the state tournament from the sidelines like you and me.
How (Un)equal Are Boys Hockey Sections?
Here are the top four teams from each of the eight Class 2AA sections, and their ranking (if in top-20):
- Lakeville South (13)
- Rochester Century (Not Ranked)
- Rochester Mayo (NR)
- Lakeville North (NR)
- Edina (5)
- Burnsville (16)
- Prior Lake (NR)
- Chanhassen (NR)
- Eagan (3)
- Hastings (NR)
- Apple Valley (NR)
- Park of Cottage Grove (NR)
- Hill-Murray (10)
- White Bear Lake (NR)
- Roseville (NR)
- Stillwater (NR)
- Maple Grove (4)
- Blaine (12)
- Centennial (17)
- Anoka (NR)
- Minnetonka (2)
- Eden Prairie (6)
- Benilde-St. Margaret's (8)
- Wayzata (9)
- Duluth East (1)
- Grand Rapids (11)
- Elk River/Zimmerman (14)
- Andover (15)
- Moorhead (7)
- Brainerd (19)
- Roseau (20)
- Bemidji (NR)