Updated: 01/24/2014 4:03 PM
Created: 01/24/2014 3:43 PM KSTP.com
By: Nick Tabbert
Two teams that very well could hoist a girl's state hockey title in March meet this weekend in a primetime rematch. Each has gone on a winning streak earlier this season, but more recently has struggled in the heat of the Lake Conference schedule.
Now, these top-five teams meet again to settle a battle that started nearly three weeks ago.
Top-ranked Minnetonka High School will host No. 4 Hopkins High School Saturday night at Pagel Activity Center in a game that could determine who has all the momentum heading into the Sectional tournament.
These two teams know each other well. The high schools are just seven miles apart, and where they play hockey is even closer - just three miles apart.
Their Jan. 7 game was even closer. Hopkins won 2-0 on home ice in what was a closer game than the score indicated. The shots were 31-27 in favor of the visiting Minnetonka, and the decisive goal game shorthanded from Grace Bizal.
Hopkins head coach Vin Paolucci said he is more concerned this weekend about playing well opposed to scoring another win against the top-ranked team in Class AA.
"For me, it's about how we play and playing three full periods because we haven't played three full periods in a while," he said. "I know we've got a good team and we just need to get back and do the things we do well."
Hopkins has lost two-straight games after starting the season 20-1. While he didn't agree Saturday's game is a must-win, Paolucci said he thinks "it's a must play well game."
Minnetonka, the three-time defending state champion in AA, has struggled a bit as well. The Skippers are 3-1-2 in their last six games, including the loss to Hopkins and ties with No. 19 Buffalo and No. 3 Edina, but wins over No. 6 Eden Prairie and No. 7 Wayata.
"The great thing about our conference is every game is a quality game and a quality opponent," Paolucci said. "We look forward to (playing Saturday) just as much as we look forward to any of the others but certainly Minnetonka because they've had such great success in the last three years. They have been the king of the hill for a while."
With just two games remaining on the schedule for Hopkins, Paolucci knows this game can boost his team's confidence heading into the postseason. But only if his girls play hard and do everything right along the way.
"We've changed some things and we're trying to get back the energy level we've had," he said, "and certainly a win will help solidify all those things."