John's Journal
She’s Out Of The Lineup But Still A Big Part Of The Team2/1/2017
Lindsay Czech was preparing for hockey practice with her Wayzata High School teammates the other day, but she needed a little help in getting her equipment on. Oh, she had no trouble with things like skates and pads, but assistance was required as she attempted to put on the finishing touches: a grass skirt and, uh, a coconut bra.

The occasion was the first annual Trojan Games for the team, a workout devoted to fun drills and challenges, with the players in costume. There were princesses and cows and NBA jerseys and, yes, Hawaiian outfits.

The most important thing, however, was that Lindsay was on the ice with her teammates. Light skating at practice is as far as she will get this season; a knee injury suffered shortly before practice began in October put a stake through her senior year. She was cleared to skate again last week, but what a rotten break for one of the top players in the state.

“It’s definitely been really difficult,” she said. “It’s been a test of mental toughness and just keeping the faith a little bit.”

A sense of humor never hurts, either, and Lindsay is well-equipped in that area. As she was describing what she’s been through she added with a giggle (and a slight cough), “Oh, I had influenza A last week, too. I have really good luck.”

She can laugh about it now, but things weren’t quite so comical at the time of her injury. She was playing powder puff football at Wayzata, carrying the ball and running. Attempting to change directions, she planted her left leg and the knee went kaboom. Torn ACL. “It hurt right away,” she said.

It took a few days for MRI results to confirm the worst: No senior hockey season for Lindsay Czech. Phone calls followed, the first one to Wayzata coach Jess Christopherson. Then one to Minnesota Duluth coach Maura Crowell. Czech had already accepted a scholarship to UMD, and Crowell immediately put to rest any fears that the star defensive player’s scholarship might evaporate.

“In terms of how it affects our program and things like that, I didn’t worry about that at all,” Crowell said. “I was concerned about her. As a captain and a senior leader on her team, it was a pretty devastating blow to her. Timing-wise, it was early in her senior year. By the time she gets here, she’ll be healthy.”

Lindsay is a well-decorated hockey player. She was invited to the Under-18 Women’s National Festival as one of the top players in the nation, is a two-time Under-18 Select Camp attendee and was part of the Under-18 National Development Camp. She is a four-year letterwinner at Wayzata and earned all-Lake Conference honors as a sophomore and junior. She committed to UMD before her junior season.

Crowell is in her second season as the head coach at UMD after serving as associate head coach at Harvard. She coached Czech at a Under-16 national camp and got to know her.

“She stands out as such a fun, goofy kid to have in the locker room. Then when I came here she was in the recruiting pipeline. She was my first scholarship recruit here and that means something to me. She signed on with us well before we were ranked No. 2 in the country, and we’ll always remember that. We expect her to be an impact player here.”

Wayzata lost 12 seniors from last year’s team and Christopherson is in her first year as their head coach. Czech and fellow seniors Natalie Heising (who has signed with Penn State) and Jackie Russo are captains on a roster filled with young players. Heising recently returned from a stint with Team USA at the International Ice Hockey Federation Under-18 Women’s World Championships.

Czech was named a captain after her injury, which confirmed how important she is to her teammates and coaches.

“Not only does she come to practice every single day, she registered and paid for hockey, even though she will not play one second of hockey this year,” Christopherson said. “She’s there every single day. If she’s going to be late she will call or email like any other kid. She sits on the bench and she’s coaching kids for us. I think it’s been a little different angle for her to see things and learn more about the game. It’s been a real positive thing. She’s kind of rallied around this.”

In fact, having the opportunity to see the game from a coaching angle has made Lindsay consider becoming a coach.

“I think it’s been kind of a blessing,” she said. “I’ve gotten to know an amazing coaching staff at Wayzata, and I want to come back and coach someday with Jess and for Wayzata. It’s a different environment, not being a player and hanging out more with the coaches.

“My team has been so unbelievably supportive, too. When I went out on the ice they were so excited. That’s so awesome.”

Even though she’s back on skates, Lindsay and everyone else knows she will not be in uniform again until she is a college player.

“There’s no chance she’ll get in a game,” Christopherson said. “This is a kid who will be an impact player at the next level. It would be irresponsible to put her on the ice during the season.”

Except, of course, for some light skating at practice, grass skirt included.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 344
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 7,330
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
It’s More Than A Game, It’s The Breakdown 1/29/2017
What started in the 2003-04 season as little more than a randomly scheduled boys basketball game in Becker between two teams that had little in common – great big Hopkins and teeny tiny Ulen-Hitterdal – has become a dominant force in the Minnesota game. Say “Breakdown” to anyone connected to basketball and they will more than likely nod their head.

Officially, the entity is now known as Breakdown Sports USA. The people behind it put together all-day basketball events such as Saturday’s 12th annual Border Battle at Apple Valley High School, which pitted seven teams from Minnesota against seven teams from Wisconsin. Other boys and girls basketball events are held each year and the Breakdown works in promoting other sports as well as producing full-color yearbooks for several sports.

It’s an amazing story, built on a desire by coaches and teachers to support their games. Breakdown founder Justin Hegna coached the Becker girls basketball team to a Class 3A state championship in 2007. His side job was creating publications geared toward high school sports, and that work resulted in relationships with coaches all over the state.

Before the 2003-04 basketball season, he learned that the boys teams from Hopkins and Ulen-Hitterdal had empty slots on their schedules. Since he was coaching in Becker, and as he put it, “I had keys to the building,” the two teams agreed to play there, which made geographic sense. Hegna then added a girls game on the same day between Annandale and Pelican Rapids.

That little afternoon of basketball grew and grew. For years now the Breakdown has hosted an early-season Tip-Off Classic for girls teams and another for boys. This year both were held at Hopkins High School, with 16 games on two courts each day.

Other Breakdown events this basketball season include the Granite City Classic in St. Cloud, the MLK Classic in Duluth, the Winter Lakes Classic in Alexandria and the Community Clash at Hopkins. They also host basketball events in the summer and fall.

The Breakdown’s biggest claim to basketball fame are the matchups they put together. Saturday’s Border Battle, for instance, included the five-time defending state champion among Minnesota’s Class 3A boys teams (DeLaSalle), the two-time defending state champion of Wisconsin’s largest class (Stevens Point), and eight players who have committed to Division I colleges. The capacity crowd inside the Apple Valley gym was testament to the event’s drawing power. The Border Battle is held in Minnesota during odd-numbered years and in Wisconsin during even-numbered years.

“It surely has made some of the teams that are really good get some really good games,” Tartan boys basketball coach Mark Klingsporn said of the Breakdown events. “It’s provided opportunities to play different teams in different settings, really good competition. Sometimes it’s hard for the top-tier teams to line up those great games.”

When Hegna envisioned the concept of a Border Battle, he called Klingsporn. They met in Maple Grove and talked for several hours.

“He had some really good ideas and I had some things I thought might work and that the high school coaches might like,” Klingsporn said.

Minnetonka High School hosted Tip-Off Classics for several years; a local fire marshall made an appearance in 2015 to assess an overflow crowd. That site was the first to use two courts at the same time.

“People thought I was crazy,” Hegna said. “I met with (then-Minnetonka activities director John Hedstrom) because they had two gyms. John should get as much credit as anybody because Minnetonka was one of the few schools with two gyms that could hold high school games. You didn’t see that in high school, two games at once, live real games.

“I think the popularity of it comes from our culture and society. People like options. They like to get more bang for their buck. We market to college coaches, too, and they’re restricted to how many times they can watch a kid. Now they can fly in and see 32 teams in one day.”

There have been plenty of memorable moments, not all of them on the basketball court. For instance, back when Hegna was still coaching as well as running events, he was called for a technical foul during a game. Afterwards, one of his duties was handing the officials their paychecks.

“Probably never before has a coach gotten a technical foul and then had to pay the official who gave him the technical foul,” he said. “I had to deliver the envelope to pay the official who gave me the technical, and I deserved it.”

Saturday’s Border Battle was well-run, with all seven games starting on time and fans moving easily in and out of the gym.

“I’m delighted and I’m surprised by the growth of it,” Hegna said. “We’re very passionate and we’re basketball junkies.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 342
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2016-17: 7,230
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Class 3A Wrestling Rankings1/27/2017
From The Guillotine.

1. Shakopee (2)
2. Apple Valley (2)
3. Anoka (7)
4. St. Francis (7)
5. St. Michael-Albertville (5)
6. Owatonna (1)
7. Prior Lake (2)
8. Hastings (3)
9. Willmar (8)
10. Eagan (3)
11. Eastview (2)
12. Cambridge-Isanti (7)
Lean and Mean
Coon Rapids (7), Woodbury (3), Centennial (4), Stillwater Area (4), Little Falls (8), St. Cloud Tech (8), Faribault (1), Brainerd/Pillager (8)
Class 2A Wrestling Rankings1/27/2017
From The Guillotine.

1. Kasson-Mantorville (1)
2. Scott West (2)
3. Simley (4)
4. Foley (6)
5. Albert Lea Area (1)
6. Perham (8)
7. Wabasso/Red Rock Central (3)
8. Hutchinson (2)
9. Waconia (2)
10. Totino-Grace (5)
11. Thief River Falls (8)
12. Litchfield (6)
Lean and Mean
Annandale/Maple Lake (6), Bemidji (8), Grand Rapids (7), Fairmont/Martin County West (3), Delano (6), Hibbing (7), New Prague (2), Mora (7), Plainview-Elgin-Millville (1), Watertown-Mayer/Mayer Lutheran (2), Worthington (3)
Class 1A Wrestling Rankings1/27/2017
From The Guillotine.

1. Pierz (7)
2. Frazee (8)
3. Zumbrota-Mazeppa (1)
4. West Central Area/Ashby/Brandon-Evansville (6)
5. Kenyon-Wanamingo (2)
6. Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg (5)
7. Minneota (3)
8. Pipestone Area (3)
9. Park Rapids Area (8)
10. Blue Earth Area (2)
11. Sibley East (4)
12. Staples-Motley (6)
Lean and Mean
Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena (7), Goodhue (1), Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa (5), Westfield (2), Maple River (2), Caledonia (1), Royalton/Upsala (5), LPGE-Browerville (5), Paynesville Area (5)