John's Journal
Albany, Hermantown Make Statements At State 3/11/2015
The doors to Williams Arena hadn’t been unlocked for very long Wednesday morning when the first visitors arrived. It was the Albany High School boys basketball team. And it’s easy to understand why the Huskies got to The Barn so early. They had a big game, and a big day, ahead of them.

The test they faced was robust. Their Class 3A state quarterfinal opponent was the DeLaSalle Islanders, who happen to be the three-time defending state champions. Game time was 10 a.m. At 9 o’clock some of the Huskies were lounging on the bench, some had headed upstairs to check out Williams Arena’s cloud-level views.

The game? Well, the outcome was what most impartial observers probably expected; DeLaSalle defeated Albany 70-60. It was a whale of a contest, and what happened on the court will join the rest of the tournament's experiences in the Huskies’ memory banks: the police cars and fire trucks that escorted the team out of town on Tuesday, that first walk into an empty Barn, standing for the national anthem, competing with every last ounce they had.

The situation was similar in the third Class 3A game of the day. Hermantown, unseeded and playing at state for the very first time, faced second-seeded St. Paul Johnson, which is at state for the sixth time in seven years.

Hermantown came within a rimmed-out three-point shot at the buzzer of taking the game to overtime. Johnson escaped with a 59-50 victory, one that was hard-earned against the Hawks.

Hermantown coach Joe Schmitz lingered with his team in the locker room, then apologized to the assembled media outside the door for making them wait a bit.

“We have some great seniors and we just wanted to send them off the right way,” he said.

“This was an amazing run, a history-making run. They battled. They have nothing to hang their heads about. We came in believing we were going to shock the Twin Cities.”

Albany was not a first-timer at state like Hermantown, but the Huskies had not been to this tournament since 1997 (Wednesday’s game was the school’s fourth trip to state overall). Albany lost, yes. But the Huskies competed so hard that anyone who was in the building will be talking about them for a long time.

Years from now, a scrappy team of underdogs will work hard and battle their rear ends off and someone in the stands will lean into their neighbor’s ear and say, “This team reminds of those boys from Albany in 2015.”

Huskies coach Cory Schlagel, having just exited a locker room filled with equal parts pride and emotion, said, “Our kids competed and that's been our m.o. all year. Our guys are nitty gritty. We’re not as talented as DeLaSalle but we compete. That’s what we did all year long.”

DeLaSalle led 29-19 at halftime and it was an even matchup after that. The second half was a 41-41 deadlock, with Albany trying mightily to take the thing over. They cut the margin to five points with 1:24 left when Nick Raeker hit a three-pointer, and it was five with 58 seconds to go on a jumper by Kenny Weber.

DeLaSalle’s final five points came on three free throws and a layup as Albany was forced to foul.

“That's a really good team we just beat. Really good,” said Islanders coach Dave Thorson. “I knew they had a defensive mentality.”

DeLaSalle is not only going for its fourth consecutive state title, but the Islanders’ lineup is packed with Divison I players. Jarvis Johnson will play at the University of Minnesota, Sacar Anim at Marquette and Josh Collins at North Dakota.

Sometimes a coach will size up a talented opponent and panic, shredding the normal game plan and going to something new. Schlagel isn’t one of those coaches.

“We played other good basketball teams but nobody with the size and length they have,” he said. “A lot of people asked if we were going to change our game plan. To be honest, we played the way we always have.

“I can’t be any happier or proud of our guys.”


--After Mankato East held off New Prague 65-60 in Class 3A, coach Joe Madson said, “I’ve told the guys that when you win on Wednesday it really feels like you’re in the state tournament. You’re going to play two more games, you’re going to play on TV. These are things kids dream about.”

--My favorite mascot of the day: That’s easy. The Governor of St. Paul Johnson.


St. Croix Lutheran 37, Esko 35
Melrose 81, Redwood Valley 66
Caledonia 72, Annandale 66
Maple River 78, Breckenridge 72

DeLaSalle 70, Albany 60
Mankato East 65, New Prague 60
St. Paul Johnson 59, Hermantown 56
Waconia 73, Orono 68

Champlin Park 89, St. Francis 48
Shakopee 64, Roseville 53
Apple Valley 70, St. Michael-Albertville 57
Lakeville North 65, Hopkins 61

At Williams Arena
11 a.m./ Fond du Lac Ojibwe vs. Rushford-Peterson
1 p.m./ Nevis vs. Central Minnesota Christian
3 p.m./ Red Lake vs. Maranatha Christian Academy
5 p.m./ Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City vs. Battle Lake

At Target Center
Noon/ DeLaSalle vs. Mankato East
2 p.m./ St. Paul Johnson vs. Waconia

At Target Center
6 p.m./ Champlin Park vs. Shakopee
8 p.m./ Apple Valley vs. Lakeville North

*Schools/teams John has visited: 422
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,993
Runner-up Routine Continues For Hermantown 3/7/2015
When you consider all the second-place medals that the Hermantown hockey team has hauled home from the state hockey tournament, there are the beginnings of a pretty substantial silver mine up north.

Saturday was, well, how to put this? It was loss No. 6 for Hermantown in Class 1A state championship games over the last six years. The phrase “six of one, half dozen of the other” doesn’t come close to doing this situation justice. Anyone who has a beating heart feels for the Hawks … six tries, six second-place finishes and a whole bunch of what-ifs.

After falling 5-4 in overtime to East Grand Forks at Xcel Energy Center, Hermantown coach Bruce Plante referred to “guys in the locker room bawling their eyes out.” That’s a hard scene to get out of your head … and it’s been this way for six years in a row for the Hawks. Imagine.

It was the second consecutive title-game victory for East Grand Forks over Hermantown. A year ago the score was 7-3.

“We made one more play than they did,” said Green Wave coach Tyler Palmiscno.

Plante said, “I’m getting used to it. It’s not fun. I just don’t get it. It’s weird to me. The hockey gods didn’t work in our favor again. We had all kinds of chances to win this game.”

Yes they did, and the Hawks came oh so close to finally getting over the golden hump. East Grand Forks led 2-0 after the first period, Hermantown tied it 2-2 in the second. Dixon Bowen scored late in the second period for the Green Wave and teammate Austin Monda’s second goal of the game early in the third put East Grand up 4-2.

And then, wham! Wyatt Aamodt and Eric Gotz scored for the Hawks 17 seconds apart late in the third period, making it 4-4 as regulation ended.

“When we tied it up I thought maybe the tide’s turning here,” Plante said. “Maybe we’ll get that lucky bounce.”

The luck went the other direction when Tanner Tweten got the game-winner (his second goal of the game) for the Green Wave 3:34 into overtime.

Hermantown hearts? Crushed.

“It’s a hockey game,” said Hermantown senior Nate Pionk. “You can’t just quit. You have to come back.

“In overtime it’s anyone’s game. Just because we get those two late goals it doesn’t mean you’re going to win it. We just didn’t find the back of the net.”

There’s the separation between finally winning gold medals and returning home with another bag of silver. And as happy as the East Grand Forks players were, they understood how it felt in the other locker room.

“Some of our players know some of their players, and you just feel for them,” said Bowen, who was named the Class 1A Herb Brooks Award winner after the game. “They’ve worked extremely hard. They’ve had a great season. You feel for them.”

Plante said, “I’m really proud of how we came back. We never gave up, we never gave in. We battled hard to the end. Some of the guys were gassed but they played hard, right to the bitter end.”


The top-seeded Panthers completed a 31-0 season with a dominating victory over the unseeded Greyhounds (16-11-4). The Poehling brothers – seniors Jack and Nick and sophomore Ryan – all scored, as did Angelo Altavilla, who was named the winner of the 2A Herb Brooks Award.

North outshot East 23-13 in a defensive-oriented game. Ryan Peterson scored for the Greyhounds in the third period to make the score 3-1 before Nick Poehling scored into an empty net.


Class 1A/ Jack Becker, Mahtomedi; Tanner Breidenbach, St. Cloud Apollo; Eric Gotz, Luke Olson, Nate Pionk, Ryan Kero, Wyatt Aamodt, Hermantown; Dixon Bowen, Grant Loven, Josh Weber, Tanner Tweten, Trevor Selk, East Grand Forks.

Class 2A/ Garrett Wait, Edina; Peter Tufto, Seamus Donohue, St. Thomas Academy, Alex Spencer, Ash Altmann, Gunnar Howg, Ryan Peterson, Duluth East; Jack McNeely, Jack Poehling, Jack Sadek, Nick Poehling, Ryan Edquist, Lakeville North.


--This year's total of 135,618 fans is a record for the tournament. The previous high was 129,643 in 2008.

--The Chicago Blackhawks lead the NHL with an average home attendance of 21,720. Friday night's crowd of 21,609 for the Class 2A semifinals would rank No. 2 in the NHL.

--Saturday’s championship games marked the fifth time in the 1A/2A era with three finalists from northern Minnesota. There were four in 2007: Roseau, Grand Rapids, Hermantown and Duluth Marshall. The other years with northern teams were: 1994 (Warroad, Moorhead, Hibbing), 1995 (Duluth East, International Falls, Moorhead) and 1998 (Duluth East, Eveleth-Gilbert and Hermantown).


Class 1A
Fifth place: New Prague 3, Breck 2 (2 OT)
Third place/ Mahtomedi 4, St. Cloud Apollo 3
Championship/ East Grand Forks 5, Hermantown 4 (OT)

Class 2A
Fifth place: St. Thomas Academy 2, Blaine 1
Third place/ Edina 4, Eden Prairie 2
Championship/ Lakeville North 4, Duluth East 1

*Schools/teams John has visited: 412
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,945
The Underdog Hounds Of Duluth East Do It Again3/6/2015
It was clear that Mike Randolph wasn’t telling a lie. After the Duluth East Greyhounds continued their postseason underdog journey with a shocking upset of Edina in Friday night’s Class 2A boys state hockey semifinals at Xcel Energy Center, the Hounds coach said simply: “I didn’t think it was an upset.”

He will not find a lot of company in that thought. Consider …

--Edina was the two-time defending state champ.

--The Hornets had defeated Duluth East 7-1 on Dec. 30.

--Edina was seeded second in the eight-team field and East was one of three unseeded teams.

--Edina came into the semifinals with a record of 25-1-2. East was 15-10-4.

Not an upset? OK, coach.

“I’ve been here 17 times and I’m kind of used to it,” Randolph said of the state tournament hoopla. It’s rare that he shows much emotion, but as the horn sounded Friday he raised both arms as well as a big grin.

“Did you see me on the bench after the game,” he said in the postgame press conference. “I’m already thinking about watching this game as soon as you guys let me go.”

He was referring to the second semifinal between Eden Prairie and Lakeville North.

“All we do is worry about us,” Randolph said. “And if we’re playing our game and we’re on our game, we’ll have our peaks and valleys as you can see, but we’ll find a way. That’s what’s important.”

The theme in the Hounds’ prior two games went like this: fall behind by three goals and mount a tremendous comeback. That didn’t happen against Edina, which made East goaltender Gunner Howg happy.

“For me it did feel a lot better going into the game and not being down three right away,” he said, smiling. “That was a big weight off my shoulders.”

Edina opened the scoring when Patrick Haug got a goal 10 minutes into the first period. It was all East after that; Luke Dow scored later in the first period, Nick Altmann scored 31 seconds into the second and Ash Altmann finished it off with less than three minutes left in the third.

Who called them underdogs?

“It takes a lot of pressure off us and puts it on the other team,” Nick Altmann said. “We have nothing on the line and we just go out and play.”


Top-seeded North (30-0) broke open a close game with two third-period goals and moved into the title game against Duluth East. The score was 2-2 after two periods, but the Panthers’ Max Johnson, Chaz Dufon, Jack Poehling and Luke Seper scored in the third. Eden Prairie (19-10) will face Edina in Saturday’s third-place game.


Turn back the clock to the 2014 Class 1A state tournament. And keep turning that sucker back all the way through 2013 and 2012 and 2011 and 2010. And then look at the Hermantown Hawks as they prepare for Saturday’s state championship game.

This is a very familiar perch for the top-seeded Hawks (27-2-1), who will face third-seeded East Grand Forks (25-4) in the title game at noon. The same two teams met for the state championship last year, with East Grand Forks winning 7-3. Hermantown was also on the low end of the score in the previous four title games. So Saturday’s game will be their sixth title game in a row, and they enter with renewed hopes of finally taking home the big trophy.

“There’s not really pressure,” senior Nate Pionk said after the Hawks beat St. Cloud Apollo 2-0 in Friday’s semifinals. “What happened in the past is in the past. We’re going to come out with open minds, we’re going to look for a way to win this one.”

East Grand Forks, which advanced with s 5-2 win over Mahtomedi, lost to Hermantown 3-0 on Dec. 31. That’s hopefully a positive omen for the Hawks, but after going donut-for-five in five straight title games, you still have to wonder if there’s an angry ape on your back.

“I just try to get ‘em to play our game,” Hermantown coach Bruce Plante said. “And if our game is good enough we’ll win. If we don’t, we won’t. We want to play without nerves or fear and we try to play the best we can.

“In four of those (previous title) games we played really well, maybe some of the best hockey all year. And we didn’t win. We want them to play as good as they can.”

Two days after an 8-0 quarterfinal win over Spring Lake Park, the Hawks played a workmanlike game Friday. Jesse Jacques scored in the first period and Cole Koepke did the same in the third. Plante called Koepke’s goal the key moment in the game.

“That really gets rid of some of the ulcer juices right there, when you get that second goal.”


Grant Loven had a hat trick for the Green Wave and Trevor Selk and Austin Monda also scored. The score was 2-2 in the second period after the first two goals by Loven and Mahtomedi scores by Joe Forciea and Tim Kuivinen. But East Grand Forks did the rest of the scoring, finishing with a 33-20 advantage in shots on goal.


--Friday night's Class 2A state hockey attendance was 21,609. That's the largest crowd for an indoor hockey game in Minnesota ... ever. Another hockey attendance note: Every session except Wednesday evening has set an all-time record for that session.

--Getting to the state tournament can be simple or not so simple. For example, fans from East Grand Forks and Mahtomedi faced much different journeys. East Grand Forks High School is 327 miles from Xcel Energy Center; Mahtomedi High School is only 14.6 miles away.


Class 1A
Fifth place: New Prague vs. Breck, 10 a.m. (Mariucci Arena)
Third place/ Mahtomedi vs. St. Cloud Apollo, 9 a.m.
Championship/ East Grand Forks vs. Hermantown, noon

Class 2A
Fifth place: St. Thomas Academy vs. Blaine, noon (Mariucci Arena)
Third place/ Edina vs.Eden Prairie, 4 p.m.
Championship/ Duluth East vs. Lakeville North, 7 p.m.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 412
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,905
Never Give Up On The Duluth East Greyhounds3/5/2015
The most dangerous lead in hockey is a three-goal margin over Duluth East. That’s the lesson for teams who have faced the Greyhounds in recent days, including St. Thomas Academy in Thursday’s Class 2A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

The Cadets held a 3-0 lead after the first period and were in front 5-2 heading into the third period. But here came the Greyhounds … tying the score 5-5 with two goals in the last three minutes of regulation and winning on a goal by Ryan Peterson – his second of the game -- 91 seconds into overtime.

“No matter what happens, if you stick with it you’ll get good looks,” East coach Mike Randolph said. “The guys stuck with it, we got our looks and they buried it.”

A big rally is nothing new for the Greyhounds, who are unseeded at state and have a record of 15-10-4. In last week’s Section 7 championship game against Elk River they came back from a 3-0 first-period deficit to win 5-4 in double overtime.

Their victory over third-seeded St. Thomas Academy (24-5) was a shocker, but the Greyhounds did control some aspects of the game. The most glaring example was their 30-21 advantage in shots on goal.

“I’m looking up at the scoreboard and thinking we’ve got ‘em under 20 shots in the third period,” Randolph said. “We didn’t play that bad. We played the way we needed to play to give us a chance to win. That’s the way we’ve been playing and that’s the way we have to play.”

Nick Funk, Luke Dow, Brian Bunten and Evan Little also scored for East; Peter Tufto had two goals and three assists for the Cadets.

St. Thomas Academy co-coach Greg Vannelli said, “Once momentum starts going the other way and you can’t stop it, that’s what happens sometimes. It happened really fast.

“You can control the effort but not the outcome sometimes.”

In the postgame press conference, the first question posed to Randolph was basically this: How does your team keep winning these games?

He nodded toward the Greyhounds captains, Nick Altmann and Brian Bunten, who were sitting near him.

“See those two guys right there? They drive the bus and everybody’s jumped on. They’re two of the hardest-working captains we’ve ever had.”

Peterson, he of the two goals scored, explained the East magic like this: “We know we have to work every game. We’re used to coming back and working hard from the first minute of the period to the last minute. And it pays off.

“On the bench we kept saying, ‘Keep believing, keep working, stick to the systems.’ It works every time.”


This game was much like the Duluth East-St. Thomas Academy contest, but Edina held off a late onslaught by the Lumberjacks. The Hornets led 3-0 after one period after outshooting Bemidji 12-2, but the team making its first tournament appearance since 1986 never went away.

“They’ve got a good hockey team,” Edina coach Curt Giles said of the Lumberjacks. “We knew they were going to battle, knew they weren’t going to quit.”

Two goals by unseeded Bemidji (23-4-2) in the second period made it a 3-2 game, Edina (25-1-2) got two for a 5-2 score and the Jacks’ Josh Lusby scored with 55 seconds left in regulation to make it 5-4. Edina’s Casey Dornbach ended the scoring with two seconds to go. Matt Masterman scored twice for the second-seeded Hornets.

Bemidji coach Wade Chiodo, asked about his team’s first trip to state in nearly three decades, said “It’s been absolutely awesome. It’s been 29 years. People are excited and they should be. We have a good hockey team and that’s the bottom line.”


Jack Poehling scored two goals and Max Johnson and Henry Ebenak each scored once as the top-seeded Panthers (29-0) advanced to Friday night’s semifinals. North outshot the unseeded Pioneers 29-17. Jacob Olson scored the goal for Hill-Murray (21-8).


Michael Graham and Casey Mittelstadt each scored two goals for the fifth-seeded Eagles (19-9), who will meet Lakeville North in Friday’s semifinals. Fourth-seeded Blaine fell to 22-6-1.

Mahtomedi vs. East Grand Forks, 11 a.m.
Hermantown vs. St. Cloud Apollo, 30 minutes after end of first game

Edina vs. Duluth East, 6 p.m.
Lakeville North vs. Eden Prairie, 30 minutes after end of first game

*Schools/teams John has visited: 412
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,865
A Big Win, A Pink Helmet And A Vow To Stay In 1A 3/4/2015
There is one big question swirling around the Class 1A boys state hockey tournament: Can the Hermantown Hawks, losers in the last five state championship games, finally take home a first-place trophy?

The top-seeded Hawks opened the 2015 tournament in grand style Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center, scoring three goals in the first period and cruising to an 8-0 victory over unseeded Spring Lake Park, which is at state for the first time. Nate Pionk and Ryan Kero each scored three goals for Hermantown.

But there has been another question about Hermantown: Are the Hawks considering opting up to Class 2A in future seasons? To that question we have an answer.

“No, we’re not going up to double A,” coach Bruce Plante said after the game. “We only had 37 kids come out for the team this year. Last year we had 32 come out. We happen to be one of the best teams in single A and we’re proud of that.”

Now, moving on to a pink bicycle helmet that joined Plante, Pionk and Kero at the postgame press conference. Pionk carried it into the room and placed it on the table in front of him. Obvious question: What’s the deal with the bike helmet?

Nate explained that someone on the team picked it up in St. Cloud (he thinks) and it has become a lid that signifies the MVP of each game. His teammates decided Pionk had earned it Wednesday, but he said, “It got passed to me, and I said, ‘Ryan and I should share this one.’ ”


New Ulm came into the state hockey tournament with an 0-8 record in four previous appearances, but the unseeded Eagles gave second-seeded Mahtomedi all they wanted. Mahtomedi came out on top 6-3 but it was a struggle.

The score was 1-1 after the first period and Mahtomedi’s lead was 4-3 early in the third before the Zephyrs’ Jack Gunderson scored his second goal and Jack Becker completed a hat trick to secure the victory.

Colin Huffman scored for New Ulm only 40 seconds into the third period, making it 4-3. Ethan Kraus, who had scored the Eagles’ first goal, said, “Oh yeah, it was game on. That was when we knew we had a pretty good chance of winning that game. We hung in there until the end.”

Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl said his team played poorly with the puck and has some work to do if they want to win in Friday’s semifinals.

“I thought (New Ulm) battled real hard and to be perfectly honest I thought we really struggled,” he said. “We fought it all night long.

“The guys in the room know we’re a good hockey team, a much better team than we showed today. I think it’s a matter of making a commitment to stay the course and play our game. I think it’s a matter of conviction; we’re not going to leave the tournament with regrets and we’ll leave everything on the ice Friday when we come back.”


The defending state champion Green Wave outshot the Spartans 32-17 and Dixon Bowen led the way with two goals.

The game was scoreless through the first period and Bowen got on the board in the second period. Third-period goals were scored by Cooper Jerome, Nick Derrick and Bowen into an empty net.

“We hit two posts at critical times. A call here, a call there, you have to take momentum or get it back,” said New Prague coach Chris Lonke. “I can’t ask any more of our guys. They were focused and played to win the hockey game. It just wasn’t meant to be today.”


Brandon Bissett scored the game’s only goal in overtime, lifting the Eagles into Friday’s semifinals against Hermantown. Breck had 25 shots on goal to 14 for Apollo.


East Grand Forks' Bowen made an important decision before the season began. He played 10 games with the Fargo Force of the U.S. Hockey League before the high school season began, and he will return to the Force after this weekend.

But nothing was going to keep him from his senior season with the Green Wave.

“I was loyal to my coaches and my teammates and I said I was going to stay,” Bowen said after Wednesday’s game. “I haven’t regretted that decision at all.”

He has a bright future in hockey. He is a Mr. Hockey finalist and he will play collegiately at the University of North Dakota. Some players choose to leave high school early, but many don’t.

“I think some people started to worry about it a little bit,” Bowen said. “I had to make the decision for me. I thought it was a good decision and I wanted to come back and accomplish something here.”


--Quote of the day/ New Ulm’s Jon Kopacek, who got a goal in the second period: “It was pretty cool scoring here. … when you play here you have a little extra step.”

--Wink of the day/ Mahtomedi’s Jack Becker, sitting on the bench after his third goal and seeing himself on the big screen at Xcel Energy Center, winking at the camera.

Thursday’s Quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center
Bemidji (23-3-2) vs. #2 seed Edina (24-1-2), 11 a.m.
Duluth East (14-10-4) vs. #3 seed St. Thomas
Academy (24-4), 30 minutes after end of first game
Hill-Murray (21-7) vs. #1 seed Lakeville North (28-0), 6 p.m.
#5 seed Eden Prairie (18-9) vs. #4 seed Blaine (22-5-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game

*Schools/teams John has visited: 404
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2014-15: 7,825