John's Journal
Brotherly Love Leads Lakeville North Into 2A Hockey Semifinals3/6/2014
By Luke Sleeper, John’s Journal Correspondent

After Lakeville North’s 2-1 overtime victory over Roseau in the Class 2A state hockey quarterfinals Thursday, it didn’t take long for the nerves to wear off for the Poehling brothers. Twins Nick and Jack and younger brother Ryan stood together in an Xcel Energy Center corridor, taking verbal jabs at each other and exchanging brotherly shoves.

Minutes after the game ended, Ryan’s older brothers (who are juniors) were eager to describe how they had duped the freshman into approaching random hockey patrons around the arena on Wednesday, telling him they were professional hockey scouts interested in the youngest Poehling’s talents.

“We found some random guys in hockey jackets and pointed them out to (Ryan),” Jack said, putting his arm around his younger brother. “We’d say ‘Hey Ryan, come talk to this scout, he wants to speak to you.’ ”

Such off-ice behavior is commonplace for the Poehlings, but it’s been their performances on the ice that has people taking notice.

The three brothers are forwards on Lakeville’s top line and have combined for 128 points this season. Jack is four points from breaking the single-season school points record (55), while Ryan already owns the Lakeville North record for points by a freshman (33). Nick leads all Panthers with four game-winning goals this season. All three Poehlings have accepted scholarship offers from St. Cloud State.

Jack capitalized on great passes from Ryan and Nick to score North’s first goal Thursday, which tied the game 1-1 (and might have been the first time in state tournament history that three brothers combined on a goal). Freshman forward Henry Enebak broke the tie in overtime with his 11th goal of the season, sending the Panthers to Friday's semifinals against Eden Prairie.

“Growing up together and playing street hockey all the time has made us pretty aware of where each other will be on the ice and what we like to do,” Nick said.

Though they laugh about it now, Ryan and his brothers point to the first game of the season as the turning point for them as teammates and brothers. Nick and Jack were in a scuffle in the corner boards with a few Eastview players when they saw their little brother skating toward them to the rescue.

“Ryan came in and got a couple shots in and skated away,” Nick recalled. “We like to give him a hard time for coming to help us and then skating out of there right away.”

Ryan said, “Then everything kind of took off. So much has happened since then, it’s unbelievable.”


Jack Sullivan scored twice and Marc Sullivan added a goal to give the Eagles a 3-0 lead midway through the first period, but the Cougars fought back. Centennial scored twice in the second period to get within 4-3 but Eden Prairie hung on to advance to the semifinals against Lakeville North.


The defending state champion Hornets came out flying, scoring four times in the first period and running away with the victory. Tyler Nanne had four goals for Edina, which outshot the Cougars 27-13 overall and 11-3 in each of the first and third periods.


Max Eisenheimer scored two goals for the Wildcats, who will meet Edina in Friday’s semifinals.


The Fritz family of St. Cloud is enjoying a very special week during the state hockey tournament. St. Cloud Cathedral junior goaltender Zach Fritz made 26 saves Thursday night when the Crusaders defeated Totino-Grace 4-3 in overtime in the Class 1A quarterfinals. Cathedral will meet East Grand Forks in Friday’s semifinals.

Zach’s father, Troy Fritz, knows the feeling. Exactly 30 years ago, Troy was the starting goaltender for St. Cloud Apollo when the Eagles played in the state tournament at the St. Paul Civic Center. The 1984 team didn’t win a game at state (losing to Hibbing and Roseau), so Zach has something on his dad.

“My dad is super proud, super excited,” Zach said after the first-round victory. “He knows what it feels like. I wasn’t quite sure. I knew it would be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and it’s pretty awesome right now.”

Back in 1984 the tournament was held at the St. Paul Civic Center, where the Xcel Energy Center now sits. Troy remembers his team coming in as a Cinderella story, and he also remembers the philoshophy of the team.

“For us the motto all year long was ‘Big team, little me,’ ” Troy said. “It had nothing to do with the individuals. We got there as a team and it was a pretty exciting journey.”

Troy has been giving his son advice. “As Zach was going down this line. I kept telling him, ‘Remember, it’s just another game.’ I think he took it to heart. He’s a pretty even-keel personality. It’s kind of neat to share some similar experiences.”


Twitter lights up during major events like the boys state hockey tournament, with lots of people pitching in with thoughts, comments and smart remarks. Here’s a Tweet that came from a famous former Texas high school football star named Adrian Peterson: “Heard the MN state hockey tourney is the biggest high school tourney of any sport in the US, wow! Good luck to all participants!”

And here’s a smattering of Twitter comments regarding veteran NHL broadcaster Gary Thorne, who is calling the Class 2A tournament along with 50-year veteran analyst Lou Nanne on KSTC Channel 45 …

--“Gary Thorne has already earned his paycheck, sign him long-term.”

--“Absolutely loving Gary Thorne and Lou Nanne on the call. Hockey heaven.”

--“Gary Thorn and Lou Nanne doing play by play is pretty incredible.”

--“Gary Thorne and Lou Nanne calling the games is pretty freaking cool.”

--“Every time Gary Thorne yells "GOAL!!!", I immediately look up to see if it was Messier or Gretzky or Lemieux.”

--“I hope 45 realizes that they have to bring back Gary Thorne every year now.”


--Luverne 5, Chisago Lakes 2: Gunnar Olson and Jaxon Nelson each scored twice for the Cardinals.

--Totino-Grace 4, Orono 1: Ben Henderson had a hat trick for the Eagles, who will meet Luverne in Saturday’s fifth-place game at Mariucci Arena.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 353
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,612
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Luverne Makes Hockey History Under Guidance Of Young Coach3/5/2014
By Luke Sleeper, John's Journal Correspondent

Luverne boys hockey coach Derrick Brown was fighting a hoarse voice and a constant smile when he sat down for a postgame media conference after his team’s 6-3 loss to No. 2 seed Hermantown in Wednesday’s Class 1A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center.

Brown could barely sit still in his seat when describing the pride he felt in his players, who made their school’s first state appearance.

“I’ve been trying to tell the players to keep their heads up,” he said. “I’m just so proud of those guys.”

Brown, 28, knows what it means to play on the big stage. He played on two state tournament teams at Princeton High School in 2002 and 2003.

After graduating from St. Mary’s University in Winona, Brown (pictured) found a teaching job in the southwest corner of the state, 250 miles away from his hometown. He was hired to teach civics and economics in Luverne as well as coach hockey.

“Southern Minnesota isn’t exactly a hotbed for hockey coaches,” Brown said. “But I was 23 years old, I just figured ‘why not?’ and packed up everything and headed south.”

Five years and 97 wins later, Brown and his team found themselves making school history in St. Paul after an undefeated season, despite some skepticism about the strength of Luverne (27-1-1) and its schedule.

“Not many people think very highly of our section and our part of the state when it comes to hockey,” he said. “We have some high-end kids. I think our guys proved today that they are legitimate hockey players.”

Longtime Hermantown coach Bruce Plante was impressed with the young coach and his team after their matchup Wednesday.

“You can tell that (Brown) is a really good, really smart coach,” he said. “(Luverne) is a really dangerous and aggressive team, they can really play. They got our guys nervous.”

Plante compared the importance of Luverne’s inaugural visit to the state tournament to his team’s first appearance in 1994.

“I told (Brown) that making the tournament is where it all starts,” he said. “The exposure you get here is so unbelievably great for your program to have a great team like theirs. So many more kids start coming out for hockey.”

In a sport predominantly full of veteran coaches and traditional powers, Brown brings a different, more youthful perspective to the game in Luverne.

“As young as I am, I kind of get what it’s like to be in (the player’s) shoes,” he said. “It was only 10 years ago that I was here playing in this thing. A lot of good can come with understanding the guys better than an older coach might.”

With Brown likely a hot commodity in Minnesota hockey and his career still very much in its early stages, the young coach has been speculating on where it may lead him.

“I was actually talking to my dad last night about the future a little bit. I guess I can’t really guarantee where hockey could take me,” he said. “Part of me thinks it would be awesome to build something here and make the state tournament a tradition for Luverne hockey and bring some state titles to this program.”

With a young nucleus of talent returning for the Cardinals, including eighth-grader Jaxon Nelson -- whom Brown described as having “legendary potential” -- Luverne could become a tournament mainstay.

“Jaxon has really impressed me this year,” Brown said. “With young guys, you never really know how it’s going to work out. He fits in so well in our locker room. He’s just so humble and mature for his age. He has the potential to be legendary in Minnesota high school hockey.”

Chances are, many of those same things are being said about Brown, too.

Luverne will face Chisago Lakes in the consolation bracket Thursday morning at Marucci Arena.

--Nate Pionk scored two goals in Hermantown’s victory over Luverne, with Gunnar Olson scoring twice for Luverne. The Hawks had 48 shots on goal to Luverne’s 26.


New Prague made some noise in its first trip to state, using a quick-strike attack to defeat the Wildcats and advance to Friday’s semifinals against Hermantown. New Prague scored goals 46 seconds and 1:04 into the second period as well as 1:30 into the third. Seth Kriha and Alex Gregor each scored two goals for New Prague.


Tanner Tweten scored two goals for the top-seeded Green Wave. East Grand Forks, which not lost Dec. 27, outshot the Spartans 29-14.


Erik Gadbois scored on a power play 5:21 into overtime to boost the Crusaders into Friday’s semifinals against East Grand Forks. Totino-Grace led 3-1 after the first period before Cathedral scored twice in the second, and it remained 3-3 through regulation.


--The first pep band song of the day was a good one: “Thrift Shop” by the Luverne band at 10:08 a.m.

--Another pep band highlight came when the New Prague musicians played the Bruno Mars hit “Locked Out of Heaven.”

--Quote of the day: “The beauty of hockey is anybody can win.” -- Hermantown coach Bruce Plante.

--Name of the day: Luverne’s Gunnar Olson.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 345
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,572
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
The Voice Of Hockey: Gary Thorne Set For Boys State Tourney3/3/2014
(This story originally appeared on John's Journal on Feb. 7.)

If you want to listen to someone who is excited about the boys state hockey tournament, listen to the familiar voice of Gary Thorne. The veteran broadcaster, who is well-known for his work with the NHL, Major League Baseball, ESPN, the Olympics and college hockey and football, will handle play-by-play duties on KSTC-Channel 45 for the Class 2A state tourney March 6-8 at Xcel Energy Center.

I talked with Thorne on the phone recently, and his excitement was palpable. He has never attended the MSHSL boys state hockey tournament and he is thrilled to be part of it in 2014.

“It’s one of those events, that if you like hockey it’s certainly up there among the major events in the country,” he said from his Florida home.

Thorne has seen it all. As a radio broadcaster for the New York Mets, he made the call when a ground ball got past Boston first baseman Bill Buckner in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. Currently he is a broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles; he also has been the voice of ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts.

His hockey broadcasting career began at the University of Maine, his alma mater.
From 1992 through 2004, Thorne called NHL games for ESPN, ESPN2 and (beginning in 1999) ABC.

During his years in the NHL he came to know many players who grew up in Minnesota. He learned a lot about the state hockey tournament through those relationships.

“They’ve said that next to winning the Stanley Cup, winning the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament is their biggest thrill,” Thorne told me.

Several years ago Thorne met Dennis Silva, the KSTC executive sports producer in charge of MSHSL state tournament television coverage. As they chatted, Thorne told Silva to keep him in mind if Silva ever needed a play-by-play person for the state hockey tournament. When Silva contacted Thorne recently, they had a deal in a short period of time.

“I knew it was the No. 1 high school tournament in the country, with big crowds, a tremendous viewing audience and a great level of talent on the ice,” Thorne said. “I told him, ‘If you need anybody, give me a call.’ ”

Thorne is already doing homework for the tournament by following the top teams in Class 2A.

“I’ve got a rundown on the teams that might be likely to be involved, and their players,” he said. “I’m trying to get a little familiar with everything involved.”

His broadcast partner at the tournament will be Lou Nanne, who will be attending his 50th boys state hockey tourney. Thorne and Nanne have known each other for years.

“I’ve known Lou from his days in the NHL and we’ve crossed paths many times over the years, I believe going back to my days of doing college hockey at Maine. I couldn’t believe it when I heard this will be Lou’s 50th tournament. That’s just unbelievable. What a run.”

Thorne will arrive in the Twin Cities a few days before the tournament begins to have meetings with the rest of the KSTC broadcast team. He can hardly wait.

“Everyone’s told me that the atmosphere is one of the things that makes the tournament so special,” he said. “That it’s just unbelievable, the passion of the fans and the players. It’s engaging to me. I can’t wait. It will be great fun. It’s one of those things that will seem like it’s over before it starts.”

His contract to work at the tournament is for one year. But …

“That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen again.”

Brackets Are Set For Boys State Hockey Tournament3/1/2014
At Xcel Energy Center

#2 Hermantown (22-4-2) vs. Luverne (27-0-1) , 11 a.m. Wednesday

#3 New Prague (21-4-3) vs. Chisago Lakes (20-8), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game Wednesday

#1 East Grand Forks (25-2-1) vs. Orono (19-8-1), 6 p.m. Wednesday

#5 Totino-Grace (17-10-1) vs. #4 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game Wednesday

At Xcel Energy Center

#2 Lakeville North (23-4-1) vs. Roseau (20-7-1), 11 a.m. Thursday

#3 Eden Prairie (17-8-3) vs. Centennial (16-10-2), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game Thursday

#1 Edina (22-4-1) vs. Stillwater (16-10-2), 6 p.m. Thursday

#5 Eagan (18-9-1) vs. #4 Duluth East (21-6-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game Thursday
Championships Won, Memories Made, An Era Comes To An End 3/1/2014
Saturday was one of those rare, special days that provide memories of a lifetime. It was a combination of season-ending championships, large and enthusiastic crowds, and families, all tied together from around our state.

In Minneapolis, boys swimmers and divers competed in the state championships at the University of Minnesota. In St. Paul, wrestling ruled the roost at Xcel Energy Center. The pairings were set for the next state tournament, boys hockey. And in a school gymnasium in Hibbing, a historic chapter came to a close. Let’s begin there.


We all knew this day was coming. Back in November, Chisholm boys basketball coach Bob McDonald announced that the 2013-14 season would be his last. And his remarkable career came to a close Saturday when Chisholm lost to Bigfork 47-39 in the Class 1A Section 7 playoffs in Hibbing.

McDonald, 80, ended his 59-year coaching career with an amazing record of 1,012 wins and 428 losses. He is the only coach in Minnesota basketball history to win 1,000 games and the 13th boys coach in the nation to do so. He will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame in July. Well done, sir.


There hasn’t been a lot of drama when Kasson-Mantorville senior heavyweight Sam Stoll is on the mat. In fact, Stoll was considered a near-sure thing to win his second consecutive Class 2A state title when the heavyweight competition at state began.

His high school career came to a glorious end Saturday night when he pinned Milaca senior Brandon Merten in the championship match. It was Stoll’s 63rd consecutive pin, which is a national high school record. Stoll will start a new wrestling chapter next season at the University of Iowa.

--Border West junior Cameron Sykora defeated Spencer Jenniges of Wabasso/Red Rock Central to win the 120-pound division of Class 1A. It made Sykora a four-time winner and a candidate to win his fifth next season. Previously, 14 wrestlers have won four state titles and four others have won five crowns.

The five-time winners are Matt Nagel of Frazee (1997-2001), Eric Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (1999-2003), Zach Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2003-07) and Destin McCauley of Apple Valley (2006-08, 2010-11).

--Apple Valley sophomore Mark Hall rolled to his fourth state title and could become the first Minnesota wrestler to win six championships. In Saturday’s 3A 170-pound title match he defeated Garrett Beaman of Henry Sibley.


When Tommy Thorn, a senior from St. Michael-Albertville, defeated George Farmah of Eastview to win the 3A wrestling title at 126 pounds, the feat meant more than the four state championship Tommy has won.

It also means that the Thorn family has more state titles than any other family in state wrestling history. David Thorn won four times and Mike was a three-time champion, giving the Thorns a total of 11 crowns. The Sanders family from Wabasha-Kellogg owns 10 titles, with Eric and Zach Sanders each winning five times between 1999 and 2007.

--See a list of all the state wrestling champions below.


St. Thomas Academy, Breck/Blake and Fergus Falls finished first, second and third Saturday in the Class 1A boys swimming and diving championships.

In Class 2A, Wayzata, East Ridge, Eden Prairie finished one, two, three.


The seeds and pairings for the boys state hockey tournament were set on Saturday, with East Grand Forks getting the top seed in Class 1A and Edina named the top seed in 2A. Here are the quarterfinal pairings at Xcel Energy Center …


#2 Hermantown (22-4-2) vs. Luverne (27-0-1) , 11 a.m. Wednesday
#3 New Prague (21-4-3) vs. Chisago Lakes (20-8), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game Wednesday
#1 East Grand Forks (25-2-1) vs. Orono (19-8-1), 6 p.m. Wednesday
>#5 Totino-Grace (17-10-1) vs. #4 St. Cloud Cathedral (20-7-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game Wednesday


#2 Lakeville North (23-4-1) vs. Roseau (20-7-1), 11 a.m. Thursday
#3 Eden Prairie (17-8-3) vs. Centennial (16-10-2), 30 minutes after end of 11 a.m. game Thursday
#1 Edina (22-4-1) vs. Stillwater (16-10-2), 6 p.m. Thursday
#5 Eagan (18-9-1) vs. #4 Duluth East (21-6-1), 30 minutes after end of 6 p.m. game Thursday


106/ 1A Skylar Hieronimus, Adrian; 2A Garrett Aldrich, Albert Lea; 3A Brent Jones, Shakopee.

113/ 1A Austin Anderly, LeSueur-Henderson; 2A Jakob Stageberg, New London-Spicer; 3A Wade Sullivan, Lakeville North.

120/ 1A Cameron Sykora, Border West; 2A Skyler Petry, Waterville-E-M; 3A Mitchell McKee, St. Michael-Albertville.

126/ 1A Louis Sanders, Lake Crystal-Welcome Memorial; 2A Anthony Luft, Worthington; 3A Tommy Thorn, St. Michael-Albertville.

132/ 1A Quinten Barres, Kimball; 2A Griffin Parriott, New Prague; 3A Maolo Woiwor, Apple Valley.

138/ 1A Hank Friederichs, Chatfield; 2A Zach Siegle, Scott West; 3A Seth Gross, Apple Valley.

145/ 1A Larry Bomstad, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City; 2A Brady Berge, Kasson-Mantorville; 3A Mark Voss, St. Michael-Albertville.

152/ 1A Logan Peterson, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City; 2A Mack Short, Simley; 3A Owen Webster, Shakopee.

160/ 1A Mitch Lange, Royalton/Upsala; 2A Andrew Fogarty, Scott West; 3A Cody Skog, Cambridge-Isanti.

170/ 1A Keegan Moore, Jackson County Central; 2A Josh Selly, Tri-City United; 3A Mark Hall, Apple Valley.

182/ 1A Niko Anderson, Fillmore Central; 2A Austin May, Zimmerman; 3A Bobby Steveson, Apple Valley.

195/ 1A Nathan Rose, Sibley East; 2A Lance Benick, Totino-Grace; 3A Justin Cumberbatch, Alexandria.

220/ 1A Lucas Damm, Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City; 2A Clay Broze, Cannon Falls; 3A Alex Hart, Prior Lake.

285/ 1A Alex Schroepfer, Wabasso/Red Rock Central; 2A Sam Stoll, Kasson-Mantorville; 3A Luis Pinto, Prior Lake

*Schools/teams John has visited: 347
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,532
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn