John's Journal
The Holy Grail, The Pinnacle Of High School Sports3/5/2020
"Eighteen-thousand people got to see a heck of a hockey game."

Let's think about that statement. This wasn't an NHL coach discussing a playoff contest. It wasn't an NCAA coach after a thrilling Frozen Four game. This was a high school coach speaking a few minutes after a quarterfinal game in a state tournament.

Maple Grove coach Todd Bergland summed up the atmosphere of Minnesota’s pride and joy very nicely Thursday afternoon. His Crimson had just lost a disappointing 7-5 decision to Blake at Xcel Energy Center, and "heck of a hockey game” is quite accurate.

As a fellow in the press posted on Twitter during the height of the heck: “The roar of the big crowd when a game-tying goal is scored at #mshslstate hockey is quite the thing.”

The actual attendance for Thursday afternoon’s two-game session was 16,778, but who’s counting … although that is more than the average home attendance of eight NHL teams this season (the Wild average 17,472).

How big is this tournament? These are the words of Blake senior Jack Sabre, who had two goals and one assist vs. Maple Grove: “It's like, this is the Holy Grail. This is the pinnacle of high school hockey and this is where you want to be.”

And here they are, eight teams in Class A and eight in Class AA. Friday is semifinal day, with winners from those games advancing to Saturday’s championship matchups. Is there anything like it anywhere?

Blake coach Rob McClanahan knows something about big moments and big events. He won an NCAA title with Minnesota in 1979, was a member of the 1980 Miracle on Ice team and played in 224 NHL games over three seasons.

But before all that, McClanahan was a high school hockey player in Minnesota. He appeared in the state tournament with his Mounds View buddies in 1976. His team lost to Richfield 4-3 in the quarterfinals, beat Henry Sibley 5-1 in the consolation bracket and ended the tournament with a 4-3 overtime loss to Bloomington Kennedy in the sixth-place game.

“It’s the best state tournament of any sport in the country,” he said. “It’s just spectacular. I'm 62 years old and I remember the day I played in the state tournament. These guys are going to remember this for the rest of their lives, without question.”

During the pre-tournament banquet for all the teams, the audience viewed a collection of interviews with NHL players who grew up in Minnesota and played at state. It was stunning.

Eden Prairie senior Ben Steeves, who scored two goals with an assist in the Eagles’ 4-0 win over Lakeville South, was asked if everything he had previously heard about playing at state was an exaggeration.

“There's no exaggeration,” he said with a grin, mentioning the NHL players on the video. “They went on and on and on and listed things; they were asked one question and they kept going on and on. They care about it and so I knew it would be a blast.

“It's crazy. The lights in there; going out for warmups you kind of have to get your eyes to adjust. … and then just the fans, the student sections, the bands, it's super fun playing in front of the whole state of Minnesota, too, because it's on TV.”

The big stage can be intimidating, with 76 years of tournament history, the bright lights, the big crowds, the television audience, the pressure. Man oh man, what a deal for teenagers.

“We talk about it,” McClanahan said. “We don't shy away from this situation. You know, this is pretty cool for these guys. It's something that they may never see again. And it's even bigger today than when I had the opportunity to play in it. We talk about the big stage, we talk about accepting it and embracing it.”

Tournament Tidbits

Andover coach Mark Manney is a 1979 Moorhead High School graduate who played hockey at the Air Force Academy and later piloted Air Force One for Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. He’s now a retired United States Air Force Lieutenant Colonel.

After top-seeded Andover lost to unseeded St. Thomas Academy 3-2 on Thursday, Manney used equine terms to describe the tournament field.

“Look around, there are a lot of good teams. It's wide open. There’s no Secretariat in this field. It's a bunch of mudders, and a couple beauty queens played this afternoon, but the rest of us are just working the corners and hoping for a little hay.”

Boys State Hockey Tournament


Wednesday’s quarterfinals

St. Cloud Cathedral 11, Mankato East/Loyola 2

Hermantown 7, Monticello 1

Warroad 9, Hutchinson 3

Mahtomedi 5, Delano 2

Thursday’s consolation

Monticello 6, Mankato East/Loyola 1

Delano 6, Hutchinson 5 (OT)

Friday’s semifinals

11 a.m.: St. Cloud Cathedral vs. Hermantown

Followed by: Warroad vs. Mahtomedi


Thursday’s quarterfinals

Blake 7, Maple Grove 5

Eden Prairie 4, Lakeville South 0

St. Thomas Academy 3, Andover 2

Hill-Murray 5, Moorhead 1

Friday’s semifinals

6 p.m.: Blake vs. Eden Prairie

Followed by: St. Thomas Academy vs. Hill-Murray

Friday’s consolation

10 a.m.: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville South

Followed by: Andover vs. Moorhead

Quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games
TV: KSTC Channel 45
Consolation games

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
Bright Lights, Big City And Career Goal Number One3/4/2020
Throughout the hockey season, St. Cloud Cathedral sophomore Chandler Hendricks did his work. He practiced hard, learned from the coaching staff and older players, contributed and waited.

The Crusaders' fourth-line forward got on the ice in 16 of 24 regular-season games and all three section tournament games. His stat line prior to Wednesday's Class A state quarterfinal vs. Mankato East/Loyola at Xcel Energy Center was pretty simple: Zero shots on goal, zero goals, zero assists.

The defending champion Crusaders came to state with a 23-3-1 record and No. 2 seed in the Class A field. Their season included a 2-1 win over Andover, which is the No. 1 seed in the Class AA state tournament that opens Thursday.

Wednesday's Cathedral-Mankato East/Loyola game got out of hand pretty rapidly, with the Crusaders leading 4-1 after the first period and 9-2 after two. As the third period began, Cathedral’s big honchos had shown their stuff; Jack Smith had two goals and two assists while Nate Warner and Blake Perbix each had a goal and three assists.

The score was 10-1 when Chandler’s opportunity came. Senior teammate C.J. Zins fired a shot at the goal as Hendricks leaned into the path of the puck. Chandler put his stick in perfect position, nicked that baby ever so slightly and you’ll never guess what happened.

His first career varsity goal came 5 minutes, 13 seconds into the third period.

"Yeah, that was the best experience I've ever had in any sport," Hendricks said. "I'm just so happy to be on this team with these guys.

“I kind of just saw C.J. come in and take a nice low shot. I tipped it in, no one was on me.”

A young player scoring his first career goal under the bright lights of the NHL arena, with a television audience watching, was indeed special for Chandler and his teammates. It’s quite the deal for a coach, too.

“There’s nothing better,” said Crusaders coach Derrick Brown. “I thought today was awesome; we got all 20 guys on the ice to experience that.

“Chandler has been working hard, learning from these older guys, he's in practice every day. Our fourth line, swing line guys, that's a tough role as a sophomore and he's come and worked hard. … It's rewarding to see kids that have moments like that. That's what this is about.”

Hermantown 7, Monticello 1

Blake Biondi had a hat trick and two assists as the third-seeded Hawks advanced to Friday’s semifinals against Cathedral. Zach Kilen had two goals and an assist.

Monticello coach Eric Nelson said Biondi is “such a dynamic player, he’s a man among boys out there, he’s hard to stop. He had a great game and he’s a great player. The horses that they've got were probably a little bit better than our horses today.”

Warroad 9, Hutchinson 3

The top-seeded Warriors were led by senior Grant Slukynsky, who had three goals and four assists. His seven points was one short of the tournament record of eight, set by John Mayasich of Eveleth in 1951. Mayasich had seven goals and one assist in the 1951 state semifinals as Eveleth defeated Minneapolis Southwest 11-5. His seven goals remains a tournament record.

Jason Shaugabay also had a hat trick for Warroad.

Mahtomedi 5, Delano 2

The fourth-seeded Zephyrs scored the game’s final five goals to skate past the fifth-seeded Tigers, who led 2-0 after the first period.

Tournament Tidbits

Hermantown, which went to state every year from 2010 through 2018, was knocked out of last year’s playoffs by Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin in the Section 7 tournament. Now that the Hawks are back, coach Patrick Andrews said winning in Wednesday’s quarterfinals -- and not playing again until Friday’s semifinals -- is the perfect scenario.

“Oh, it's great,” he said. “Hey, you’ve got to win this first one and now they get to just take it all in. And that's what we talked about; we get to stay at the X and enjoy this. Never take this for granted.

“If we took anything away from losing, I think with our whole program and community, everyone started taking (winning) for granted. It was a long, hard summer and winter, and to get back here, now they get to enjoy it. … they're going to get to take in the whole deal tonight and AA games tomorrow and they get to just be kids. This is the greatest, bar none, the greatest youth sporting event in the country, in the world, and they get to enjoy every second of it and that's what I'm excited about.”

Boys State Hockey Tournament

Wednesday’s Class A quarterfinals

St. Cloud Catheral 11, Mankato East/Loyola 2

Hermantown 7, Monticello 1

Warroad 9, Hutchinson 3

Mahtomedi 5, Delano 2

Thursday’s Class AA quarterfinals

11 a.m.
Maple Grove vs Blake

30 minutes after completion of previous game
Lakeville South vs Eden Prairie

6 p.m.
St. Thomas Academy vs Andover

30 minutes after completion of previous game
Hill-Murray vs Moorhead

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.

Boys State Hockey Matchups, TV/Webcast Info3/3/2020
Wednesday's Class A quarterfinals

11 a.m.
Mankato East vs #2 seed St. Cloud Cathedral

30 minutes after completion of previous game
Monticello vs #3 seed Hermantown

6 p.m.
Hutchinson vs #1 seed Warroad

30 minutes after completion of previous game
#5 seed Delano vs #4 seed Mahtomedi

Thursday's Class AA quarterfinals

11 a.m.
Maple Grove vs #2 seed Blake

30 minutes after completion of previous game
Lakeville South vs #3 seed Eden Prairie

6 p.m.
St. Thomas Academy vs #1 seed Andover

30 minutes after completion of previous game
#5 seed Hill-Murray vs #4 seed Moorhead

TV/webcast info

Quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games
TV: KSTC Channel 45

Consolation games

20 Years In, The Big House Hosts The Big Show2/29/2020
On the 20th anniversary of the state wrestling tournament coming to Xcel Energy Center, the Big House hosted the Big Show Saturday evening in downtown St. Paul. Championship Saturday is always memorable in wrestling, and the 2020 tournament championship round – capping three days of competition -- was no exception.

One of the marquee stars of the tournament was Stillwater junior Reid Ballantyne. Competing in Class 3A at 132 pounds, he won his fourth championship with a 6-0 decision over Shakopee senior Ben Lunn. Ballantyne remained on pace to become only the seventh wrestler in state history with five titles. Apple Valley's Mark Hall won six times, the final one in 2016, and four-time champs are Matt Nagel of Frazee (2001), Eric Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2003), Zach Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2007), Destin McCauley of Apple Valley (2011) and Cameron Sykora of Border West (2015).

Kasson-Mantorville senior Patrick Kennedy took home his fourth championship with a 5-2 decision over Simley junior Quayin Short in 2A at 182 pounds.

Kasson-Mantorville sophomore Bennett Berge won his third Class 2A title at 170 pounds, meaning he could become a five-time champion. He defeated ninth-grader Gavin Nelson of Simley 5-2 in the finals.

Recording their third state titles were Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie senior Craig Orlando in 1A at 285; Totino-Grace senior Joey Thompson in 2A at 120; Mankato West senior Charlie Pickell in 2A at 132; and Forest Lake junior Derrick Cardinal in 3A at 126.

Winning their second championships were …

2A 126 Chase DeBlaere, Simley
2A 145 Ryan Sokol, Simley
1A 120 Drayden Morton, Sibley East
1A 132 Charley Elwood, Medford
1A 170 Tyson Meyer, Minnewaska
1A 220 Dominik Vacura, Badger-Greenbush/Middle River

Three defending state champions lost in Saturday afternoon's semifinals. In 2A at 113 pounds, Mason Gehloff of Waseca lost to Christian Noble of Big Lake 4-3; in 3A at 126, Pierson Manville of Shakopee lost to Joey Novak of New Prague 5-4; and in 3A at 152, Willie Bastyr of Lakeville South lost to Hunter Lydon of Stillwater 3-2.

Total attendance for the three-day, six-session tournament was 50,907. Last year’s total was 47,834.

2020 MSHSL wrestling state champions

106 pounds
1A Walker Bents, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa
2A Tyler Wells, Princeton
3A Jore Volk, Lakeville North

113 pounds
1A Derek Steele, Sibley East
2A Christian Noble, Big Lake
3A Blake West, Shakopee

120 pounds
1A Drayden Morton, Sibley East
2A Joey Thompson, Totino-Grace
3A Ryan Henningson, Winona/Cotter

126 pounds
1A Trevor Jansen, Blackduck/Cass Lake-Bena
2A Chase DeBlaere, Simley
3A Derrick Cardinal, Forest Lake

132 pounds
1A Charley Elwood, Medford
2A Charlie Pickell, Mankato West
3A Reid Ballantyne, Stillwater

138 pounds
1A Mason Gode, Long Prairie-Grey Eagle/Browerville
2A Cael Berg, Simley
3A Cael Swenson, Wayzata

145 pounds
1A Payton Handevidt, Jackson County Central
2A Ryan Sokol, Simley
3A Trey Kruse, Stillwater

152 pounds
1A Willie VonRuden, Medford
2A Payton Anderson, Fairmont/Martin County West
3A Hunter Lydon, Stillwater

160 pounds
1A Owen Bjerga, Staples-Motley
2A Bryce FitzPatrick, Mahtomedi
3A Carson Manville, Shakopee

170 pounds
1A Tyson Meyer, Minnewaska
2A Bennett Berge, Kasson-Mantorville
3A Max McEnelly, Waconia

182 pounds
1A Trevor Eisfeld, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton/Westbrook-Walnut Grove
2A Patrick Kennedy, Kasson-Mantorville
3A Roman Rogotzke, Stillwater

195 pounds
1A Colton Krell, Westfield
2A Kolin Baier, Mankato East
3A RJ Chakolis, Hopkins

220 pounds
1A Dominik Vacura, Badger-Greenbush/Middle River
2A Bennett Tabor, Simley
3A Isaiah Green, St. Cloud Tech

285 pounds
1A Craig Orlando, Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie
2A Kaleb Haase, Redwood Valley
3A Bennett Weber, Waconia

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea" wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.
3 Matches, 91 Seconds: The Two-Sport Pride Of Verndale 2/27/2020
Craig Orlando had a very brief workday Thursday. During the team portion of the state wrestling tournament at Xcel Energy Center, the senior from Verndale High School -- who competes for the Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie cooperative team in Class 1A – won three matches that lasted a total of 91 seconds.

That was no real surprise to anyone, considering Orlando's wrestling history. He's hoping to cap his career with a third state championship at 285 pounds. His all-time record is 162-17 heading into the individual competition Friday and Saturday. He was 27-13 as a ninth-grader, qualified for state and did not place. His record this season is 46-0.

That’s pretty good for a kid whose school doesn’t even have a wrestling room.

"We’ve got a cafeteria where we can throw down same mats," Orlando said with a smile.

The Raiders practice in Bertha, which does have a wrestling room, and it’s a place where Orlando dominates.

“We have to tell Craig to take it easy sometimes,” said coach Bill Wagner.

The Raiders lost to Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City in the opening round Thursday before winning two matches to finish fifth in the team competition.

Orlando pinned Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City’s Jose Posada in 22 seconds in the team quarterfinals and recorded a 36-second pin of Royalton-Upsala’s Jeremy Mugg in the consolation semifinals. In the consolation finals vs. Badger/Greenbush-Middle River, Orlando pinned Colton Gust in 33 seconds.

He’s one of six wrestlers from Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale/Parkers Prairie competing in the individual tournament.

This weekend marks the end of his wrestling career, because he will play football at the University of North Dakota. He was all-everything on the nine-man football field for the Verndale Pirates, starting since his freshman year at tailback, fullback, defensive line, linebacker, anywhere the team needed him.

Mike Mahlen, who has been Verndale’s coach for 51 years and has more wins than any football coach in state history (401), called Orlando a once-in-a-lifetime young man.

“There’s no doubt he’s one of the best football players I’ve ever coached. He’s such a good kid, I can’t say enough about him. He’s not a rah-rah guy but he leads by example all the way. He’s a great leader not only on the field, but in the classroom and around the community. To me, he’s a better person than he is a football player. You’d like to have kids like that all the time.”

Football in Verndale is “really huge and Mahlen’s the heart of it,” Orlando said. “He gets you ready for the games and you want to go kick some butt when you're playing for him.”

Another Verndale tradition is the Orlando family. Craig is the third generation to play football for Mahlen; his dad Mike and grandpa Dave did the same. Ninth-grader Jaden Finck, another football player and wrestler, is the only other third-generation football player under Mahlen.

Craig Orlando said football is his favorite but wrestling is a boon for the other sport. “It helps a lot,” he said. “I feel like wrestlers are better tacklers on the football field just because they know how to get low and stuff.”

“I think the biggest thing with Craig and what makes him what he is,” Wagner said, “is he just doesn't want anybody to get the best of him. He's just mentally so tough. And then he's backing it up with lifting weights and doing all that other stuff. So when he goes out there he just kind of reminds me a little bit of MMA; it’s like, ‘You want to challenge me? Fine, I'm going to crush you.’ ”

--Follow John on Twitter @MSHSLjohn, listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts and hear him on Minnesota Public Radio.