Prep Hockey Report Card: The Big Nine (Part 1)
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School may be letting out soon, but over here at Prep Network, our work is just getting started. The next big series on this site will take a comprehensive look at each and every team in the state, complete with…
School may be letting out soon, but over here at Prep Network, our work is just getting started. The next big series on this site will take a comprehensive look at each and every team in the state, complete with analyses, predictions, and updates on who the top dogs in the state of hockey are shaping up to be. This is a purely speculative list based on team performances from last season and returning starters, so I will surely be proven wrong by at least a handful of squads as this list continues to grow. That being said, let’s kick things off with one of the biggest conferences across prep hockey: The Big Nine.
Northfield kicks off this list with flying colors, primarily thanks to the three-headed snake it will be returning in the form of, and . Together, these three combined for a whopping 180 points last season, an unprecedented number that led any other trio in the state. Aside from those three, Northfield is also returning Brayden Olsen and Will Cashin, a duo that scored 41 and 42 points last year, respectively. The Raiders will need to go shopping for a goalie, but they are returning the nucleus of their offense that averaged over five goals per game last year. Simply put, this is the team to beat in the Big Nine.
Rochester Century/John Marshall: B
Coming off a relatively successful 16-11 season, the Cougars will be graduating two of their top three scorers and a pair of goalies, leaving behind a relatively depleted roster that will need to pick up the slack. Aiden Emrich’s 36 points on 17 goals and 19 assists will be the highest figure of any returning starter, and junior goalie Kyle Lappi will be expected to inherit the starting spot in the net after garnering plenty of experience last year with the seniors. Bennet Pronk is another high scoring returner who had 23 points to his name last season, but aside from that, the Cougars will be hard-strapped to find some offense.
Rochester Mayo: C
A 19-6-2 squad that notched a postseason win in 2022-2023, Rochester Mayo looked good last season, but this squad was led by a strong senior core that are long departed, leaving the rest of the team to pick up the slack. Mayo has graduated every last one of its top 10 scorers, a starting goalie and another pair of seniors, meaning over half of the team’s roster from last season is gone, including the core of their offensive and defensive identity. Not a single returning starter cracked double digits in points last season, and while goalie Mikah Nelson showed some promise with a 2-0 record and .905 save percentage last season, his two game sample size isn’t enough to draw too many conclusions on. This team could very well prove me wrong, but as of now, it seems like it lost too many pivotal skaters to make a postseason push this winter.
Despite going 11-3-2 last season, Owatonna flourished in the Big Nine, going 8-5-2 in conference play en-route to a fourth place finish, a respectable placing considering the conference’s 12-team makeup. The Huskies attack struggled last season, only mustering up 2.27 goals per game, but considering four of the team’s top five returning scorers are back, this should improve now that guys like Andrew Mitchel, Joseph Webster and Mark Spurgeon have gained experience. Between the pipes,is arguably one of the most underrated goalies in the state, and his 9-5 record to go with four shutouts and an impressive .919 save percentage indicates this team may only be scratching the surface for its potential. With a group of improved forwards and Sletten between the pipes, the Huskies could be due for a big leap forward this coming season.
Albert Lea: C+
The Albert Lea attack wasn’t necessarily carried by Joseph Yoon, but he certainly helped, and the guy’s 57 points last season led his team by 30. Second place scorer Tim Chalmers finished with 27, and Max Edwin came in third with 26, a pretty stark drop off from Yoon’s insane production. Unfortunately for the Tigers, all three of these guys are graduating, and to make things worse, Dakota Jahnke and his .918 save percentage are leaving too. With practically all of the Tiger team gone this season, this team has an uphill battle ahead of them.
Mankato East: C+
Like many teams on this list, Mankato East will be graduating a good chunk of its 2022-2023 roster, a group that includes many of its top scorers and eight seniors in total. Coming off an 11-16 record, expectations aren’t necessarily sky high, but the Cougars have a lot to build off of. Junior goalie Brody Kunst put up respectable numbers across the board as an underclassmen last season, and should only get better with age. Another player of interest is Luke Lebens, who is coming off an excellent freshman campaign in which he finished with 16 points on six goals and 10 assists, incredible numbers for a freshman on varsity. The Cougars may have lost a handful of key pieces, but it looks like they have plenty of bright young skaters with loads of potential.