John's Journal
From Behind The Line, She Kept Firing 3/14/2017
When the Timberwolves defeated the Washington Wizards on Monday night at Target Center, the Wolves’ Brandon Rush was the top long-range shooter, making four three-point shots.

That was topped Tuesday afternoon by a high school senior from Park Center who stands all of 5-foot-7. Ann Simonet, who averaged 10 points per game this season, scored 19 in an overtime loss to Eastview in the Class 4A state quarterfinals. She made five of nine three-pointers, most of them from behind the NBA three-point line. She hit four of six three-point shots in the first half alone.

Her biggest shot of the game was an off-balance three-point try that went in with 56 seconds left in regulation, tied the score 58-58 and sent the game to overtime.

Ann was asked if she knew she was firing from behind the NBA three-point line instead of the high school line.

“It’s the lines on the court,” she said of the NBA stripe. “I wasn’t really planning on those threes. I just kind of caught the ball and shot it and it went in. So I just kept shooting them.”

Eastview clamped down on Simonet in overtime. She missed a three-pointer to open the extra period and her only scoring after that was two free throws.

Ann is a four-year starter who also played soccer at Park Center. She will play college basketball at Minnesota Duluth.

An offensive clinic

The result of the 4A quarterfinal between Hopkins and Minnetonka may have been predictable, but that doesn’t mean the Skippers didn’t give everything they had. Hopkins, the top-ranked team in 4A, stretched its perfect record to 30-0 with a 76-57 win over Minnetonka. During the Lake Conference season, Hopkins defeated the Skippers 77-49 and 80-54.

Hopkins shot 60.7 percent in the first half and led 44-25 at halftime. The second-half score was 32-32.

“They are a handful,” said Minnetonka coach Leah Dasovich. “When you shoot that well … boy were they on fire. I don’t even know that we necessarily did anything that badly defensively, they were just putting on an offensive clinic.”

Megan Walker, who led the Skippers with 16 points, said “I thought it was a pretty good game by us. They just hit everything.”

The only team to take unbeaten Hopkins to overtime this year was Eastview; the Lightning lost to Hopkins 65-60 on Dec. 29. Eastview’s overtime victory over Park Center on Tuesday may give the Lightning a dose of confidence for Thursday’s 6 p.m. semifinal vs. Hopkins at Williams Arena.

Postgame treat

It can be nice to have connections. That’s how the Minnetonka basketball team took a special behind-the-scenes tour after they lost to Hopkins.

Skippers sophomore Blake Greer is the daughter of Timberwolves assistant coach Andy Greer. Dad helped make it possible for his daughter’s team to walk through the Timberwolves locker room and other backstage areas (pictured here) at Target Center. The girls seemed especially mesmerized by the height of the shower heads and wall-mounted hair dryers.

Tournament tidbits

--If Hopkins wins the 4A state title the Royals will finish the season with a record of 32-0. Only three girls basketball teams have been 32-0: St. Paul Central (4A 2007), Lakeville North (4A 2010) and Ada-Borup (1A 2015).

--Tuesday’s games were the only ones in the tournament played at Target Center. Mariccui Arena will be the site of six quarterfinal games Wednesday and four more on Thursday. Semifinals and championship games in all four classes will be played at Williams Arena.

Tuesday’s scores

Class 4A quarterfinals

Hopkins 76, Minnetonka 57
Eastview 75, Park Center 65 (overtime)
Elk River 52, White Bear Lake 44
Lakeville North 49, Andover 32

Class 3A quarterfinals

Orono 59, Willmar 45
Alexandria 46, Grand Rapids 44

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 527
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 9,007
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Puck Luck In A Wild State Championship Game3/11/2017
Welcome to the Department of Picking Up Where We Left Off. Because if you thought Friday’s state semifinals in boys hockey were wild and woolly … hoo boy let’s talk about The Big Show in downtown St. Paul on Saturday afternoon, where Hermantown repeated as Class 1A champions in the craziest of ways.

The final score was Hermantown 4, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake 3 in two overtimes. But let’s rewind the tape a bit and remind ourselves where we came from a day earlier.

When the MAML Moose beat Northfield 3-2 in the semifinals, winning-goal-scorer Nick Zwack called his shot “A hope and a prayer, I guess.” And after Hermantown defeated St. Cloud Cathedral 6-5 in overtime, Ryan Sandelin said of his winning goal: “I shot it and it happened to go in.”

OK. Now we have a theme. And here is the most fitting statement about top-seeded Hermantown’s victory Saturday: “The puck’s gotta go, like his shot. You throw it up there … it finds a hole. Puck luck really helps sometimes.”

That was head Hawk Bruce Plante after his 767th career game as a head coach. He was sitting at a table in front of a roomful of reporters; among the players at his sides was Dylan Samberg. As Plante said “like his shot” he motioned to Samberg, because it was Dylan’s shot in the second overtime that won the game.

“I think that’s part of it,” Plante said when asked about the role of luck in hockey.

Samberg’s shot went in at the right post, and he was asked if that’s where he intended for it to go. Give the kid credit for being honest, because he said, “Absolutely not. … I looked up and there were a lot of bodies in front of me and not a lot of time left. I just kind of threw it on net and I didn’t see anything else. I heard the thud at the back of the net and everyone started celebrating.”

Now here’s the twist on that celebration: it was the Hawks’ second victory celebration of the game. The first came earlier with this sequence: Goal is scored … Hawks throw off their gloves and sticks and helmets and go nuts … the arena announcer says “The goal is under review” … and oh no what’s going on?

The video was watched by the replay officials in the press box, goaltender interference was the ruling and the Hawks jammed their hands back in their gloves, picked their sticks up off the ice, put their buckets back on their heads and got back to work.

If you’re the unseeded Moose, this is where you think, “Hey, they’ve got to somehow gear back up. Let’s score right now and take the cheese.”

“That was my hope,” said MAML coach Eric Nelson. “It’s hard to have your heart explode and then ripped out of your chest a little bit.”

The Hawks, however, got the job done in historic fashion.

“That’s never happened,” Plante said of his team scoring two “game-winning” goals. “We’ve never had that, where we’re all excited and happy and then they tell us it’s under review so we’re all a little stunned. We just had to get back at it.”

Grand Rapids Takes Class 2A Title

The Thunderhawks defeated Moorhead 6-3 behind a three-goal effort by Gavin Hain. The state title is the fourth for Grand Rapids, which also won in 1975, 1976 and 1980.

Grand Rapids coach Trent Klatt became the first Mr. Hockey winner to coach a state championship team. He was Mr. Hockey in 1989 at Osseo High School.

Hain’s third goal gave Grand Rapids a 4-0 lead with 5:02 remaining in the second period. The Spuds responded by scoring twice in less than a minute for a 4-2 score but the Thunderhawks stayed in front the rest of the way. The final goal was into an empty net by Blake McLaughlin, his second of the game.

Herb Brooks Award winners

Class 1A/
Charlie Voller, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake.

Class 2A/ Micah Miller, Grand Rapids.

All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A/
Andrew Kruse, Ben Meyers, Delano; Casey Kallock, East Grand Forks; Jake Levinski, Jake Van Halbeck, St. Cloud Cathedral; Dylan Samberg, Jesse Jacques, Ryan Sandelin, Hermantown; Ben Ward, Charlie Voller, Nick Zwack, Tyler Klatt, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake.

Class 2A/ Casey Mittelstadt, Nolan Sullivan, Eden Prairie; Isaiah DiLaura, Joshua Ess, Lakeville South; Robbie Stucker, St. Thomas Academy; Carson Kosobud, Carter Randklev, Ethan Frisch, Moorhead; Blake McLaughlin, Gavin Hain, Micah Miller, Zach Stejskal, Grand Rapids.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 515
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,957
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Hopes, Prayers And It Happened To Go In 3/10/2017
Hockey is a game of skates and sticks and pucks and goals, but more than that hockey is a game that will always surprise you. The latest installment of this truth took place during Friday’s Class 1A state semifinals at Xcel Energy Center.

Both contests went down to the wire and beyond. In the first game, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake rallied from a 2-0 deficit and defeated Northfield 3-2 on a goal that was scored with three seconds left in regulation. In the second semifinal, Hermantown came back from a 5-2 deficit and beat St. Cloud Cathedral 6-5 in overtime.

The winning goals were, uh, shall we say, wacky. Truthfully, we don’t even have to say that because the kids who scored them said it for us.

Nick Zwack of the MAML Moose knocked in the game-winner against Northfield. Asked to describe the shot afterwards, he grinned and said, “A hope and a prayer, I guess.”

Hermantown’s Ryan Sandelin (shown here in the pink bike helmet that the Hawks award to the player of the game) had himself a fairly nice day, scoring four goals against Cathedral. He knocked in the winner in overtime, and went into great detail in recounting it to the media: “I shot it and it happened to go in.”

A hope and a prayer. A shot that happened to go in. C’mon man, what’s better than that?

Advice from the coach

Sandelin scored in each of the first three periods before his game-buster in overtime. His third goal came 55 seconds into the third period to make the score Cathedral 5, Hawks 4. Elliott Peterson made it 5-5 at 5:42 of the third.

After Sandelin’s third goal, Hermantown coach Bruce Plante offered him some instructions on the bench.

“He’s a guy with energy,” Plante said. “I just hugged him and whispered in his ear, ‘You’ve got to do it tonight because some of the guys are playing with flat tires. It’s gotta be you, it’s gotta be you.’ ”

And it was.

Number of the day

66: That’s how many shots on goal Hermantown had Friday (credit Cathedral goaltender Jake Levinski for stopping 60 of them). The state tournament record for shots on goal in an overtime game is 69 by Duluth East vs. Apple Valley in 1996.

Gutsiest kid in the tournament

Northfield senior Ryan Bielenberg had a phenomenal game Friday, making 37 saves in the Class 1A state semifinals. He felt terrible, however, about giving up the game-winning goal to MAML in the final seconds. But give the young man credit for agreeing to meet the media afterwards. He answered questions, he spoke clearly, and when asked if the puck was deflected or took a strange flight, he made no excuses.

In the midst of that disappointment, Ryan said this about his experience in the tournament: “It was amazing. It was awesome. There’s nothing I would trade it for.”

“Ryan played great all game and played great all year,” said Raiders coach Mike Luckraft.

Update on the kitty cat shirt

As noted here earlier, Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake coach Eric Nelson’s good-luck charm is a kitty cat shirt that he wears under his jacket during games. After the Moose’s dramatic win Friday, he was asked if he’s still wearing it.

He laughed and said, “You had to bring it up, didn’t you? I’ve got people walking up to me on the street, trying to pull my shirt out.”

Social media around the world (continued)

This Twitter message came from someone in Spain: “I'm guessing my son and I just might be the only two people of the 6.5 million people in Madrid watching Hermantown-SCC in OT right now.”

Sportsmanship alert

After Wayzata and Minneapolis South met in a Class 4A Section 6 boys basketball tournament game Wednesday night, this email was sent to administrators at Wayzata:

Just a note to let you know about the game last night… It was a highly contested game with a lot of fouls that were called by the officials….. you and I know that each call an official makes, half of the crowd agrees with them and the other half disagrees with them…. anyway, your coach not only coached a GREAT game, he also took it upon himself to quiet some of the Wayzata fans who were very vocal and very demonstrative in disagreeing with the officials. He turned to the group of Wayzata fans behind their bench and motioned to calm down both with their physical gestures and their vocal disagreements.

It is very refreshing to see coaches react this way.

Please commend him not only for his coaching abilities but how he handled the situation above. Please share this email with him.

Dennis Stockmo
Roosevelt High School
Athletic Director

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 515
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,907
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Good Advice From A State Tournament Veteran 3/9/2017
Lakeville South senior forward Cory Checco had a good day Thursday. He scored a goal and had one assist in the unseeded Cougars’ 5-2 victory over second-seeded St. Thomas Academy in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center.

Look at that kid’s name: Checco. Ring any bells?

How about this name: Nick Checco. Nick and Cory are cousins, and Nick is one of the marquee names in MSHSL hockey history. Nick starred at Bloomington Jefferson and was named Mr. Hockey after his senior season in 1993. The Jaguars were 28-0 that season and were big-school state champs, as they were in 1992 and 1994.

And yes, as you might guess, Nick had some advice for his young cousin before this year’s state tournament.

“Nick and I chatted and he said, ‘This is one of the things you’ll never forget,’ ” Cory said. “He said this was one of his favorite memories, winning a state championship with all his friends on the team.”

Ask any player who ever took part in the state hockey tournament and they will say the same thing, whether they never played hockey again or went on to win the Stanley Cup.

One recent example is Matt Cullen of the Pittsburgh Penguins. In a story posted this week by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Cullen – a 40-year-old Moorhead native who has won two Stanley Cups and played in more 1,300 NHL regular-season games – told reporter Dave Molinari about his memories of playing in the state tournament three times at the St. Paul Civic Center.

“Obviously, the Cups are at the top,” Cullen told Molinari. “But (playing in the state tournament) is not far behind that. It really isn’t.

“I get so excited to talk about it. I can’t really put into words. In all my travels, where I’ve lived, I’ve never seen anything that compares to it.”

Growing up in Moorhead, Cullen remembers being a little kid and watching the high school players.

“Those guys are your heroes,” said Cullen, a 1995 Moorhead graduate. “When you’re in youth hockey, you’re looking up to those guys.

“It’s the only thing I ever dreamed of,” he said of the state tournament. “I never really dreamed of playing college or playing professionally. I always wanted to play in the state high school tournament.”

Social media around the world

The state hockey tournament is well-known around the country and beyond, as is once again being displayed this week. People all over are watching the games online and many of them are using Twitter to show their appreciation. Here are a few examples from Thursday:

--A fellow watched the games on his laptop as he sat on his roof in San Francisco with the Golden Gate bridge in the background. He wrote: “It's not Xcel but the view is decent.”

--The Minnesota Twins had the hockey games on TVs for fans to enjoy at their spring training complex in Fort Myers, Fla.

--The St. Louis Blues Tweeted this message to Hill-Murray senior Kyler Yeo, son of Blues coach (and former Wild coach) Mike Yeo: “We're cheering for you all the way out here in St. Louis. Good luck, Kyler!”

--A soldier far from home posted a photo of the tournament on his laptop and wrote, “Tuned in to the state tournament from the Middle East. Makes being away from home a little easier today!”

Best moment of the day

Lakeville South coach A.J. Bucchino wiped away a tear as the Cougars wrapped up their victory over Hill-Murray.

“It means a lot,” he said afterwards. “I’m an emotional guy.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 515
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,857
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Boys State Hockey: A Moose And A Bunch Of Cats 3/8/2017
So a moose walked into a hockey arena wearing a kitty cat shirt under his jacket … or something like that.

Let’s attempt to sum up the postgame scene after the first contest of the 2017 boys state hockey tournament. The result was clearly an upset, with the unseeded Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake (MAML for short) Moose defeating the second-seeded Delano Tigers 3-2 Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Afterwards, MAML coach Eric Nelson, along with senior two-goal scorer Nick Zwack and 33-save junior goaltender Tyler Klatt, met with the media.

As the questions were winding down, Nelson smiled and partially unzipped his jacket – which said “Moose Hockey” on the front – to display a shirt that can only be described with one word. CATS. Oh my word. CATS.

There was a white cat and an orange tabby cat and a Maine coon cat and several other cats trying to stick their heads out from under Nelson’s Moose jacket.

This was an inside joke that the Moose have enjoyed for a while now. The questioning didn’t exactly reach congressional inquiry depths but it’s safe to say, in the words of Zwack, “It’s little difficult to explain.”

Nelson said, “It’s been fun. It’s been a good year. Call me ridiculous.”

To which Zwack replied, “It suits him pretty well. It works.”

The kitty cat shirt was just one reason for MAML smiles. Coming into this tournament as one of three unseeded teams, and facing the No. 2 seed in the quarterfinals, can be a daunting obstacle. The Moose were 21-6-1 on the season and Delano was 24-3-1.

But there was one big equalizer: Neither team had the advantage of playing at state before. This was a new proposition for both squads, and moving from high school rinks to the Big NHL House can cause a Moose-in-the-headlights look. Or in Delano’s case, Tiger-in-the-headlights.

“There was lot of excitement leading up to this. I think our guys were pretty focused coming into this,” said Delano coach Gerrit van Bergen. “That said, it seemed like we were fighting the puck a little bit.

“I think the stage and the situation did affect our play a little bit. Oftentimes we were a little hesitant, a little slow to move the puck.”

What’s it like for high school kids to play at Xcel Energy Center? Well, the word “breathtaking” was mentioned a couple times in the postgame session.

“It’s pretty breathtaking,” Klatt said. “As soon as we got here we went to the bench (to take in the view). We wanted to win and we wanted to keep playing here.”

Zwack said, “I can speak for the whole team in saying this was breathtaking.”

Breathtaking. Just like that kitty cat shirt.

Quote of the day

Zwack: “You dream about this as a kid; playing, and scoring, in the state tournament.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 507
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 8,807
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn