Tom Elliott: Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, Willmar, River Lakes girls hockey teams have their eye on sections
All three are only an upset or two away from potential state tournament berths as the season winds down. The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys look like the area's best best for that state hockey tournament.
The prep hockey world is winding down its regular season. And while no West Central Tribune area team has knocked it out of the park as a sure-fire state tournament team, there are some candidates.
In girls hockey, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, River Lakes and Willmar all have decent chances of playing for section championships. All three are around the .500 mark, so they’ve perhaps slipped through the radar screen of top teams this winter.
However, all three play their share of Class AA programs. Move them to Class A and it’s a different story. They’ve got a shot at state.
The River Lakes girls and Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys represented the west central area in the state tournament last March. Both could get back to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul again. Both have their work cut out for them and will need an upset, maybe two, to have it happen again.
Here’s a look at sections for boys and girls that have area teams in them.
First, the girls:
Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato goes into Tuesday as the likely second seed behind Mankato East, the likely No. 1 seed. Mankato East is 14-4 and has a QRF power ranking of No. 15 in Class A, according to the website Minnesota-Scores.net, which is used in some sections for seedings.
Right behind East is Litch/D-C. The Dragons are 9-8-1 and have a No. 22 QRF. They are the area’s most-improved girls team after going 3-12-1 in 2020-21.
Litch/D-C’s most compelling argument for being a serious state tournament contender is a 4-3 loss to Mankato East on Dec. 23 in Litchfield. It doesn’t take much of a stretch to see how the Dragons could turn that around in a rematch, perhaps in a section final.
A good test for Litch/D-C is against Minnesota River on Tuesday night. No. 29 Minnesota River (8-10) is the likely third seed in the section. It could foul up the Dragons’ second seed hopes with a victory tonight.
The rest of the section is No. 38 Waconia (5-13-1), No. 40 Hutchinson (2-13-1) and No. 46 Mankato West/Loyola/St. Clair. They’re all jockeying for position with likely first-round road games in the six-team section, whose playoffs begin Feb. 10.
This is the section River Lakes and Willmar reside in. Today, No. 10 Fergus Falls (13-3-2) would be the top seed, followed by No. 18 River Lakes (10-9) and No. 20 Willmar (9-9). All three, of course, are Central Lakes Conference teams, which includes Class AA Brainerd/Little Falls, Alexandria, St. Cloud and Sartell/Sauk Rapids. That beefy schedule helps make Fergus Falls’, River Lakes’ and Willmar’s records look a bit deceiving. All are battle-tested.
River Lakes has lost 1-0 and 5-1 to Fergus Falls and beaten Willmar 3-2 and 4-0.
Willmar lost to Fergus Falls 4-2 on Dec. 16 and plays the Otters on Feb. 3 at Fergus Falls in the regular-season finale. A win there for the Cardinals would make the section even more interesting.
No. 26 Northern Lakes (10-7-1) is the likely No. 4 seed in the section, followed by No. 35 Breckenridge/Wahpeton (3-5), No. 45 Prairie Centre (3-12) and No. 48 Morris/Benson Area (1-13).
The state girls hockey tournament is Feb. 23-26 in St. Paul.
And now, the boys:
Litch/D-C has its work cut out for it in order to repeat as section champion. The Dragons have a No. 23 QRF power ranking, which currently puts them as the section’s fifth seed. They have an 8-5-1 record.
Ahead of Litch/D-C in the section QRF rankings are No. 5 Minneapolis (10-3-1), No. 6 Providence Academy (12-3-1), No. 7 Delano (10-4) and No. 11 Southwest Christian/Richfield (8-5-1).
Minneapolis is a co-op of the all the public schools in the city and is certainly not a prohibitive favorite. Litch/D-C tied the Novas 3-3 in overtime on Jan. 6 in Litchfield.
The Dragons also have lost to Southwest Christian/Richfield 6-4. They play Delano on Thursday and on Feb. 8 and also play Hutchinson twice (Jan. 25 and Feb. 11). Those four games are crucial to Litch/D-C’s chances of moving up in the seedings.
No. 27 Hutchinson (8-8) is right behind the Dragons and No. 31 Orono (7-8-1) and No. 35 Mound-Westonka/Watertown-Mayer (6-9) are capable of moving up.
No. 44 Breck (3-8), No. 51 Bloomington Kennedy (3-8-1) and No. 56 Waconia (4-9) are likely to be lower-seeded in this 11-team section. The playoffs start Feb. 22.
River Lakes is in this 10-team section and could win up with a No. 4 seed because of its Central Lakes Conference schedule that includes Class AA teams. The Stars have a No. 25 QRF rating in Class A and have a 7-7 record.
No. 4 Little Falls (15-1) is the clear favorite. No. 8 Cambridge-Isanti (12-2) and No. 14 St. Cloud Cathedral (9-6) are headed to Nos. 2 and 3 seeds, respectively.
River Lakes needs to watch out for Mora/Milaca (10-4-2), which has a No. 41 QRF and is right behind the Stars. The teams are scheduled to play Feb. 4 in Richmond with the No. 4 seed possibly on the line.
No. 43 Princeton (6-9), No. 46 Monticello (5-10), No. 53 Pine City Area (6-11), No. 58 Sauk Rapids (4-11) and No. 72 Becker/Big Lake 2-12) are sleepers.
This eight-team section could see the MBA Storm (6-6-1) with their No. 32 QRF ranking earning a fourth seed and first-round playoff game.
No. 67 Willmar (4-8) could move up with wins over Prairie Centre on Jan. 28 and Northern Lakes on Jan. 31. Both are ahead of the Cardinals in the QRF. Northern Lakes (7-6) is No. 38 and Prairie Centre (4-10) is No. 54. No. 78 Breckenridge-Wahpeton (0-11) brings up the rear.
No. 9 Fergus Falls (10-5), No. 16 Wadena-Deer Creek (11-5) and No. 19 Alexandria (7-5-1) are the current top three.
The state boys hockey tournament is March 9-12 in St. Paul.