Playoff season is upon us, and the excitement in the hockey community has grown in anticipation. The postseason is an amazing opportunity for players to showcase their abilities and prove their worth. 'Players to Watch' is an article series that will kick off by spotlighting players from different levels and stages of playoff hockey in Minnesota. These players are members at our South Campus, and are all coming off of remarkably strong campaigns during the regular season. The first round of athletes highlighted below are bantams who will be battling in district playoffs starting up this Sunday, February 19th. For those heading out to catch the action, here are some boys to keep an eye on. Although, they just might be grabbing your attention regardless...
JOEY ANDERSON, Defenseman, Burnsville Bantam AA
Joey's strong reputation has been known by his teammates and opponents for some time now. A solid blueliner with size, intelligence and a well-rounded skill set, Joey makes an impact at both ends of the ice. His booming shot from the point and effective physical play in the defensive zone will be on display as his Blaze boys look to make good on the #2 seed in District 6. 2017 with mark Joey's fourth year with MAP. His steady growth has been exciting to watch for our staff.
COLE CAVANAGH, Forward, Edina Bantam AA
Somewhat uncharacteristic, Edina's BAA squad got off to a rocky start through the first month or so of the season. But high-impact players like Cole have played a significant part in the massive turnaround of that team. Cole's consistent compete level, keen instincts, and offensive awareness make up one of most complete forwards in the state. Cole rarely lets his foot off the gas pedal and does not take shifts off. His #3 seeded Hornets have a legitimate shot of taking the District 6 championship, and should be considered a state title contender. Cole will be a first-year member with the MAP, and our crew can't wait to get him on the ice.
CADEN ESPINDABANICK, Defenseman, Eastview Bantam AA
A player we would consider that's in the middle of a breakout season, "Espy" made a dramatic transformation to his game through countless hours of work in his first run with the MAP last year. Similar in stature to Burnsville's Anderson, Caden is a good-sized defenseman that brings a lot of value to his team. Caden uses his strength and skating ability wherever it is needed, and his versatility will definitely be noticeable in the District 8 playoffs. Look for Caden to make plays on both the power play and penalty kill, where he has flourished in the back half of the regular season.
HUNTER JONES, Forward, Andover Bantam AA
Another newcomer to the South Side, Hunter's compete level and offensive upside will be greeted with open arms when we get started next month. He is enjoying a successful season from both an individual and team perspective. Hunter's Andover boys will definitely be making some waves in the District 10 playoffs with Hunter at the helm. His offensive impact comes as both both playmaker and goal scorer, and his special teams play is superb. Needless to say, Hunter is not fun to play against.
CHARLIE KILLIAN, Forward/Defenseman, South St. Paul/Sibley Area Bantam AA
Nearly every player on this list has some versatility to their game. But Charlie has been a human swiss army knife this season. Often switching between Center, Wing and Defense mid-game, Charlie's hockey IQ and strong mix of skating and puck skills allows him to jump into any situation and make plays for his team. Coming off of a big summer of development, Charlie has the speed and strength to make for an effective defensive presence and dangerous point producer for his #1 seeded squad. Charlie will be a returning MAP members, with several years under his belt.
GRANT KWAPICK, Forward, Mahtomedi Bantam AA
Here's a game changer if we ever saw one. Grant's unique blend of athleticism, offensive creativity, and nose for the net makes for a dangerous offensive weapon any time he has the puck. Although some mid-season injury issues created obstacles for the young Zephyr, he is fully recovered and heading into District 2 playoffs on fire. Look for this crafty center to create chances via shot or pass, while also maintaining a solid impact defensively. Grant will be a first-year member in 2017. And he has already expressed a lot of excitement to take his game to the next level.
TEDDY LAGERBACK, Forward, Minnetonka Bantam AA
If you've been to any games in the last couple months for the surging Tonka BAA team (top seed in District 6), then you've probably seen Teddy putting pucks in the net. Teddy's pure goal scoring abilities are reminiscent of a young Kieffer Bellows, another MAP member who terrorized bantam hockey not so long ago. Teddy has gone through an incredible uptick in growth and maturity over the past year, and his well-rounded game is evidence of that. But make no mistake about it, Teddy is as deadly as they come around the net. He will be a returning MAP member this year, and will undoubtable continue to improve his game in preparation for varsity hockey next season.
OWEN NEUHARTH, Forward, Prior Lake Bantam AA
Owen is a walking contradiction in the best way possible. This is an undersized player who packs as big of a punch as it gets. Owen's quickness, agility and high-end awareness more than overcompensates for his smaller stature. Point production is second nature to this skilled centerman, and he'll compete against anyone when he doesn't have the puck. Owen is a power play and penalty kill specialist, as well. So look for smart plays from this stud Laker one way or another if someone is in the box. Owen had participated in both our Freshman Experience and Bantam Preview events in 2016, but this will be his first season as a MAP member.
CHARLIE STROBEL, Forward, Stillwater Bantam AA
Last but certainly not least on this list is one of the top offensive threats in the state. Charlie's got a lot on his resumé when it comes to producing scoring chances: incredible vision, creative passing, deceptive quickness, and an elite understanding of offensive organization. So none of us are surprised that his Stilly boys have maintained a spot near the top of the state ranks all season, with Charlie at the forefront of that consistency. Look for Charlie to step up and make plays when it matters most in the District 2 tournament. This will be Charlie's first year on the South Side. He is an exciting add to already strong group of second year bantams.
All photos taken by David Romuald.