John's Journal
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.


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.”



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.)


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.”


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.


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).


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).


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.


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

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

*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.”


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.


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).


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).


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 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

*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
Eugene “Lefty” Wright Named To National High School Hall of Fame3/1/2016
Twelve individuals have been named to the 2016 class of the National High School Hall of Fame, and a Minnesotan is among them. Eugene “Lefty” Wright had a profound impact on track and field and cross-country – as a coach and official at the state and national levels – for more than 50 years before his death last year at the age of 79.

Wright was meet director of the MSHSL state cross-country championship for 46 years and was the lead official at the MSHSL state track and field meet for 22 years. He was the MSHSL rules clinician for both sports for 46 years and developed a procedure to minimize disqualifications by creating a form that was adopted in national rules. Wright coached track and field and cross-country at St. Louis Park High School from 1958 to 1969, winning four state track titles and one state cross-country championship.

Other National High School Hall of Fame inductees include Steve Spurrier, a three-sport standout at Science Hill High School in Johnson City, Tennessee, before a highly successful collegiate career as a player and coach, and Marlin Briscoe, an outstanding football and basketball player at Omaha (Nebraska) South High School who became the first African-American starting quarterback in the National Football League.

The National High School Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be held July 2 at the Peppermill Resort in Reno, Nevada, as the closing event of the 97th annual Summer Meeting of the National Federation of State High School Assocations.

Lefty was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2011. I wrote about him after his death in October, and here is that story…

The track and cross-country community lost a very special friend when MSHSL Hall of Fame member Eugene “Lefty” Wright died at 11:55 p.m. Monday. He was 79 years old and had been dealing with cancer for a lengthy period of time.

Lefty was a bridge from the 1950s to current times in athletics. As a young coach at St. Louis Park High School, he took his cross-country teams to Duluth for competitions via train from the Twin Cities and then a Duluth city bus to the golf course where racing was held. He later became Minnesota’s leading meet official for track and cross-country, creating innovative new methods to plan and hold competitions.

“He was a genius. He was an innovator,” said Scott Stallman, who was coached by Wright at St. Louis Park in the 1960s, became a teacher and coach and now works as a race official.

Wright graduated from St. Louis Park in 1953. He competed in track and hockey for the Orioles, playing in the 1953 state hockey tournament. After graduating from Macalester College in 1957 he returned to St. Louis Park as a teacher and assistant track and cross-country coach under Roy Griak. He worked at St. Louis Park as a teacher, coach and administrator until 1993.

He was an assistant under Griak for five years, becoming head coach in 1963 when Griak was hired at the University of Minnesota. Griak died earlier this year at 91 and a few weeks ago Lefty was named a charter member of the Roy Griak Invitational Hall of Fame.

“He was a second father figure for me,” Wright said of Griak. “He taught me a lot about organization and about handling young athletes.”

Wright, who was inducted into the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2011, worked as a meet official at 47 MSHSL cross-country state championships and 46 MSHSL state track meets, including 23 as a starter. He also worked as an official at numerous Big Ten and NCAA events.

Lefty and his wife Nancy, parents of two children, celebrated 57 years of marriage in August.

Dan Dornfeld, who was coached by Wright in high school and also became a teacher, coach and official, remembers a turning point in Lefty’s early career.

“There was an incident during his coaching time when one of his athletes was shorted in a race. He was one of the top runners in the state at that point but was put in lane one, which was a terrible lane on a sand track. It was really a disadvantage, and that became Lefty’s charge. He took on the mantra that we have to do things that are right for athletes. That’s when he really got involved in officiating.

“Anything he’s done for the sport has always been to make the event better for the athlete. He said, ‘Let’s make sure that the student-athlete has the advantage here.’ ”
Stallman said, “He was meticulous about every detail. In his coaching days there was never anything ruled out or taken as chance. Everything was coached to the finest detail, in terms of everything from how to run a cross-country or track meet to bookkeeping to all those kinds of things.”

In the days before electronic timing, cross-country runners were herded into a single chute after finishing to maintain their order of finish. Wright invented the “swing rope,” using a movable rope to create a second chute when the first one was filled with runners.

“Nobody had heard of that until Lefty came up with the idea,” Stallman said. “It’s little things like that that make the quality of a meet better.”

In cross-country, Wright invented a three-meter stick, which was simply three one-meter lengths of boards hinged together. It was used to measure the exact width of starting boxes as well as the distance between the starting line back to the second line; runners move up to the starting line when instructed by the starter.

He also improved the use of lane dividers at cross-country starting lines, color-coding them to specify whether they were for teams or individuals.

“That was part of his attention to detail,” Dornfeld said. “As a result, you saw that better things just happened. He managed things so well that it looks like there’s never any effort given. It’s smooth, effortless. That’s Lefty.

“The other part was that the man was always the calm one. I don’t think I ever saw him in a group meeting get frustrated at all. He would always maintain that calm, that coolness that you need. He was not a guy who gets rattled.

“What a legacy,” Dornfeld said. “He really has trained many, many people for how that works and what needs to happen.

“Everybody’s been trained the Wright way.”

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 530
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,532
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
State Wrestling Tournament Update2/27/2016
The semifinal matches have been completed in all three classes at Xcel Energy Center, setting the stage for tonight’s championship round. Here’s a primer…

--St. Michael-Albertville leads the tournament with five individuals advancing to the state championship round in Class 3A. Apple Valley and Willmar both have three in the finals.

--In 2A, Delano, Mankato West, Foley, Kasson-Mantorville, New Prague and Simley all have two in the finals. In 1A, Dover-Eyota and Frazee advanced three to the final round, while Aitkin, Minneota and Pipestone all advanced two.


106/ Jeron Matson, Kenyon-Wanamingo vs. Dillon McGee, Walker-Hackensack
113/ Hunter Burnett, Pipestone vs. Jace Geving, Deer River
120/ Noah Bauer, Pine Island vs. Michael Suda, Pipestone
126/ Tanner Reetz, Frazee vs. Skylar Hieronimus, Adrian
132/ Thomas Stageberg, New London-Spicer vs. Ryan Killeen, Spectrum
138/ Ryan Keach, Dover-Eyota vs. Grant Jepson, Frazee
145/ Tom Tellers, United North Central vs. Bryce Bruner, Minneota
152/ Bailee O’Reilly, Goodhue vs. Jerod Novak, Aitkin
160/ Alex Erpelding, Staples-Motley vs. Noah Landrus, Aitkin
170/ Michael Otomo, Dover-Eyota vs. Derek Herman, United South Central
182/ Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central vs. Caden Steffen, Zumbrota-Mazeppa
195/ Jonah Lange, Frazee vs. Alex Goergen, Caledonia
220/ Manuel Garcia, BOLD vs. Karter VanHeuveln, Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg
285/ Tanner Welsh, Dover-Eyota vs. Wyatt Fitterer, NRHEG

106/ Jake Svihel, Totino-Grace vs. Charlie Pickell, Mankato West
113/ Garrett Vos, Waconia vs. Hser Eh Pwae, Worthington
120/ Jake Gliva, Simley vs. Reed DeFrang, Plainview-Elgin-Millville
126/ Tucker Sjomeling, Delano vs. Jackson Stauffacher, Scott West
132/ Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea vs. Morgan Fuenffinger, Hibbing
138/ Anthony Jackson, Simley, vs. Peter Nelson, St. Cloud Apollo
145/ Ryan Epps, Cannon Falls vs. Logan Axford, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton
152/ Griffin Parriott, New Prague vs. Devin Fitzpatrick, Mahtomedi
160/ Solomon Nielsen, Luverne vs. Sam Baier, Redwood/River Valley
170/ Ryan Duffy, South St. Paul vs. Greg Kerkvleit, Simley
182/ Spencer Elwell, Foley vs. Aaron Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
195/ Noah Ryan, Kasson-Mantorville vs. Saylor Schmit, Foley
220/ Kevin Kneisl, Delano vs. Zachary Jakes, Mankato West
285/ James Huwe, Detroit Lakes vs. Logan Swanson, Mankato East

106/ Aaron Cashman, Mound-Westonka vs. Patrick McKee, St. Michael-Albertville
113/ Victor Gliva, Farmington, vs. Cael Carlson, Willmar
120/ Rylee Molitor, Sartell-St. Stephen vs. Peyton Robb, Owatonna
126/ Brent Jones, Shakopee vs. Tyler Eischens, Anoka
132/ Jakob Bergeland, Centennial vs. Adam Hedin, Rosemount
138/ Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville vs. Tyler Shilson, Centennial
145/ Alex Lloyd, Shakopee, vs. Wade Sullivan, Lakeville North
152/ Jake Allar, St. Michael-Albertville vs. Brock Morgan, Apple Valley
160/ Colten Carlson, Willmar vs. Justin Burg, Tartan
170/ Mark Hall, Apple Valley vs. Austin Eichmann, Hastings
182/ Lucas Jeske, St. Michael-Albertville vs Taylor Venz, Farmington
195/ Brandon Moen, Owatonna vs. Samuel Grove, Moorhead
220/ Gable Steveson, Apple Valley vs. Evan Foster, St. Michael-Albertville
285/ Andrew Piehl, Rogers vs. Brady Reigstad, Willmar

They Might As Well Rename The Arena: “Mark Hall” 2/27/2016
There were no surprises for Mark Hall this week. For the sixth year in a row, the Apple Valley wrestler joined his coaches and teammates for a brief winter stay in downtown St. Paul. Each day during the state tournament at Xcel Energy Center, Hall packed a lunch-bucket cooler with his usual nutritional supplies – sandwiches (ham and cheese is a favorite), Gatorade or water, fruit snacks – and went to work.

The routine has been the same since 2011, when a seventh-grade Hall recorded state championship No. 1 with a four-match sweep of the Class 3A 130-pound field. Hall is now a senior and title No. 6 came Saturday night when he beat Austin Eichmann of Hastings via technical fall to capture the crown at 170 pounds. He is the first Minnesota wrestler to win six titles.

After his match ended and the referee raised his arm, Hall (pictured) hugged his coaches and then jumped a barrier and joined his family in the stands. There were hugs all around. After he met with a media scrum in a back corridor, he came back into the arena and was immediately mobbed by fans wanting autographs and selfies. He was very gracious, accommodating as many people as possible.

Words like “historic” and “legendary” are certainly applicable to what Hall has accomplished. But for Hall, being part of a championship team is just as important as being a championship solo act. And along with his six individual titles, he leaves high school wrestling as part of six consecutive championship teams, too.

That team-first attitude even extends to the individual tournament. Hall spends more time looking at the competition his teammates will face than worrying about who he will meet.

“I look at my teammates’ brackets more and kind of help them in how they’re going to approach their matches and how they’re going to navigate their bracket,” he said. “Not so much mine. I’ll look at mine once or twice before the tournament. But after that it’s just kind of whoever steps out.”

Hall finished this season with a record of 45-0. His career record is 275-4, with three losses in seventh grade and one in ninth grade. That ninth-grade defeat was an overtime loss to Brian Murphy of Glenbard North (Illinois) at the Cheesehead Invitational in Kaukauna, Wisconsin. Murphy is now a junior on the wrestling team at the University of Michigan.

Hall’s first big statement at state came when he was a seventh-grader, meeting Forest Lake junior Ben Morgan in the semifinals at 130. Morgan (who finished his career as a two-time state champ and now wrestles at the University of Minnesota) held a 5-0 lead before the newcomer battled back and pulled out an 8-6, four-overtime, epic win.

“In seventh grade I was kind of the new guy,” Hall said. “People knew who I was but they didn’t quite know the potential. I think I knew my potential very well. In the semis I was down 5-0 and not a lot of people in the stands probably knew I could win. My parents, my coach and myself were probably the only people who truly believed.”

The latest display of Hall’s prowess in big matches came in Thursday’s team championship dual between Apple Valley and St. Michael-Albertville.
Hall is ranked No. 1 nationally among high school wrestlers at 170 pounds. Against St. Michael-Albertville he moved up to 182 and pinned the nation’s 10th-ranked wrestler at that weight, senior and defending state champion Lucas Jeske, in the first period. Apple Valley won the dual 31-26, and Hall scoring six points rather than three was big.

On Monday he will be back in school, where his current classes include Physics, Criminology, Psychology, American Literature and Composition, and Pre-Calculus. He will attend Penn State, wrestle for the Nittany Lions (coach Cael Sanderson was at Xcel Center on Saturday) and major in education, with the goal of becoming a math or physical education teacher, and a possible long-term goal of working as an athletic director.

His future wrestling goals include, oh, NCAA championships and Olympic gold medals.

Expect him to be successful.


Several wrestlers returned to the top spot on the podium Saturday. Among them were …

--Senior Griffin Parriott of New Prague recorded his third state championship in resounding fashion, pinning Devin Fitzpatrick of Mahtomedi in 10 seconds in 2A at 152 pounds..

--Albert Lea junior Garrett Aldrich notched his third state title with a 10-7 decision over Morgan Fuenffinger of Hibbing in 2A 132. Aldrich could be a four-time gold medalist.

--Shakopee junior Brent Jones recorded his third title, winning at 126 in 3A with a 7-3 decision over Tyler Esischens of Anoka.

--Jackson County Central senior Keegan Moore became a three-time champ with a major decision over Caden Steffen of Zumbrota-Mazeppa in 1A at 182.

--St. Michael-Albertville senior Mitchell McKee wrapped up his high school career with a third championship, winning in 3A at 138 with a tech fall over Tyler Shilson of Centennial.

--Two state champions squared off in the 3A championship match at 120 pounds, where sophomore Peyton Robb of Owatonna outlasted junior Rylee Molitor of Sartell-St. Stephen with a 3-1 decision.

--Kasson-Mantorville junior Brady Berge (a three-time champion featured in a previous edition of John’s Journal) suffered a leg injury in the semifinals at 2A 160. He defaulted to Luverne junior Solomon Nielsen, who lost to Redwood/River Valley senior Sam Baier 5-2 in the title match.

Winning their second state championships were senior Manuel Garcia of BOLD at 1A 220 and sophomore Gable Stevenson of Apple Valley at 3A 220.

--Total attendance for the three-day tournament was 56, 381.

*Schools/teams John has seen/visited: 530
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry in 2015-16: 8,532
*Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn