2014 State Hockey Tournament Reflection

The seventieth State Tournament has come and gone, its whirlwind collision of nostalgia and renewal consuming us for four days before melting away into a Minnesota spring. The best team in each class was obvious, but it was still more competitive than last year’s, particularly on the Class A side. We had one instant classic, a double overtime thriller with drama and intrigue at every turn, as stars dropped like flies with injury and exhaustion late in the game. Gary Thorne graced the Tourney with an added dose of gravitas, and the referees made their presence felt a bit more than usual. Edina’s repeat at the top of the heap lets us use the word ‘dynasty’ for the first time in many years, and with an all-public AA field, the Hornets had little trouble claiming the villain tag.

Some of the best stories in this Tourney came far from that small town on the west side with a dream, though. Feisty Luverne proved its doubters wrong and proved it can compete on the highest stage, while New Prague recorded the South’s first top-3 finish in over ten years. Roseau added to its proud Tourney history with a very competitive 5th place showing in AA, its stars once again coming south to dazzle the St. Paul crowds. The biggest of the small-town winners, though, was East Grand Forks, and with its seamless breakouts and a relentless Green Wave of powerful hits, the Class A champion’s mysterious mascot only seemed apt. There is room for all types at the Tourney, but the growth and sustenance of hockey in small towns keeps the Tourney in touch with its roots. There were good storylines among the big city schools, too: Stillwater made its debut, Lakeville North’s thrilling overtime victories put AA’s southernmost section in the title game for the first time in 25 years, and while their faces are a bit more familiar, section wins by Eagan, Centennial, and Duluth East were a reminder of what good coaching and smart defense can do in the playoffs.

As always, the players make the Tourney. There was the delight of Eddie Eades, posing theories on cookies and ice cream, and then there was the agony of Luc Snuggerud, the wounded warrior bowed in defeat. Tyler Nanne channeled his grandfather’s ease with words, while Nick Wolff probably still hasn’t finished his latest shift for Eagan. Zach Yon of Roseau made a last-second pitch for Mr. Hockey, while Luverne eighth-grader Jaxon Nelson gave us a glimpse of the future. Erik Gadbois proved an unlikely hero for scrappy St. Cloud Cathedral, and Eden Prairie’s Michael Parrish mustered a heroism that transcended hockey, putting together a hat trick in the shadow of his father’s death.

The coaches, too, add their own distinct flavor. The old guard was on hand, still plugging along; Bruce Plante was understandably chastened after a fifth straight second place finish, but still managed to show why he is beloved in Hermantown, and a vintage Mike Randolph pulled all the levers he could in a losing cause before making “embellishment” the word of the Tourney. The bubbly and quotable Trent Eigner took his program to the next level, while Luverne’s rising star, Derrick Brown, did a victory lap for all of small-town hockey. But the clear-eyed focus of Tyler Palmiscno (with an assist from the peerless Scott Oliver) and the supreme confidence of Curt Giles carried the day.

Giles is normally one to run a tight ship; he’s not one to furnish reporters with juicy quotes, nor does he hold strong public opinions on the endless debates over private schools and junior hockey. Such is the luxury of Edina, of course: he presides over a program of unmatched depth, and he knows he’s blessed not to have many of the worries facing others. Back at the pinnacle yet again, though, Giles let the façade come down and channeled that old Herb Brooks line, saying the emotion of a Tourney win rivals that of the Stanley Cup. Repeats may tire some fans, especially when they taste of cake, but sports need dominant powers to serve as the measuring stick. Edina sets the standard for all of hockey in Minnesota, and it’s up to the rest of the state to find a response to this latest Hornet run. They came in with the flair and swagger of champions, a fast and edgy team unafraid to show off its talents and let the world know who is number one. Oh, to be young and a Hornet.

The whole weekend overflows with youth, even for those whose follicles have forsaken them, rendered them ineligible for the Hockey Hair Team. This year there was no one quote that fixed itself in my mind, no one poignant moment that pierced through the din. Instead, it was a steady, sustained buzz, fueled by stops at bars between sessions and those incessant Hornets. There are the kids doing what we once did: plotting an off-color chant, smuggling in a beach ball, fighting the crowds at the Expo, bumming around the upper deck, perhaps going on a run through the St. Paul night in the ecstasy of victory, or off to a party in some hotel room, all pretense of dignity and decorum forgotten for a weekend at the start of Lent. For those of us with some remove from the glory days, we have the impromptu reunions, the ease of chatting up anyone knowing we have common ground, the gathering of generations, the march of time and a ceaseless cycle bearing us back to the past. Those of us in the stands can lose track of the constant turnover, forget the rawness of emotions that come out no matter who is on the winning or losing end. That part never changes, and even as we head into summer or perhaps out into the world beyond high school, it long lingers, waiting to be brought forth again for four more days next March. No matter where the world takes us, the memory endures.

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2014 Final Class AA Rankings

These rankings place added emphasis on playoff performance. One last time before November:

1. EDINA
-Two in a row, three out of five: the Edynasty is here. The Hornets may have an edge in numbers and resources that others can only dream of, but these past two years, this team’s coaching staff has taken them to the next level in the playoffs. They set the bar for the rest of the state, and it’s up to everyone else to respond.
2. Lakeville North
-A laugher of a state title game does little to diminish an otherwise superb breakout season for the Panthers, who are now on the map and unlikely to be going away anytime soon. They dazzled with their depth and talent, and were one of my biggest misses in six years of rankings. That won’t be the case next year.
3. Eagan
-The gritty Wildcats might have gotten more out of less than any team this season, playing excellent defense and giving Edina its lone close game of the playoffs. On paper this looks to be the end of the line for a bit, but if the coaching staff can get similar defensive performances in the future, they’ll still be a factor.
4. Eden Prairie
-The Eagles went on a strong run through sections, and gave North all they could handle in an instant classic of a semifinal. Their top players gave some heroic performances, and they also found some of the balance that had eluded them at times over the course of the year. Despite the final two losses, it was a memorable year for the Eagles.
5. Roseau
-The Rams were one of the most impressive teams in St. Paul, giving North all they could handle in the semis before picking up a consolation title. Their stars were ready for the biggest stage, and they played strong enough defense to compete with anyone. Success for Roseau at State is always a good sign for Minnesota hockey, proving even the smallest communities are capable of great things.
6. Hill-Murray
-A strong season came crashing down in the section final for the Pioneers, and for the third time in four years, the end result was a bit disappointing. Still, we all know they’ll just be reloading for next year.
7. Wayzata
-The Trojans were looking like a serious title contender down the stretch, but it all came apart against Benilde in the section semis, and 6AA remains a minefield for any defending champion. They should be right back in the mix next year.
8. Duluth East
-The Hounds had a strong run through a difficult section to claim a sixth straight tournament berth, though their thin offense ran out of gas in St. Paul. Even if the front-end talent is down somewhat, this program still has good depth and a lot of momentum, and that won’t be changing any time soon.
9. Burnsville
-It was a year of ‘what could have been’ for the Blaze, as they suffered some of the highest-profile defections in the state, then stumbled in the section semis. The talent was there, and a regular season win over Edina was a nice step, but they still have yet to close the deal.
10. Blaine
-Like Burnsville, the Bengals came up short, and the tough results in sections are becoming a theme here. Still, that doesn’t take away from a regular season in which they competed with many of the best teams in the state. The end result was a tough loss for a very deep senior class.
11. St. Thomas Academy
-Like many of the teams in this part of the rankings, the Cadets fell short in sections despite high expectations. Still, it was a strong AA debut for a young team, and they could easily be a serious title contender next year.
12. Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Red Knights turned it on in sections after a somewhat disappointing regular season, knocking off Wayzata and coming ever so close to a Tourney berth. They’ll be back in the mix in the 6AA meat-grinder once again next year.
13. Centennial
-The Cougars went on a great run in sections, taking down Maple Grove and Blaine, and they gave Eden Prairie a good fight in the State quarterfinals as well. They may have gone 2-and-out the past two years, but that’s a bit deceptive, as they’ve been very competitive in the Tourney, and do a great job despite not being among the favorites.
14. Elk River
-The Elks came awfully close to making their way back to St. Paul, but came up empty in the 7AA final. There’s a lot of talent coming up here, and sooner or later they’ll break through.
15. Stillwater
-It was a breakthrough year for the Ponies, as they stunned White Bear and Hill and made their first trip to State. That State experience didn’t go particularly well, but it was an important first step, and judging by their youth program, this program should continue to be on the rise in the coming years.

Honorable Mention (In No Real Order)
Maple Grove
-Was in the top 15 all season long, though they fell to Centennial in the 5AA semis.
Eastview
-Like Maple Grove, spent a lot of time in the top 15, and had the misfortune of drawing STA in the 3AA semis, though they came close to beating them.
Bloomington Jefferson
-Had a decent year and scored a big upset in sections over Burnsville.
Farmington
-Put together a nice record and made their first AA section title game, which is an important step forward for the program.
Holy Family
-The Fire continued their slow but steady improvement by making their way into a 6AA semifinal.
Andover
-Went on a very nice run over the second half of the season, though they couldn’t quite follow it up with any playoff success.

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Avery Peterson Wins 2014 Mr. Hockey

Avery Peterson

-Photo by David Romuald

Avery Peterson has won the 2014 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Award, given to the top senior high school hockey player in the state. Peterson was selected by a panel of NHL scouts, DI coaches, and selected members of the media.

The University of Nebraska-Omaha commit scored 37 goals and assisted on 30 others in 27 games this season. Peterson scored at least one point in 26 of his 27 games this season, including four games in which he register four goals.  Peterson totaled 86 goals and 117 assists in 107 career games for Grand Rapids.

Peterson was drafted by the Wild in the sixth round (167 overall) of the 2013 NHL Draft.

The following is a list of past Minnesota Mr. Hockey winners.

2013 Grant Besse Benilde St. Margaret’s 5/147
2012 Justin Kloos Lakeville South Not Drafted
2011 Kyle Rau Eden Prairie 3/93
2010 Nick Bjugstad Blaine 1/19
2009 Nick Leddy Eden Prairie 1/16
2008 Aaron Ness Roseau 2/40
2007 Ryan McDonagh Cretin-Derham Hall 1/12
2006 David Fischer Apple Valley 1/20
2005 Brian Lee Moorhead 1/9
2004 Tom Gorowsky Centennial Not Drafted
2003 Nate Dey North St. Paul Not Drafted
2002 Gino Guyer Greenway 5/165 (2003 Draft)
2001 Mary Sertich Roseville Not Drafted
2000 Paul Martin Elk River 2/62
1999 Jeff Taffe Hastings 1/30 (2000 Draft)
1998 Johnny Pohl Red Wing 9/255
1997 Aaron Miskovich Grand Rapids 5/133
1996 Dave Spehar Duluth East Not Drafted
1995 Erik Rasmussen St. Louis Park 1/7 (1996 Draft)
1994 Mike Crowley Bloomington Jefferson 6/140 (1993 Draft)
1993 Nick Checco Bloomington Jefferson 6/137
1992 Brian Bonin White Bear Lake 9/211
1991 Darby Hendrickson Richfield 4/73 (1990 Draft)
1990 Joe Dziedzic Edison 3/61
1989 Trent Klatt Osseo 4/82
1988 Larry Olimb Warroad 10/193 (1987 Draft)
1987 Kris Miller Greenway 4/80
1986 George Pelawa Bemidji 1/16
1985 Tom Chorske Southwest 1/16

 

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Class AA State Tournament Preview

ROSEAU VS. #2 LAKEVILLE NORTH
-The first AA quarterfinal match has a fun storyline, one of the state’s great traditional powers against a new rising star. This appears to be the first meeting between these two teams.

Roseau (20-7-1, #19, 1-seed in 8AA)
State appearances: 34 (first since 2010)
State championships: 7 (1946, 1958, 1959, 1961, 1990, 1999, 2007)
Key section win: 7-4 over #24 Moorhead
-The Rams had few games against most state powers, leaving them one of the bigger unknowns heading into the Tourney. What isn’t in doubt is the top-end talent on their first unit, which includes Mr. Hockey finalist Zach Yon (18), his partner in crime Alex Strand (9), and high-scoring defenseman Cole Bjugson (21). They have some offense on their second line as well, but any chance at a first-round upset will require tight defense in front of goaltender Ryan Anderson (1). If they can withstand North’s depth, stay out of the box, and spring their top guns, they’ll have a fighting chance.

Lakeville North (23-4-1, #3, 1-seed in 1AA)
State appearances: 5 (2 in a row)
Key section win: 6-0 over 2-seed Farmington
-The Panthers took the state by storm this season, surging into the top 5 with a 19-game unbeaten streak over the second half. They are led by the all-brother, St. Cloud State-bound line of Jack (3), Nick (7), and Ryan (4) Poehling, but have good depth beyond them, with no obvious weaknesses. The second and third lines can match anyone’s; Tristen Hazlett (11) is up amongst the Poehlings in points, and Jack McNeely (20) leads a quality crop of defensemen. The only real question mark here is how a very young team that is used to being the underdog will handle the pressure of being a favorite in the Tourney. They only have 6 seniors and play 3 freshmen regularly, including goaltender Jake Oettinger (29).

CENTENNIAL VS. #3 EDEN PRAIRIE
-Two large suburban schools meet in the second quarterfinal. Their only recent meeting was in 2012, a 4-3 Eden Prairie win.

Centennial (16-10-2, #23, 3-seed in 5AA)
State appearances: 3 (2 in a row)
State championships: 1 (2004)
Key section wins: 4-0 over #14 Maple Grove, 2-1 over #5 Blaine
-For a second straight year, the Cougars have found their way to St. Paul, and this year’s run was even more impressive, as a team with a mediocre record dispatched of two higher-seeded teams, including vaunted Blaine. Ryner Gorowsky (20) and Connor Lovick (17) lead the attack, and Adam Anderson (27) rounds out the top line. They aren’t going to overwhelm anyone, but they have good depth and balance, and defensively, they’ve bought into coach Ritch Menne’s scheme. Goaltender Blake Miller (1) came up big in the Blaine upset, and will have to do so again to beat Eden Prairie. 5AA is trying to break a four-year winless streak at the Tournament.

Eden Prairie (17-8-3, #10, 2-seed in 6AA)
State appearances: 7 (first since 2011)
State championships: 2 (2009, 2011)
Key section wins: 6-2 over #15 Holy Family, 3-2 (2 OT) over #17 Benilde-St. Margaret’s
-The Eagles have won the past two Tournaments they appeared in, and bring back plenty of talent this time around, including Mr. Hockey finalists Steven Spinner (25) and Luc Snuggerud (4). Sophomore Michael Graham (16) pairs with Spinner to lead the attack up front, while the versatile Snuggerud often moves up from defense to aid in the rush. The Eagles’ challenge this season has been in playing a complete team game—as they do have reasonably good depth—and not relying just on their stars. Veteran Jake Gerdes (31) gets the nod in goal.

STILLWATER VS. #1 EDINA
-The primetime battle in Class AA is a good one, as the top-ranked defending champs take on the upstart Ponies. These two have no recent history against one another.

Stillwater (16-10-2, unranked, 3-seed in 4AA)
First State appearance
Key section wins: 2-1 (OT) over #16 White Bear Lake, 2-1 over #2 Hill-Murray
-The Ponies are this season’s AA Cinderella story, coming out of nowhere to take down perennial 4AA favorites White Bear Lake and Hill-Murray. First-year coach Matt Doman has his team playing inspired hockey, taking the game to the opposition and playing tight defense. Forward John Heddle (8) is their only player with over 30 points, but a strong defense led by Mitch Reinke (20) and Zach Eder-Zdechlik (5) form the core of this squad. Goalie Josh Benson (30) will have to be on his game for the Ponies to have any hope of tripping up Edina, but they’ve already shown they can take down elite teams. How far can that momentum carry them?

Edina (23-4-1, #1, 1-seed in 2AA)
State appearances: 36 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s; 8 in a row)
Championships: 11 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, and 2013 as Edina; 1974, 1978, and 1979 as Edina East)
Key section wins: 8-2 over #25 Prior Lake, 5-1 over #21 Bloomington Jefferson
-The Hornets are the clear favorites coming into this tournament, though they bowed out in the quarterfinals the last two times they were the top seed. Miguel Fidler (12) and Cullen Munson (9) anchor one of their two interchangeable top lines, while Dylan Malmquist (20), Garrett Wait (17), and Kieffer Bellows (7) make up the other. Mr. Hockey finalist Tyler Nanne (23) leads the defense. If they have a weakness, it’s probably on their relatively inexperienced defense beyond Nanne; their power play has also been surprisingly poor for a team with their level of talent. Still, the Hornets have the depth and firepower to beat anyone, and when coach Curt Giles’ teams go into lockdown mode late in a game, they rarely lose.

#5 EAGAN VS. #4 DULUTH EAST
-Two tough teams known for their defense clash in the last AA quarterfinal. These teams have only met once before, a 2012 State consolation final won by the Hounds.

Eagan (18-9-1, #13, 4-seed in 3AA)
State appearances: 4 (first since 2012)
Key section wins: 2-1 (OT) over #18 Cretin-Derham Hall, 4-2 over #7 St. Thomas Academy
-Eagan may have been a 4-seed in its own section with 9 losses, but that’s deceptive, as the Wildcats were among the toughest teams in the State, especially through the second half of the season. The offense isn’t especially deep; Jack Jenson (24) is by far their leading scorer, and Kyle Stebbing (7) is their only other forward over 25 points. Their real strength, however, is in back, where the defensive pair of Nick Wolff (5) and Tommy Muck (2) is as good as any in the state. The Wildcats are a rugged, physical team, and that strength carried them through a difficult section. They also have one of the more touted goaltenders in the Tourney in Andrew Lindgren (35).

Duluth East (21-6-1, #9, 1-seed in 7AA)
State appearances: 21 (6 in a row)
State championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)
Key section wins: 5-2 over #20 Grand Rapids, 3-2 (OT) over #8 Elk River
-As with Eagan, any discussion of the Hounds must begin with their top defensive pair, which is comprised of seniors Phil Beaulieu (25) and Alex Trapp (5). The offense doesn’t put up big numbers, but has come on some as the season has gone along, and is led by Nick Altmann (19) and Jack Kolar (22). These Hounds bear the usual trademarks of a Mike Randolph-coached team with their depth, strong forecheck, and stellar special teams, though they are also on the young side, and do not always dominate play as much as some recent East editions. With strong play out of goalie Gunnar Howg (31), they could be a threat to the top teams in the field.

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