John's Journal
Edina, Hill-Murray Will Meet In 2A Championship Game 3/8/2013
Edina defeated Duluth East in Friday's Class 2A boys state hockey semifinals and Hill-Murray rallied to beat Wayzata. In Class 1A, St. Thomas Academy rolled past East Grand Forks. Read Luke Sleeper's stories by clicking here
Sometimes It’s All About The Team … Injury Or Not3/7/2013
When Lakeville North boys hockey coach Trent Eigner talks about senior captain Alex Wood, you would be wise to listen. Wood’s story is the kind that makes you appreciate what team is all about, what it means to not give up on your buddies.

“You don’t come across kids like this very often,” Eigner said Thursday at Xcel Energy Center. “When you do, it’s good fortune.”

Wood is a defenseman for the Panthers, who lost to Edina 9-3 Friday in the Class 2A state quarterfinals. The fact that the 6-foot-1, 190-pound senior was even on the ice was a longshot before the season began, because he was walking around on a right knee that was shredded.

The anterior cruciate ligament went kaboom in the Prep Bowl on Thanksgiving weekend. Wood -- a linebacker who was named the defensive player of the year in the South Suburban Conference and was a finalist for the Mr. Football Award -- was playing fullback with 90 seconds left to play in North’s 28-7 loss to Eden Prairie. He threw a block and immediately knew something was wrong.

“I took a step, felt a pop and then felt a ripped feeling in my knee,” Wood said. “My thoughts were, ‘So that’s what (a torn ACL) feels like.’ ”

The knee required surgery, but Wood didn’t want to miss his senior hockey season. He has signed a letter of intent to play football at Minnesota Duluth, and a lot of athletes would have said goodbye to their No. 2 sport, undergone surgery and began rehabbing for their first college football season. Not Wood.

He sat out the Panthers’ first eight games and just missed it too much. Instead of surgery, he was fitted with a knee brace and began doing all the work he could to be able to play hockey. He talked to Minnesota Duluth football coach Curt Wiese, who approved Wood’s attempt to return to hockey.

“I told (Eigner) it was time for me to get back on the ice and I did what was necessary to do that,” Alex said. “I was rehabbing religiously, lifting weights for my upper body, to prepare and get stronger. I was cleared to do some leg lifts, quad extensions, hamstring curls, I got on the bike for 30-40 minutes at a time to try and get my endurance up.”

He returned to the ice for a holiday tournament, a little more than a month after his injury. And he was skating with his teammates on Thursday; his final game as a hockey player will come Friday or Saturday, depending on how North fares in the consolation bracket.

“You don’t get kids like Woody very often,” Eigner said. “I’m sure there are other programs with similar kids with similar attributes, but for me this is our guy as far as a kid that just competes. He pours himself into everything he does. The sacrifice he made coming off the knee injury, being there for us, was really special.”

Wood will have finally knee surgery on April 16.

STEPPING IN AND STANDING TALL

Moorhead sophomore goalie Jacob Dittmer made the save of the day Thursday and proved that he is capable of filling some big skates. Michael Bitzer was a goaltending legend in Moorhead before graduating last spring; he won the Frank Brimsek Award as Minnesota’s best senior goaltender after going 18-9-2 with a 2.30 goals-against average and helping the Spuds reach the state tournament.

Bitzer has played 32 games this season with the Lincoln Stars of the USHL, ranking fifth in the league with a GAA of 2.63. He has made a commitment to play college hockey at Bemidji State.

Dittmer stepped into the crease this season and learned quickly. He came into the state tournament with a record of 11-6-2, and his finest moment came in Thursday’s 1-0 loss to Duluth East. Dittmer sprawled in front of a shot, clipped it with his left skate, then quickly reached back with his glove hand to stop a rebound attempt. It was an NHL-caliber highlight.

“(Bitzer) is a special player and Jacob’s just a sophomore,” Spuds coach Peter Cullen said. “He’s trying to learn things, learn his own game, find himself in different ways in the net. He’s been a work in progress and he’s making progress.”

Duluth East’s winning goal against Moorhead was scored by Jack Kolar early in the second period. Dittmer made 29 saves and East goalie Dylan Parker stopped 12 shots.

Duluth East will face Edina in Friday’s semifinals at 6 p.m.

--In Thursday’s evening session, Hill-Murray beat Eastview 6-3 and Wayzata beat Centennial 2-1 in overtime.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--I Tweeted this before Thursday’s 2A games began: “Remember what happened last year in the #mshsl 2A boys hockey state quarterfinals? That's right, the top four seeds all lost.” That was not the case this time. In both the 2A and 1A quarterfinals, the seeds held.

--Thursday’s first pep band tune was a beauty. The Duluth East orchestra pumped out Ozzy Osbourne’s “Crazy Train” to start a fantastic day of hockey and music.

--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 7 for the tournament, 29 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 504
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,389
(*During the 2012-13 school year)
Hurley’s Hat Trick Leads Edina Into Class 2A Semifinals 3/7/2013
Three goals by Connor Hurley helped Edina beat Lakeville North in the Class 2A boys state hockey quarterfinals Thursday. Hill-Murray also advanced with a victory over Eastview and Wayzata beat Centennial in overtime. Read Luke Sleeper's story by clicking here.
Marshall Tigers Make History And Show Us What’s Important 3/6/2013
The new kids on the hockey block came to the state tournament for the first time in school history, found themselves on the wrong end of a pretty good shellacking … and they were all smiles and pride afterwards.

Congratulations to the Marshall Tigers, who showed us Thursday that this thing called high school sports isn’t only about winning. It’s also about working together, overcoming obstacles, hanging in there and seeing how far you can go.

Marshall goaltender Mason Campion said, “I guess it’s a once-in-a-lifetime thing.” That may be true, and the Tigers’ first trip to the boys state hockey tournament will leave everyone with great memories. After they were defeated by second-seeded Breck 6-1 in the Class 1A quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center, a lot of things didn’t really matter.

Marshall came in with a record of 14-10-1. Didn’t matter. No team from the Southwest Conference had ever played at state. Didn’t matter. The Tigers had reached the section championship game only once prior to this season. Didn’t matter. They were outshot 40-17 by Breck. Didn’t matter.

The only thing that really mattered was this: The Tigers made it to state.

“I didn’t really expect us to get here,” Campion said. “We just go out and work hard every game, see what happens. It’s fun to be a part of this team. Even if we just lost, I don’t care; it’s fun to be out there. It’s something you dream about. You just want to play at the Xcel Energy Center, and we’re here.”

This was supposed to be a year to rebuild in Marshall. Last year’s team finished 16-8-1 but a bunch of seniors graduated and a first-year head coach – Dave Coubert – took over this season. They were injuries during the regular season, with a raft of youngsters moving up from the junior varsity to the varsity .

In the Marshall Independent’s preview of the state quarterfinal game, Coudert told sports reporter Travis Andries what his expectations were.

“It's going to be a test,” Coudert said. “The only worse draw would have been (top-seeded) St. Thomas Academy, so we just want to see hard work, heart and no giving up. Just do Marshall proud, that's what we want.”

No problem there. The other seven teams in the 1A tournament combined for 44 state appearances and nine state titles. Didn’t matter.

The highlight for the Tigers came early in the second period when they scored their first goal in a state tournament. Junior Jeremiah Barker got the goal with assists by junior Andrew Bell and sophomore Derek Rasmussen. Here’s the best part of that tale: The goal was Barker’s very first goal of the season.

Coudert told the media afterwards, “We kept on saying, ‘Who’s going to be the first one to get a goal for Marshall in the state tournament?’ Jeremiah went out there and got a sweet goal.”

Barker was as surprised as anyone.

“When I tipped it, I didn’t realize it had gone in. I saw a flash of it and I couldn’t believe it; ‘Wow, I just scored a goal at the Xcel Energy Center.’ It was exciting. It was a great experience and I’m glad my parents were here to be able to see that.”

I’m glad we were all able to see that.

Well done, Tigers.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--Hermantown’s top line is a scoring machine, with Chris Benson (30 goals), Tyler Koepke (29) and Bo Gronseth (26) scoring almost at will this season. Fittingly, they each scored a goal in the Hawks’ 3-0 win over Duluth Marshall on Thursday.

The trio first came to the varsity as sophomores, when they were known as the Diaper Line. They helped the Hawks reach state that season, and their improvement has been steady.

“They were our second line last year,” coach Bruce Plante said. “Chris got to play on our top line a little bit because we needed a left winger. And this year these guys came in being our top line. I knew they were going to be good. I had no doubt about that because they had done well as 10th-graders and they had done really well as juniors.

“We have a pecking order in Hermantown and the older guys get a lot of the ice time. It was their turn. They see each other very well, their vision is great, they’re friends, they’re unselfish, they’re the kind of line you really love to have as the top line. They’re fun to have around and they’re totally unselfish.”

--In Thursday evening’s 1A semifinals, St. Thomas Academy defeated St. Cloud Apollo 12-0 and East Grand Forks beat Rochester Lourdes 3-2.

--Friday’s first game of the 1A consolation bracket at Mariucci Arena will be a challenge for the arena announcer as well as radio broadcasters. That’s because the 10 a.m. game will be between Marshall and Duluth Marshall. It’s probably best to refer to them as the Tigers and the Hilltoppers.

--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 4 for the tournament, 26 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 496
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,339
(*During the 2012-13 school year)

New Metro West Conference To Begin Play In 20143/5/2013
Chaska, Chanhassen, Bloomington Kennedy, Bloomington Jefferson, Robbinsdale Cooper, Richfield and St. Louis Park will form a new conference. Read the details by clicking here.