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 seed: 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 tenth-ranked Green Bay Notre Dame. Hudson has outscored opponents 111-28 this season.
Who to watch: Hudson has used its depth to replace three all-state players from last year's state. championship team and 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 Green Bay Notre Dame in the final game of the regular season Feb. 10. 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 seed: Superior (12-9-2)
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, when this year's seniors were freshmen.
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 seven all-time in wins. Junior Taylor Burger is Superior's 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 0-5-1 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. Superior's last win was a 9-4 win over Hibbing/Chisholm on Jan. 16. (Superior plays ECM on Saturday). To their credit they beat and tied with Wausau West (4-1, 4-4) and defeated Waukesha (2-1).
No. 3 seed: New Richmond (17-5-1)
It took a coin flip to determine whether Superior or New Richmond should get the number two 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 emerged this season, joining Nick Johnson as the Tigers' most reliable scorers this winter. 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 played with a high level of consistency, stopping 92 percent of the shots he's faced.
What to watch: The Tigers easily won the Middle Border Conference title again this year. They play a non-conference schedule that constantly tests them. They tied Superior (4-4), lost to Hudson (3-2) and Eau Claire Memorial (3-2).
No. 4 seed: Baldwin-Woodville co-op (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: There is plenty of scoring ability in the Blackhawks lineup. That's led by Landon Albrightson and Alex Bishop, who've combined for 55 goals this season. The Hawks have outscored their opponents by a 2-1 ratio this season, with 117 goals scored and 58 goals allowed.
What to watch: The Blackhawks are 8-1 in their last nine games, with a 5-2 setback against New Richmond the only loss in that time. The Blackhawks are aching to become an impact team at a higher level. If the Hawks can beat Amery on Thursday, Feb. 15, it would move them into the sectional semifinals against undefeated Hudson. There would be no better way to get on the state hockey map than upsetting the top-ranked team in the state.
No. 5 seed: Amery (14-10)
The Warriors are a young team that believes it's 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: For the Warriors to succeed in the playoffs, their top line will need to continue to be productive. Ryan Van Blaricom, Grady Martin and Jackson Henningsgard have combined for 58 goals. The Warriors also have a goalie in Ryan Mork that can keep them competitive against most opponents.
What to watch: The Warriors are hoping to prove they belong in the upper echelon of the section. Their schedule doesn't contain many elite opponents. The Warriors lost twice against New Richmond and Baldwin-Woodville and they lost their only meeting with Menomonie. The playoffs, and the Feb. 15 matchup at Baldwin-Woodville, are the Warriors' chance to show how much they've improved.
No. 6 seed: 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. Juniors Cole Mensing, Ryan Sisko and Carter Davidson and sophomore Zach Demarce have shown scoring ability. They'll need a big night to get win at New Richmond in the opening round on Tuesday, Feb. 15.
What to watch: Menomonie is another of the teams that started the season favorably, going 3-2 in its first five games. The weight of the BRC schedule has taken a toll on the Mustangs. Menomonie's only wins since Dec. 2 came against River Falls and the Barron co-op. In its last 17 games, Menomonie has allowed 113 goals, nearly seven goals per game.
No. 7 seed: River Falls (5-18-1)
The young Wildcats, who have just four seniors on their roster, finished fifth in the seven-team Big Rivers Conference, ahead of Menomonie and Rice Lake.
Who to watch: Junior co-captain Jake Bergmanis leads the team in scoring with 14 goals and 12 assists for 26 points while junior Cody Wilson and sophomore Joe Stoffel have registered 15 points each. Senior goalie Jake Miller has started all but two games this season and sports a save percentage of .887.
What to watch: The Wildcats have been outscored 31-12 in the first period this but are capable of scoring in bunches late in games, as evidenced by 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 seed: 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 and junior defenseman Jackson Haukom. Peterson has scored 21 goals this season and Haukom has scored 11. 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. Goaltender Francisco Gomez had played admirably under the barrage of pucks he's seen this season. If the Spartans can force shots to be from long-range, they can remain competitive in the playoffs.
No. 9 seed: Barron co-op (Northwest Icemen) (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. He'll need to stay hot to keep them competitive in the Feb. 13 playoff opener at Somerset. Sophomore Wyatt Boe had three points in each of those games.
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 seed: Grantsburg co-op (WSFLG) (1-19)
The Blizzard, based around school from Burnett County, has had a difficult winter. The Blizzard's only win came on Jan. 13, an 8-5 decision over Chequamegon.
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 produced 13 goals.
What to watch: The Blizzard gave up 17 goals in its season opener against Baldwin-Woodville. They haven't been able to stop opponents from scoring all season. They only time they held an opponent under six goals this season was the 8-5 win over Chequamegon.