Dave Newman, Bob Burrows and Ken Olson
Sectional 1 in the WIAA boys hockey tournament bracket is annually one of the best in the state.
The battle to be champion of the section should again be an epic battle, with Hudson, Superior and New Richmond all fielding top quality teams.
Section 1 has put a team in the state finals each of the past three years.
Hudson won the title in 2017 after taking second place in 2016. Superior won the state championship in 2015.
There’s every reason to believe that whichever team advances out of the sectional this winter again has a great chance of reaching the state title game.
Here are snapshots of each of the teams in Sectional 1.
No. 1 Hudson (22-1-1)
The defending state champion Raiders won their first 22 games before ending the regular season with a 2-2 tie at third-ranked Eau Claire Memorial and a 3-2 loss at 10th-ranked Green Bay Notre Dame. Hudson has outscored opponents 111-28 this season.
Who to watch: Hudson features a balanced lineup with five players between 27 and 34 points. Ben Lundeen and Peyton Hanson are the top goal scorers with 16 goals each and defenseman Jordon Halverson has dished out a team-high 26 assists. Junior AJ Cohen sports a 1.12 goals against average and .94 saves percentage between the pipes while the Raider penalty kill unit has allowed just two goals all year.
What to watch: The Raiders had not lost in over 13 months before losing to GBND. Now that the monkey is off their back they’re focused on returning to the state tournament for the third straight year and bringing home their second straight state title.
No. 2 Superior (12-10-2)
With 13 state championships to their credit, the Spartans are looking to return to state for the first time since winning it all in 2015.
Who to watch: Senior goaltender Caden Welch is a three-year starter who is Superior’s all-time leader in games played, minutes and saves. He is also seventh in all-time in wins. Junior Taylor Burger is the leading scorer with 10 goals and 17 assists. Senior defenseman Luke Drougas is second with 13 goals and seven assists. The only other player scoring in double figures is senior Max Plunkett with 11 goals (two assists).
What to watch: The Spartans have struggled through a brutal final month of the season, going 0-6-1 against some of the best competition in Wisconsin (Hudson and Eau Claire Memorial) and Minnesota (Greenway, Duluth East, Hermantown and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton). During that span they skated to a 4-4 tie at New Richmond. To their credit they defeated and tied with Wausau West (4-1, 4-4) and defeated Waukesha (2-1).
No. 3 New Richmond (17-5-1)
It took a coin flip to determine whether Superior or New Richmond should get the No. 2 seed in the bracket, that’s how close these two teams are.
Who to watch: The Tigers have a large senior class and they have a diverse scoring attack. Eric Langer and Nick Johnson are the Tigers’ most reliable scorers and with Langer, Johnson, Blake Kretovics, Brady Werner and Dane Swanda, the Tigers have numerous forwards who can produce a big goal. They are just as experienced on the back end, with Chris Lubow, Mikah Kier, Ben Karno and Noah Towberman leading a potent defensive group. Goalie Jake Erickson has stopped 92 percent of the shots he’s faced.
What to watch: The Tigers easily won the Middle Border Conference title and they played a non-conference schedule that saw them tie Superior (4-4) and lose to Hudson (3-2) and Eau Claire Memorial (3-2).
No. 4 Baldwin-Woodville (16-5-1)
The Blackhawks have the second-most wins of any team in the section, but they don’t play a schedule with the difficulty of the top three teams.
Who to watch: The Blackhawks’ lineup led by Landon Albrightson and Alex Bishop, who’ve combined for 55 goals. The Hawks have outscored their opponents 117-58.
What to watch: The Blackhawks are 8-1 in their last nine games, with a 5-2 setback against New Richmond. If the Hawks can beat Amery on Thursday it would move them into the sectional semifinals against undefeated Hudson.
No. 5 Amery (14-10)
The Warriors are a young team that believes they’re on the upswing. The Warriors show the streakiness of a young team too. Three times this season, Amery has put together four-game winning streaks.
Who to watch: The Warriors’ top line of Ryan Van Blaricom, Grady Martin and Jackson Henningsgard have combined for 58 goals.
What to watch: The Warriors lost twice against New Richmond and Baldwin-Woodville and they lost their only meeting with Menomonie.
No. 6 Menomonie (5-18)
The Mustangs finished at the bottom of the Big Rivers Conference standings.
Who to watch: The Mustangs are relying on younger players for most of their scoring.
What to watch: The weight of the BRC schedule has taken a toll on the Mustangs, whose only wins since Dec. 2 came against River Falls and the Barron co-op. In its last 17 games, Menomonie has allowed 113 goals.
No. 7 River Falls (5-18-1)
The young Wildcats, who have just four seniors, finished fifth in the BRC, ahead of Menomonie and Rice Lake.
Who to watch: Junior co-captain Jake Bergmanis leads the team with 14 goals and 12 assists, while junior Cody Wilson and sophomore Joe Stoffel have 15 points each.
What to watch: The Wildcats have been outscored 31-12 in the first period, but they have four come-from-behind wins. If they can take care of Grantsburg in their playoff opener, their reward will be a trip to Superior for the second round.
No. 8 Somerset (5-18)
The Spartans started the season winning three of their first five games. Since then, a lack of consistent scoring has put the Spartans on a 2-16 slide.
Who to watch: Somerset’s offense is led by junior forward Jack Peterson (21 goals) and junior defenseman Jackson Haukom (11 goals). The rest of the Spartan roster has produced 20 goals.
What to watch: The Spartans have given up one of the highest shot differentials in the state. They rank in the top five in shots allowed.
No. 9 Barron (4-18)
The Icemen are a limited offensive team. In 16 of their 22 games, they scored two or less goals. They’ve been shut out seven times this season.
Who to watch: Junior Colton Avery scored five of his 10 goals in the Icemen’s final two games of the regular season.
What to watch: The Icemen were competitive in both of their games with Somerset this season, which both ended as 4-1 losses.
No. 10 Grantsburg (WSFLG) (1-19)
The Blizzard, based around schools from Burnett County, has had a difficult winter. Their only win was 8-5 over Chequamegon on Jan. 13.
Who to watch: The Blizzard does have the ability to score goals. Jared Lee leads the team with 15 goals and Dawson Van Meter has 13.
What to watch: The Blizzard gave up 17 goals in its opener against Baldwin-Woodville. They only time they held an opponent under six goals this season was the 8-5 win over Chequamegon.