John's Journal
Big Court, Big Coaching Lead To Big Victory For DeLaSalle3/12/2014
When DeLaSalle opened Class 3A play in the boys state basketball tournament Wednesday, everything seemed to fall into place. One key to the Islanders’ 81-48 victory over St. Paul Central was the combination of the Williams Arena court and the coaching of former Gophers player Quincy Lewis, now an Islanders assistant.

DeLaSalle, which is gunning for a three-peat state title, was not troubled in the least by playing on the court at Williams Arena, which is 10 feet longer than high school courts. In fact, the Islanders relished the chance to run free with some specialized coaching by Lewis, who played on the Gophers' 1997 Final Four team.

“I thought we were able to attack in transition in a way that hasn’t happened in the last couple of games because Central wanted to play a more up-tempo game,” said head coach Dave Thorson (pictured). “So I thought we had more opportunity to run. ... Quincy Lewis has done a great job of not only educating me but doing a great job teaching our kids how to play in the open floor. And I thought you really saw that today.

“There’s no question that our guys love to be on the bigger floor. It’s a big difference; going from a high school floor to a big floor is three hard strides. For us that’s important, that means we can probably get the ball up the floor a little bit faster.”

The Islanders led 18-3 after seven minutes and cruised into Thursday’s noon semifinals against Orono at Target Center. By the game’s end, DeLaSalle had scored 50 points in the paint and 16 on fast breaks. It didn’t hurt that the Islanders also shot better than 70 percent from the field. Sacar Anim led DeLaSalle with 21 points and Reid Travis had 20.


There are 11 boys basketball teams in the Wright County Conference and four of them qualified for this week’s state tournament. The number might have been six if two section title games hadn’t been matchups of WCC teams.

Here’s the rundown: New London-Spicer and Annandale made it to state in Class 2A, with Holy Family Catholic and Orono qualifying in 3A. Orono defeated conference rival Delano in the Section 5 championship game and Holy Family beat Waconia (another WCC team) to win Section 6. Another WCC team, Glencoe-Silver Lake, lost in the 2A Section 2 semifinals.

In Wednesday’s 3A state quarterfinals, Orono beat Marshall 67-60 and Holy Family defeated Cloquet 63-41. In an evening 2A quarterfinal, Annandale beat New London-Spicer 76-70.

“Every night in our conference, you just battled,” said Orono coach Barry Wohler. “It’s physical. Our conference really gets us ready for tournament time.”

--Wohler was the head coach at Marshall from 1999 to 2004 before he went to Orono. He continues to have strong ties to Marshall and recognized some of the names on the Tigers roster. Those included three of the Tigers starters Wednesday: Reece and Connor Winkelman and Riley Sharbono.

“(Marshall assistant coach) Mike Christianson is one of my closest friends in the world,” Wohler said. “And I’ve gotten to know (head coach) Travis Carroll through him. When I was living in Marshall, the Winkelman boys were in first, second grade, three houses down, always on the court, and the Sharbonos lived behind us. I coached Sharbono’s older brother and he was a heck of a player, so I knew were in for a mess against those guys. They can play and I know how competitive Marshall kids are. I was hoping we could find a way.”

--The Marshall team wore warmup T-shirts that read “Team Carter/Carter Strong” in honor of Carter Boerboom, a Marshall eighth-grader who is dealing with cancer.

--In the other 3A quarterfinal, Austin beat Alexandria 61-50.

--Class 4A results: Hopkins beat Tartan 70-58, Shakopee beat Osseo 54-51, Lakeville North beat Buffalo 59-47, and Cretin-Derham Hall beat St. Francis 69-53.

--Class 2A results: Annandale beat New London-Spicer 76-70, Esko beat East Grand Forks 57-54 in overtime, Caledonia beat St. Paul Academy and Summit School 73-53, and Fairmont beat St. Peter 58-54.


--The first pep band song out of the chute at Williams Arena on Wednesday morning was Stevie Wonder's "Sir Duke" by the DeLaSalle Orchestra. Like me, that tune is from the 70s.

--Since before the boys state hockey tournament, I had been hoping to hear a pep band play “Happy” by Pharrell. The Mighty Mighty Orono band came through for me Wednesday at Williams Arena. I love it when bands take requests.

--Sign carried by a student from St. Paul Central: “DeLaSalle warms up to Nickleback.” (We forgive the spelling error in Nickelback.)

--Lakeville North has been wearing blue socks all season in honor of Alyssa Ettl, a North student who died in a December auto accident on her way to school.

--This is Shakopee coach Bruce Kugath’s 30th year with the Sabers. Kugath recorded his 500th victory this season.

--John’s Journal correspondent Luke Sleeper contributed to this report. Thanks Luke!

*Schools/teams John has visited: 363
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,742
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn

East Grand Forks And Hermantown: Pride All Around 3/8/2014
Bruce Plante, who Friday had joked about not being able to go out in public if Hermantown lost in the Class 1A boys hockey state championship game for the fifth year in a row, delivered a strong postgame message Saturday. The message came after the second-seeded Hawks indeed lost the title game for the fifth consecutive year, a 7-3 defeat to top-seeded East Grand Forks at Xcel Energy Center.

But the message was resounding.

“I’m totally and completely OK because our kids played so hard, the best they could,” said Plante (pictured), who has been coaching for 25 years. “This was kind of a rebuilt team and they went this far. You have to be proud of what they’ve done. I love them to death because they gave everything they had. We ran into a better team.”

East Grand Forks won behind an attack that was balanced as well as relentless. The Green Wave’s goals came from seven players: Dixon Bowen, Eddie Eades, Jace Pesch, Grant Loven, Reed Corbid, Cale Mack and Tanner Tweten.

“It just doesnt seem to be our deal,” said Plante, whose team lost to Breck in the 2010 title game and to St. Thomas Academy the previous three years.

“It feels a lot better losing to East Grand than anybody else we’ve lost to, I’ll tell you that,” Plante said. “They’re the same kind of program we are.”

East Grand Forks was making its ninth trip to state and played in its second championship game. In 1999 the Green Wave lost to Benilde-St. Margaret’s 4-2 in the 1A final.

This time, the Green Wave defeated Orono 5-1 and St. Cloud Cathedral 2-1 in reaching Saturday’s game. Hermantown led 1-0 after the first period on a goal by Scott Wasbotten and appeared to be in control. But things changed in the second period, when East Grand Forks scored five times and outshot the Hawks 15-6.

“After the first period we came into the locker room and we knew it was going to be a tough period,” said Green Wave junior defender Tye Ausmus. “It was the state championship game. Nothing is given to you. We were quiet, just got ready for the second, we went out there and did our thing and had a really good period.”

East Grand Forks coach Tyler Palmiscno said, 'There will never be a team from the East side better than this team. This senior class set this goal five or six years ago. And they worked for it. It’s special.”

Plante said he will take some time in deciding if he will continue coaching.

“That’s to be decided down the road a little bit. Maybe somebody can get them through the last game, I don’t know. It gets to be a pretty big sack of rocks on your back after a while. It gets heavy.”


Edina won its ninth state championship, rolling to an 8-2 victory over Lakeville North. The No.1 seed in Class 2A, the Hornets were charged by a fast, physical and deep roster and stellar goaltending.

Though it was Edina’s high-flying offense that took over the title game, coach Curt Giles said his team was focused on defense.

“We’ve been preaching all year long that we need to commit to defense against teams deep and talented like Lakeville North,” he said. “When you’re committed to defense, the goals will come.”

Edina played like a team without any weaknesses in three tournament games at Xcel Energy Center, though, according to senior Tyler Nanne, this was a team that had its downs this season, particularly on one night in January.

“We got our butts kicked against Hill-Murray and our coaches skated us hard after the game when we got back to our rink,” he said. “It’s exactly what we needed, we deserved it. Without this coaching staff, we would be nothing.”

Casey Dornbach got the scoring going early for Edina, benefitting from precision passing from Garret Wait and Tyler Nanne. Lakeville North junior forward Max Johnson tied the score later in the first period, only to have Edina’s Ben Foley respond seconds later with a power-play score. Johnson scored the only other goal for the Panthers in the game.

Miguel Fidler scored the next two goals for Edina, followed by one by Parker Mismash. Kiefer Bellows scored the next two Edina goals and the celebrating began. Senior forward Cullen Munson capped the game off with a score of his own.

Consistent success like that of Edina’s requires strong leadership. Bellows, a sophomore, credited his older teammates with steadying the ship.

“The seniors settled our emotions down and led us all year long,” he said. “They have been here before and knew what to expect.”

Giles called this Edina squad “one of the best teams in the school’s history,” citing his belief that they committed to a true team concept. “Anybody on any night could step up for us,” he said. “We’ve had some high-end, talented kids come through here the past 15 years and on this team everyone was involved in our success.”


1A third-place game/ New Prague 5, St. Cloud Catheral 2: Austin Killian scored twice for the Trojans.

1A fifth-place game/ Totino-Grace 4, Luverne 3 (two overtimes): Joey Brey scored two goals for the Eagles, including the game-winner in the second overtime.

2A third-place game/ Eagan 6, Eden Prairie 4: A last-minute goal by Nick Wolff, plus an empty-netter by Wolff, carried the Wildcats past the Eagles.

2A fifth-place game/ Roseau 3, Duluth East 2: Alex Strand scored twice for the Rams, including the game-winner in the third period.


Class 1A/ Daniel Bailey, William Hammer, Zach Fritz, St. Cloud Cathedral; Ben Henderson, Totino-Grace; Gunnar Olson, Luverne; Austin Isaacson, New Prague; Nate Pionk, Zach Kramer, Hermantown; Colton Poolman, Tye Ausmus, Tanner Tweten, Josh Weber, Hermantown.

Class 2A/ Nick Wolff, Andrew Lindgren, Eagan; Alex Strand, Zach Yon, Roseau; Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East; Luc Snuggerud, Eden Prairie; Jack Poehling, Nick Poehling, Lakeville North; Miquel Fidler, Dylan Malmquist, Tyler Nanne, Andrew Rohkohl, Edina.


--Ryan Clark, a former Fargo Forum sports reporter who has covered the state hockey tournament in the past, is now working in Florida at the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel. On Saturday morning he was at a Florida Panthers practice, and people with the NHL team asked him if it was possible to watch the Minnesota state hockey tournament. He directed them to the webcast.

--Written on a whiteboard in the East Grand Forks locker room: “All In – Together.”

--Total tournament attendance was 119,178 ... the second-largest total in last six years.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 353
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,692
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Memories Of 1979: New Prague Hockey Has Come A Long Way 3/7/2014
This week has been a time of celebration in New Prague. The Trojans played in the boys state hockey tournament for the first time, beating Chisago Lakes in the quarterfinals before losing to Hermantown in Friday’s Class 1A semifinals.

For New Prague assistant coach Chris Morris, the trip to state is even more memorable because he can remember when there was no high school hockey in his hometown. The first varsity team was assembled in the 1979-80 season, when Morris was a junior .

“We started as bantams and we’d had nothing after bantams,” Morris said Friday. “We put together a midget team, and after midgets we put together a high school team. We had a lot of involved parents and a lot of community support.”

There was no ice arena in New Prague at the time, so the players spent time on outdoor ice. The closest rink was 20 miles away in LeSueur, which meant 4 a.m. bus rides to practice. A rink was built in New Prague in 1996.

“It was old-school,” said Morris, an attorney in New Prague who was the Trojans head hockey coach from 1995 to 2003.

He said the equipment back then was “whatever you could put together. Boy, that was a long time ago. We had a group of kids who really wanted to keep playing hockey, and their parents, and it was great.”

The inaugural team had little more than a dozen players and a schedule that included some games against junior varsity teams. They finished with a record of 15-6.

This year’s Trojans will take a record of 22-5-3 into Saturday’s third-place game against St. Cloud Cathedral.

“It’s pretty rewarding to see how the town has come along,” Morris said. “It’s becoming a hockey town. We’re proud of the boys.”


Hermantown has finished second in Class 1A for the last four years and will meet East Grand Forks in Saturday’s championship game. Coach Bruce Plante admitted that the four title-game losses have mystified him. But he also can joke about the situation.

“I don’t even know what to think about this,” he said. “People call me some names already about taking second place. The one I like is when they compare me to Bud Grant. He shoots ducks, he fishes, kind of like me.

“I don’t really know what to say about five times. It would be committing hari-kari to take second place again. It’s a weird deal, man, it’s way out there somewhere. I’m not going to be able to go out in public again if we lose, at least not in Hermantown.”

--Scott Wasbotten scored two goals for Hermantown in the Hawks’ semifinal victory over New Prague. Austin Isaacson had a goal and assist for New Prague.

--East Grand Forks 2, St. Cloud Cathedral 1: A goal by Tanner Tweten early in the third period sealed the victory and boosted the Green Wave into the championship game. Colton Poolman scored for East Grand Forks in the first period and Cathedral’s Erik Gadbois made it 1-1 in the second.


--Lakeville North 5, Eden Prairie 4 (two overtimes): Nick Poehling scored the goal that sent the game into overtime and got the game winner in the second extra session for the Panthers. Poehling tied the score 4-4 in the second period before the teams played a scoreless third period and first overtime. Steven Spinner had two goals for the Eagles.

-- Edina 3, Eagan 1: Dylan Malmquist and Garrett Wait scored the first two goals for the defending state champion Hornets, who will meet Lakeville North in Saturday night’s championship game. Malmquist added an empty-net goal in the final minute.


--Roseau 5, Centennial 3: Alex Strand had two goals and two assists for the Rams and Collin Hughes scored two goals for Centennial. The Cougars had 48 shots on goal to 31 for Roseau, with Rams goaltender Ryan Anderson making 45 saves.

--Duluth East 2, Stillwater 1 (overtime): Brian Bunten scored the winner for the Greyhounds 3:07 into overtime. Duluth East and Roseau will meet in the fifth-place game at Mariucci Arena on Saturday.


--Hermantown players are wearing stickers on their helmets that say “Tim” in honor of Tim Ellingson, a former assistant coach, rink manager and Hawks supporter who died suddenly in January at 68.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 353
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,652
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
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