John's Journal
Coach Is Stepping Down, But Not Quite Yet 3/9/2016
Everyone in Red Wing knew how big Wednesday’s game at Williams Arena was. The Wingers boys basketball team has made it to the state tournament for the first time since 2004 and the first time under head coach Doug Toivonen.

Toivonen will step down from that position when this season ends. The journey will live on for two more games, thanks to Red Wing’s 73-51 victory over Simley on Wednesday. The Wingers will meet Fergus Falls in Thursday’s Class 3A semifinals at Target Center, and then will play in the state championship game or the third-place game.

Doug’s youngest child, Travis, is a senior on the team. Travis was one of four Wingers who scored in double figures Wednesday and he also had a game-high 13 rebounds.

I attended a game in Red Wing in early February and was not aware then that Toivonen (pictured) was resigning. After Wednesday’s game I asked him when he had made that announcement. Turns out he never really made an official announcement. The news just sort of came out.

“I really didn’t tell any of our guys,” he said. “I told my juniors probably about three or four weeks ago. Basically what I said was, ‘You guys all know I’m stepping down, right?’ They knew. It wasn’t a secret. I had talked to other coaches and they said, ‘Hey, is this your last year?’ I said yes. I don’t need to make a big announcement. I’m a high school basketball coach.”

He also said he won’t allow his impending resignation to get in the way of what has become a season to remember.

“This is about them,” he said, looking towards his players. “This is their senior year. I’m going to live in Red Wing for many, many years to come. This is their senior year and this is about them getting to enjoy the state tournament experience.

“One thing we talked about is if we come up here and lose the first game, we’re done. Let’s win that first game. And we did. Now you never know what’s going to happen. We’re just excited to move on and that was the biggest thing. We’ve guaranteed ourselves two more games.”

--In a surprise announcement after Fergus Falls defeated Waseca 70-63, Waseca coach Todd Dufault told his players that he was stepping down. Dufault, a Waseca graduate, brought the Bluejays to state for the first time since 2002. In five years he had a record of 91-47.

THE DYNASTY VS. THE NEWCOMER

One of Thursday’s Class 3A semifinal games will be an interesting matchup between what some might call David and Goliath. David is the team from Monticello, which came to state – for the first time in 10 years -- with a 19-10 record and No. 5 seed. Their opponent is top-seeded DeLaSalle (22-4), which is trying to become the first boys team in state history to win five consecutive championships.

DeLaSalle beat Fridley 65-52 Wednesday and Monticello defeated Chisago Lakes 60-55.

“Both teams are showing up tomorrow at the Target Center at noon for a showdown,” Monticello coach Jason Schmidt said. “Both teams want to win. I’ve said it a few times, we only have to beat them once. That’s the deal. Why not us? We’re excited for the opportunity. That’s why you’re here, the chance to have that storybook season.”

Islanders coach Dave Thorson, who needs to win two more games to reach the 500-victory mark, said his team is not under any pressure to extend their streak.

“There’s no question that this time we’ve talked about it more than we have in the past,” Thorson said. “It’s something that has never been done before in the state. There’s no way you can say we’re not thinking about it. We are. I wouldn’t call it pressure, I’d call it opportunity.

“We love the legacy and tradition of DeLaSalle. And for this team, and these seniors in particular, to write their own chapter in what we think is one of the best programs in state history would be really special.”

--Schmidt was a player on the first Monticello team to play in the state tournament in 1995. That gives him two perspectives on playing at state.

“The biggest difference is I’m actually on the court now,” he said with a laugh. “I was on the bench before. We had some pretty good players back then

“From a similarity standpoint, we’ve seen the community get behind us. It’s huge for the school. These kinds of things do so much for a community. They do things for other athletic programs, it’s a ripple effect. That’s what’s so cool for me, being a kid who grew up in Monticello, now getting to coach. Man, it’s really special. I didn’t realize how special it would be, but it’s really special.”

--Cooperation At State: While Hopkins was defeating North St. Paul 74-42 in the Class 4A tournament at Target Center, the Class 1A team from St. Clair was practicing in the Hopkins gym. The Cyclones will meet Minneapolis North in the quarterfinals Thursday at Williams Arena.

--History at State: For the first time, a female official was assigned to work a game in the boys state basketball tournament. M.J. Wagenson, a veteran official from Pine Island, was one of the three officials for the Fergus Falls-Waseca game.

WEDNESDAY’S STATE QUARTERFINALS

CLASS 4A
--Osseo 85, Eden Prairie 73
--Lakeville North 60, Maple Grove 49
--Hopkins 74, North St. Paul 42
--Apple Valley 77, Blaine 57

CLASS 3A
--DeLaSalle 65, Fridley 52
--Monticello 60, Chisago Lakes 55
--Red Wing 73, Simley 51
--Fergus Falls 70, Waseca 63

CLASS 2A
--St. Croix Lutheran 86, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton 51
--Jackson County Central 79, Caledonia 74
--Annandale 52, Esko 40
--Braham 67, Maple River 58

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 556
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,752
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Counting Down To The End Of A Long Streak 3/5/2016
The gold medals, the championship trophy, the triumphant team photo with index fingers raised? They were all yet to come for the Hermantown Hawks on Saturday at Xcel Energy Center.

The opening phase of the Hawks’ long-awaited championship celebration took place directly behind the Hermantown bench. The Hawks held a 5-0 lead over Breck and a small band of elementary-age boys swung into concerted action as the final 30 seconds counted down.

“30! 29! 28!” The kids, dressed in Hermantown blue and gold, waving signs, kept counting. “27! 26! 25!”

There was a stoppage at 13 seconds, giving the countdown team time to catch their breath. During those final 13 ticks, everyone on the Hermantown bench did what you would expect. They went nuts. After losing in six consecutive state championship games, they had every right to.

The horn blew, the players on the bench flew over the boards and everyone piled on goaltender Luke Olson, who pitched a shutout against a talented Breck team that won its two previous state tournament games by a combined score of 12-0.

And then there was Bruce Plante. He’s the face of Hermantown hockey, and for six years running his face had been a little droopy when the tournament ended.

His assistant coaches surrounded him on the bench in a long embrace that said everything.

Finally. We won it.

Plante walked onto the ice and his players hugged him. During the awards ceremony, a gold medal was hung around his neck and he stuck out his tongue and grinned as the Hawks fan cheered for him. As the team gathered for a photo, Bruce used a cell phone to snap a few shots before joining the group.

“It’s wonderful,” he said afterwards. “Probably one of the greatest moments of my hockey life, to tell you the truth.”

People sometimes forget that Plante led Hermantown to the 1A state title in 2007. But everybody seems to remember that the Hawks lost championship games in 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Yes, the Hawks had five goals against the brick Breck wall (three in the first period). But not allowing the Mustangs to score was maybe the biggest surprise of the day.

Olson seemed almost as surprised as anybody else.

“Our guys were blocking every shot possible,” he said. “I’ve never seen anything like that before.”

Defenseman Wyatt Aamodt, who assisted on goals by Cole Koepke and James Lindberg, said of Olson, “It was huge for us knowing we could count on him back there.”

Plante said he sensed something was different this time, well before game time. He knew the losing streak motivated them.

“They weren’t even nervous. They were going to get it. They were so determined. I could see it in their faces, I could see it in their eyes, I could see it in the locker room. … There was no fear at all. I just love how they presented themselves in this game.”

The Hawks went right to work, with goals by Koepke, Jesse Jacques and Lindberg making it a 3-0 game after one period. During Hermantown's six-year title-game streak, they had led 3-0 in the first period only once; they led St. Thomas Academy 3-0 at that point in 2011 and lost 5-4 in overtime.

History went out the window when Logan Judnick scored for a 4-0 lead at 7:03 of the third period. That was the first time in seven straight state title games that Hermantown held a 4-0 lead. The rewriting of the history book was complete when Ryan Sandelin scored at 14:50.

Breck had 23 shots on goal to 18 for the Hawks. The Mustangs went zero-for-three on the power play while Hermantown only had one power play.

“We thought there would be some chinks in the (Hermantown) armor. And I think every team has that,” said Breck coach Les Larson. “We just couldn’t capitalize. That doesn’t happen to us very often. … They were just the better team today.”

Plante said he had been receiving texts and emails from lots of former players, and not just those who were part of the last six teams.

“Guys who played 20, 25 years ago have been texting me,” he said. “They’re still Hermantown at heart.

“It’s nice to get it behind us.”

CLASS 2A CHAMPIONSHIP GAME

Wayzata 5, Eden Prairie 3/ The third-seeded Trojans scored four unanswered goals, including the clincher by Logan Lindstrand with 11:25 remaining. After top-seeded Eden Prairie built a 3-1 lead in the second period on goals by Michael Graham and Jarod Blackowiak, the Trojans rallied. Billy Duma scored a short-handed goal late in the period and Matt Nelson added another with 1:10 left in the second. Wayzata opened the scoring on a goal by Jackson Carlson early in the first period. Five minutes later, the Eagles answered on a goal by Casey Mittelstadt.

ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

Class 1A/ Brendan Bushy, Ethan Johnson, Thief River Falls; Chase Ellingson, Justin Paulson, Linden Olness, William Blake, Breck; Cole Koepke, Eric Gotz, Jesse Jacques, Luke Olson, Ryan Sandelin, Wyatt Aamodt, Hermantown.

Class 2A/ Class 2A/ Matt Fitzgerald, Nick Leitner, Alex Pollock, Bemidji; Alex Adams, Micah Miller, Grand Rapids; Jackson Cates, Stillwater; Casey Mittelstadt, Michael Graham, Nicky Leivermann, Eden Prairie; Alex Schilling, Grant Anderson, Hank Sorensen, Wayzata.

THIRD-PLACE GAMES

Class 1A/ Thief River Falls 4, St. Paul Academy 1
Class 2A/ Grand Rapids 3, Stillwater 2

FIFTH-PLACE GAMES

Class 1A/ St. Cloud Cathedral 4, Mankato West 2
Class 2A/ Bemidji 4, Farmington 1

CONGRATS TO BOYS STATE SWIM/DIVE CHAMPS

Class 1A/ St. Thomas Academy won the state title, followed by Breck/Blake and Simley in the top three. St. Thomas Academy's Warren Sexson set meet records in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle and was a member of the Cadets' record-setting 400 freestyle relay team. Red Wing's Hunter Connelly set a meet record in the 100 backstroke.

2A/ Eden Prairie won the team title, followed by Minnetonka, Eagan and Prior Lake. Eden Prairie set a record in the 200 medley relay, as did the Eagles’ Joshua Withers (100 butterfly) and Griffin Back (100 freestyle). Minnetonka’s Corey Lau set a record in the 100 breaststroke.

BOYS STATE BASKETBALL IS NEXT

The boys state basketball tournament will be held Wednesday through Saturday at Target Center and Williams Arena. The seeds and pairings in three classes were set Saturday; Class 1A seeds and pairings will be finalized Sunday (because one Class 1A section title game was played Saturday).
Here’s what we know…

CLASS 4A
#1 seed Osseo vs. Eden Prairie
#4 seed Maple Grove vs. #5 seed Lakeville North
#2 seed Hopkins vs. North St. Paul
#3 seed Apple Valley vs. Blaine

CLASS 3A
#1 seed DeLaSalle vs. Fridley
#4 seed Chisago Lakes vs. #5 seed Monticello
#2 seed Red Wing vs. Simley
#3 seed Fergus Falls vs. Waseca

CLASS 2A
#1 seed St. Croix Lutheran vs. Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton
#4 seed Braham vs. #5 seed Maple River
#2 seed Caledonia vs. Jackson County Central
#3 seed Esko vs. Annandale

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,700
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Will The Seventh Time Be The Charm For Hermantown?3/4/2016
Say the words “Hermantown” and “hockey” and you’re likely to get a passionate response that could go one of two ways. The first is definitive: “Boy, they sure play some good hockey up there.” The second is definitively sillier: “Boy, they need to be forced to move up to Class 2A.”

That second theme is being heard once more as we await Saturday’s Class 1A boys hockey state championship game. Hermantown, which has lost that game for the last six years in a row, will meet Breck at noon at Xcel Energy Center. The Hawks (26-2-1) are seeded No. 1 and Breck (26-3-1) is No. 2.

So here we are, all eyes again on Hermantown and coach Bruce Plante (pictured). He joined the 500-victory club this season and is one of the seasoned greats of his profession. In 27 years he has a record of 513-196-22. He has seen a lot, and he sure would like to see his boys win their school’s first state hockey title since 2007.

One year ago, after Hermantown lost to East Grand Forks 5-4 in overtime in the title game, Plante said, “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.”

There were no surprises when Plante met with the media after Friday’s 7-1 semifinal victory over St. Paul Academy. It took about three preliminary questions before the Big One was broached: “How do you feel about this streak?”

“It’s pretty hard to block that out,” Plante said. “It’s on our resume, our legacy at Hermantown.”

Last year, Plante talked about “guys in the locker room bawling their eyes out.” He adjusted his strategy this time and has openly talked with the players about ending the streak.

“We’re trying something different and we hope we get some luck,” he said. “The message is, ‘We’ve got to get this thing off our back. We’ve got to get rid of it, it’s getting heavy.”

Plante said he hears about the championship-game streak everywhere he goes, all year round.

“I’ll go to Walmart and some guy 80 years old says, ‘When are you gonna win that thing?’ I go fishing or go to my duck blind and get away from it.”

The Hermantown players certainly know the story. And their goal is to rewrite the ending this time.

“We’re all excited to play tomorrow and hopefully get that off our backs,” said Cole Koepke. Ryan Sandelin added, “We wanted to get back to that game and break our streak. Now we’re here. We’ve just got to go out and play hard.”

Plante addressed the plea by some – especially hockey experts on Twitter, judging by what I see – that the Hawks have dominated 1A and should opt up to 2A. He turned that equation upside down, saying that some teams that have made the decision to opt up to 2A would be better served in 1A.

“I’ve been saying that for years,” Plante said. “Some of the teams that are in Double A and are A size, they’re just average. Maybe some of them should come down. It would be good for us.

“We get a lot of pressure to move up. It’s the same old thing.”

He didn’t rule it out, either, on the condition that his program someday has the kind of depth that teams from much larger schools often have.

“That could happen. I guess we’ve gotta win one of these to maybe take a look at it. Are we ready? Should we go? I guess we’ll just see.”

Yes, let’s see what happens.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A total of 22, 244 tickets were sold for Friday evening’s Class 2A state semifinal doubleheader. That set a new record for any session of the state hockey tournament. The previous record was 19,547 for the Friday night session in 2008.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

Thief River Falls coach Tim Bergland after the Prowlers’ 4-0 loss to Breck: “We needed that first goal and we never did get it.”

MY FAVORITE NICKNAMES OF THE HOCKEY TOURNAMENT
1. Thief River Falls Prowlers
2. Bemidji Lumberjacks
3. Stillwater Ponies
4. Litchfield Dragons
5. Burnsville Blaze

CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS

BRECK 4, THIEF RIVER FALLS 0

Tyler Scott’s two goals helped propel the second-seeded Mustangs (26-3-1) into the championship game for the first time since they won back-to-back titles in 2009 and 2010. Breck held a 43-18 advantage in shots on goal over the Prowlers (23-7)

HERMANTOWN 7, ST. PAUL ACADEMY 1

The top-seeded Hawks (26-2-1) advanced to the title game for the sixth year in a row. They will meet Breck on Saturday; Hermantown’s title-game streak began with a 2-1 loss to the Mustangs in 2010. Ryan Sandelin scored two goals as the Hawks held a shots-on-goal edge of 35-20 over the Spartans (24-6).

CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS

WAYZATA 2, STILLWATER 1

In one of the most evenly matched games of the tournament, the third-seeded Trojans held off the second-seeded Ponies to advance to the title game. Wayzata (21-8-1) scored first on a goal by Logan Lindstrand in the first period and the score remained 1-0 until Griffin Ness scored in the final minutes of the second period for a 2-0 lead. Jackson Cates got Stillwater (27-2-1) on the board with one minute left in regulation and the game ended with Wayzata goaltender Alex Schilling covering the puck in the crease.

EDEN PRAIRIE 6, GRAND RAPIDS 2

Casey Mittelstadt had a hat trick and Cole Lawrence scored twice as the Eagles moved into the title game..

CHAMPIONSHIP SATURDAY SCHEDULE
Class 1A: Breck vs. Hermantown, noon
Class 2A: Wayzata vs. Eden Prairie, 7 p.m.

BOYS BASKETBALL UPDATE

All but one of the section tournaments wrapped up Friday and the teams have been nearly finalized for next week’s boys state basketball action. Here are the teams…

CLASS 1A: Goodhue, Central Minnesota Christian, St. Clair, Red Lake, Lake Park-Audubon, Browerville/Eagle Valley, Minneapolis North, Mountain Iron-Buhl or North Woods (they play Saturday),

CLASS 2A: Caledonia, Braham, Esko, Dilworth-Glyndon-Felton, Jackson County Central, Annandale, St. Croix Lutheran, Maple River.

CLASS 3A: Waseca, Simley, Fridley, Monticello, DeLaSalle, Chisago Lakes, Fergus Falls, Red Wing.

CLASS 4A: Apple Valley, North St. Paul, Hopkins, Blaine, Maple Grove, Lakeville North, Osseo, Eden Prairie.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,658
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
It’s A Game, And Having Fun Is Always Important 3/3/2016
Sometimes, in the midst of competition, it can be easy to lose our way. We all want our favorite teams to win, of course, but there is much more to this world of high school sports than wins and losses.

I witnessed a shining example of this principle behind the scenes Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. The Stillwater Ponies held a 2-0 lead over the Farmington Tigers after two periods in the Class 2A boys state hockey tournament. As the Ponies left the locker room, the coaching staff stood in a line, offering high fives and words of encouragement to each one.

After the players had passed by and stepped on the ice, something cool happened. Head coach Matt Doman (pictured at the postgame press conference) and his assistants looked at each other, smiled, laughed and performed what can best be described as a four-man leaping chest bump.

It was glorious.

“It’s a game,” Doman said after the Ponies defeated Farmington 4-1. “And I think it’s easy sometimes to forget that, especially when you’re on a big stage and there are things that are important to everybody.”

Great point. Winning at the state tournament is an important matter, especially to the Stillwater fans who were among the crowd of 18,165 that was in the building for Thursday’s first session.

The Stillwater coaches have been performing their private off-ice ritual all season and they sure weren’t going to stop doing so in the midst of a game at state. That sense of “let’s have fun” flows from the coaches to the players, too.

“I’m passionate about the game, I’m passionate about these kids,” said Doman, 36, who is in his third year as the Stillwater head coach. “I hope that comes through to them.”

As Matt and I stood in a corridor, he began talking about one of his players who suffered an injury in the game. After junior T.J. Sagissor was hurt, he spent the rest of the game sitting on the bench with ice on an ankle. Between periods, he was the last one out of the locker room, hobbling back to the bench.

“We had a kid get hurt today and I’m broken up because I know how hard he’s worked,” Doman said, becoming emotional. “This might be his only opportunity to play in this tournament. So it’s a little disappointing and it’s emotional for all of us right now.

“But we’ve got such good kids and it’s a real pleasure to be a part of this.”

Postscript: T.J. had X-rays after the game and was deemed good to go for Friday’s semifinals against Wayzata.

SENDING HOCKEY LOVE FROM GERMANY

The state hockey tournament is certainly a huge deal in Minnesota, but sometimes we forget that the appeal of the event can be worldwide.

Twitter lights up during the tournament (examples came from viewers in places like Maine and Washington state), but the Tweet that stood out from the rest on Thursday was a photo of several smiling fans and this message: “Up late streaming high school hockey in Grafing, Germany.”

Amazing.

AND THE HAIR, OH MY THE HAIR

One of the post-tournament traditions that has taken off in recent years is the online release of the All Hockey Hair Team. The anonymous creator of the videos records the pregame introductions of each team, picks out the greatest examples of hairstyle wizardry, adds hilarious commentary and puts them online. They are a hoot.

Hockey fans at Xcel Energy Center, knowing all about the All Hockey Hair Teams, pay close attention to the giant scoreboard above the ice when the players are introduced. There is cheering and applause for deserving players, and outright laughter at some of the tonsorial splendors. (Pictured here are several examples from the Hermantown players.)

HOCKEY QUOTE OF THE YEAR

I was in Grand Rapids in January when the Thunderhawks played host to Duluth East in a regular-season game. The grand old IRA Civic Center was filled to the rafters as the hometown team defeated East 4-3 in overtime. The result was similar in the Section 7 championship game last week in Duluth, with Grand Rapids winning 6-5.

Trent Klatt is in his first year coaching the Thunderhawks, but he is well-versed in the game. He was named Mr. Hockey in 1989 after a spectacular high school career at Osseo, he played three years for the University of Minnesota and spent 13 years in the NHL.

As Klatt and I chatted before that game in Grand Rapids, he said, “I’m smart enough to know I’m stupid; I’m not stupid enough to think I’m smart.”

STILLWATER 4, FARMINGTON 1

The Cates brothers – senior Jackson and junior Noah – combined for five points as the second-seeded Ponies (27-1-1) moved to the semifinals. Jackson scored two goals and Noah had one goal and two assists. Erik Holmstrom scored for the Tigers (18-9-1) late in the third period.

WAYZATA 3, BURNSVILLE 1

Mark Senden, Luke Patterson and Dillion Ryan scored for the third-seeded Trojans (20-8-1), who will face Stillwater in Friday’s semifinals. Cade Borchardt scored for Burnsville (16-11-2).

EDEN PRAIRIE 7, ANOKA 3

Nicky Leivermann scored two goals for the Eagles (20-7-2), who outshot the Tornadoes 39-15. Michael Talbot had a hat trick for Anoka (18-10).

GRAND RAPIDS 3, BEMIDJI 2 (OT)

With two minutes, six seconds gone in overtime, Alex Adams scored as the Thunderhawks (22-6-1) held off the Lumberjacks in one of the best games in recent tournament memory.

FRIDAY SCHEDULE

CLASS 1A SEMIFINALS
--Breck vs. Thief River Falls, 11 a.m.
--Hermantown vs. St. Paul Academy, 30 minutes after end of first game

CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS
--Stillwater vs. Wayzata, 6 p.m.
--Eden Prairie vs. Grand Rapids, 30 minutes after end of first game

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 546
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,616
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
18 Years Later, A Family’s Hockey Dream Comes True 3/2/2016
Cole Heinemann has no memory of the day his father boldly predicted that Cole would play in the state hockey tournament. But then again, Cole was only about 45 minutes old at the time.

Wednesday – 18 years later almost to the day -- Cole and his Princeton teammates were on the ice at Xcel Energy Center, playing in the Class 1A state tourney.

As his father Doug said, “It is a cool story. It’s a funny story, but it’s true.”

It was 1998, and like every other year Doug was at the St. Paul Civic Center with some buddies, watching the state hockey tournament. His wife Jill was nine months pregnant, but she wasn’t rattled. Their son Cody had been born four years earlier and Jill was fine with Doug leaving home to watch hockey.

“I could tell I was going into labor but it was my second child and there wasn’t any panic,” Jill said.

But the panic arrived. After she went into labor, her sister drove her to Mercy Hospital in Coon Rapids. Cell phones were relatively new at the time and Doug had a big bag phone that he kept in his car.

Between periods of a quarterfinal game between Roseau and Edina, Doug thought he better check in with Jill. Easier said than done.

“I got in line for the pay phones and the line was about 10 deep,” he said. “Finally I checked my voicemail and there were four messages. The first one said, ‘I’m having contractions.’ The second one said, ‘I’m going to the hospital.’ The third one was from Jill’s sister and she said, ‘We’re going.’ The fourth one said, ‘You better get here quick!’ ”

After he got off the phone, Doug was told by his friends that he was being paged in the arena; nurses at the hospital were also trying to track him down. He jumped in his car and raced to Coon Rapids. When he arrived, little Cole was wrapped in a blanket, waiting to meet his dad.

Jill remembers the scene.

“Doug grabbed him, the TV was on (showing the state tournament), he held him up to the TV and said, ‘You’re going to be there in about 16 years.’ ”

The Roseau-Edina game was still being played; Doug still remembers the score (“Roseau won 4-3 in overtime”).

In a family tradition, Doug took Cody and Cole to the state tournament every year when they were growing up. He has had season tickets to the Class 2A tournament since he was in middle school in the late 1970s. Cody is now a student at Bemidji State and joined the family Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

Cole, a senior forward, had three of the unseeded Tigers’ 23 shots on goal in a 6-1 loss to third-seeded Thief River Falls. Like his teammates, he was disappointed with the outcome but thrilled at the opportunity to finally play in the state tournament; Princeton had not done so since 2003.

“It’s been amazing,” he said. “Even though we lost I love every guy in the locker room who I connect with and I’m great friends with. I’ve been playing for 14 years, and this group of guys all stayed together in Princeton. I can’t ask for better teammates.”

Here’s another twist: Cole was diagnosed with a brain tumor when he was eight years old. The tumor was removed and he returned to the ice in just a few weeks. He’ll take medication for the rest of his life, but that’s a small matter.

“He’s doing great, obviously,” Jill said. “We’re so lucky to have him and have him playing.”

Cole’s dad said, “He’s really a tough kid, very mentally tough. At one point we were thinking, ‘Geez, we might lose him.’ ” (Pictured are Doug with Cody and Cole.)

Doug’s prediction for Cole’s trip to state was off by a couple of years. The Tigers lost the section championship game two years ago, when he was 16.

“That was the moment we thought, ‘This was what you predicted,’ ” Jill said. “Two years later here we are, with his 18th birthday on Saturday. It’s so exciting.”

As Cole put it, “We knew my dad’s dream was going to come true.”

THIEF RIVER FALLS 6, PRINCETON 1

Ethan Johnson had a hat trick as the Prowlers (23-6) advanced to the semifinals by defeating the Tigers (21-8). Thief River Falls will meet Breck on Friday at 11 a.m.

BRECK 8, MANKATO WEST 0

William Blake and Chase Ellingson had hat tricks as the second-seeded Mustangs defeated the Scarlets. Blake’s three goals all came in the second period, and Breck held a 5-0 lead when that period ended. The Mustangs (25-3-1) had 35 shots on goal to 17 for the Scarlets (15-12-2).

HERMANTOWN 11, LITCHFIELD/DASSEL-COKATO 3

Cole Koepke scored four goals as the top-seeded Hawks (25-2-1) advanced to the semifinals. David Raisanen had two goals for the Dragons (20-9).

ST. PAUL ACADEMY 4, ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL 2

Devlin McCabe scored two goals, including the game-winner with 5:05 remaining in the third period, as the Spartans (24-5) defeated the Crusaders (20-8-1) to advance to Friday’s semifinals vs. Hermantown. Logan Neu scored both goals for Cathedral.

CLASS 2A TOURNAMENT

Class 2A quarterfinals will be played Thursday. Here’s the schedule

--Farmington (18-8-1) vs. #2 seed Stillwater (26-1-1), 11 a.m.

--Burnsville (16-10-2) vs. #3 seed Wayzata (19-8-1), 30 minutes after conclusion of 11 a.m. game

--Anoka (18-9) vs. #1 seed Eden Prairie (19-7-2), 6 p.m.

--#5 seed Bemidji (23-2-2) vs. #4 seed Grand Rapids (21-6-1), 30 minutes after conclusion of 6 p.m. game

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 538
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,574
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn