By Luke Sleeper, John’s Journal Correspondent
After Lakeville North’s 2-1 overtime victory over Roseau in the Class 2A state hockey quarterfinals Thursday, it didn’t take long for the nerves to wear off for the Poehling brothers. Twins Nick and Jack and younger brother Ryan stood together in an Xcel Energy Center corridor, taking verbal jabs at each other and exchanging brotherly shoves.
Minutes after the game ended, Ryan’s older brothers (who are juniors) were eager to describe how they had duped the freshman into approaching random hockey patrons around the arena on Wednesday, telling him they were professional hockey scouts interested in the youngest Poehling’s talents.
“We found some random guys in hockey jackets and pointed them out to (Ryan),” Jack said, putting his arm around his younger brother. “We’d say ‘Hey Ryan, come talk to this scout, he wants to speak to you.’ ”
Such off-ice behavior is commonplace for the Poehlings, but it’s been their performances on the ice that has people taking notice.
The three brothers are forwards on Lakeville’s top line and have combined for 128 points this season. Jack is four points from breaking the single-season school points record (55), while Ryan already owns the Lakeville North record for points by a freshman (33). Nick leads all Panthers with four game-winning goals this season. All three Poehlings have accepted scholarship offers from St. Cloud State.
Jack capitalized on great passes from Ryan and Nick to score North’s first goal Thursday, which tied the game 1-1 (and might have been the first time in state tournament history that three brothers combined on a goal). Freshman forward Henry Enebak broke the tie in overtime with his 11th goal of the season, sending the Panthers to Friday's semifinals against Eden Prairie.
“Growing up together and playing street hockey all the time has made us pretty aware of where each other will be on the ice and what we like to do,” Nick said.
Though they laugh about it now, Ryan and his brothers point to the first game of the season as the turning point for them as teammates and brothers. Nick and Jack were in a scuffle in the corner boards with a few Eastview players when they saw their little brother skating toward them to the rescue.
“Ryan came in and got a couple shots in and skated away,” Nick recalled. “We like to give him a hard time for coming to help us and then skating out of there right away.”
Ryan said, “Then everything kind of took off. So much has happened since then, it’s unbelievable.”
EDEN PRAIRIE 4, CENTENNIAL 3
Jack Sullivan scored twice and Marc Sullivan added a goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead midway through the first period, but the Cougars fought back. Centennial scored twice in the second period to get within 4-3 but Eden Prairie hung on to advance to the semifinals against Lakeville North.
EDINA 6, STILLWATER 1
The defending state champion Hornets came out flying, scoring four times in the first period and running away with the victory. Tyler Nanne had four goals for Edina, which outshot the Cougars 27-13 overall and 11-3 in each of the first and third periods.
EAGAN 3, DULUTH EAST 0
Max Eisenheimer scored two goals for the Wildcats, who will meet Edina in Friday’s semifinals.
FATHER AND SON MAKE STATE TOURNEY MEMORIES
The Fritz family of St. Cloud is enjoying a very special week during the state hockey tournament. St. Cloud Cathedral junior goaltender Zach Fritz made 26 saves Thursday night when the Crusaders defeated Totino-Grace 4-3 in overtime in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Cathedral will meet East Grand Forks in Friday’s semifinals.
Zach’s father, Troy Fritz, knows the feeling. Exactly 30 years ago, Troy was the starting goaltender for St. Cloud Apollo when the Eagles played in the state tournament at the St. Paul Civic Center. The 1984 team didn’t win a game at state (losing to Hibbing and Roseau), so Zach has something on his dad.
“My dad is super proud, super excited,” Zach said after the first-round victory. “He knows what it feels like. I wasn’t quite sure. I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s pretty awesome right now.”
Back in 1984 the tournament was held at the St. Paul Civic Center, where the Xcel Energy Center now sits. Troy remembers his team coming in as a Cinderella story, and he also remembers the philoshophy of the team.
“For us the motto all year long was ‘Big team, little me,’ ” Troy said. “It had nothing to do with the individuals. We got there as a team and it was a pretty exciting journey.”
Troy has been giving his son advice. “As Zach was going down this line. I kept telling him, ‘Remember, it’s just another game.’ I think he took it to heart. He’s a pretty even-keel personality. It’s kind of neat to share some similar experiences.”
Twitter lights up during major events like the boys state hockey tournament, with lots of people pitching in with thoughts, comments and smart remarks. Here’s a Tweet that came from a famous former Texas high school football star named Adrian Peterson: “Heard the MN state hockey tourney is the biggest high school tourney of any sport in the US, wow! Good luck to all participants!”
And here’s a smattering of Twitter comments regarding veteran NHL broadcaster Gary Thorne, who is calling the Class 2A tournament along with 50-year veteran analyst Lou Nanne on KSTC Channel 45 …
--“Gary Thorne has already earned his paycheck, sign him long-term.”
--“Absolutely loving Gary Thorne and Lou Nanne on the call. Hockey heaven.”
--“Gary Thorn and Lou Nanne doing play by play is pretty incredible.”
--“Gary Thorne and Lou Nanne calling the games is pretty freaking cool.”
--“Every time Gary Thorne yells "GOAL!!!", I immediately look up to see if it was Messier or Gretzky or Lemieux.”
--“I hope 45 realizes that they have to bring back Gary Thorne every year now.”
CLASS 1A CONSOLATION BRACKET
--Luverne 5, Chisago Lakes 2: Gunnar Olson and Jaxon Nelson each scored twice for the Cardinals.
--Totino-Grace 4, Orono 1: Ben Henderson had a hat trick for the Eagles, who will meet Luverne in Saturday’s fifth-place game at Mariucci Arena.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 353
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,612
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
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