Having watched every game of the MNJHL‘s annual showcase in Rochester Minnesota either live or on demand, it was very hard to pick a most improved team.
While the MNJHL’s Minnesota Division came out firing on the first two days, taking the majority of wins in a 10 to 6 margin, the Great Lakes Division came back on Sunday to take the day by a 5 to 3 margin. Last year as an example, the Great Lakes Division only won only a handful of games against Minnesota Division teams during two showcases.
The MNJHL’s Great Lakes Division is likely the most improved 8 team division in the United States when compared to over all improvement in other leagues. The rise in level of play over the last two seasons is noticeable and remarkable.
The new Marquette Royales, made a statement that they are competitive, and worked hard all off-season recruiting talent. Goaltending for Marquette was exceptional over the weekend.
Much improved were the Fort Wayne Federals. The Federals were very competitive in every aspect of every game over the weekend, and showed some very nice skill with some of their younger players.
The Illiana Blackbirds also looked better than last year. While making a late season run last season, the Blackbirds have clearly figured out how to win and develop at the same time with a mixture of young and veteran players.
The most improved team though has to be the Central Wisconsin Saints. While coming out of the weekend with a one win and three loss record may not look like a success on paper, it is who they played and how they competed against them that must be used as the measurement of success.
Keep in mind the Saints were a sub .500 team last year. The only game they won at last seasons showcase was against the Hudson Crusaders who did not have a full roster and had just been rescued from insolvency.
The Dells Ducks were one of the top Tier III teams in the country last year, a five goal loss to them on Sunday night was respectable considering they went undefeated for the weekend and look to be the top team in the MNJHL Minnesota Division this year. A two goal loss to Edina the night before was also a solid result considering the game was tied going into the third period.
The critical game took place on Friday night against the perennial powerhouse Rochester Ice Hawks. The Saints beat the Ice Hawks at home, which almost never happens. This was a team that lost a total of five games all of last season and is a regular MNJHL representative at USA Hockey’s Tier III National Championships.
On Thursday they lost to a very good Hudson Crusaders team that has been loaded with NAHL bubble players from the dual owners of the Minnesota Magicians.
All in all the MNJHL is improved from top to bottom. This should be an exciting season as the MNJHL looks to continue to improve moving into the future.
Joseph Kolodziej – Publisher