Saturday’s Class 1A boys hockey state championship game was one that will be talked about for years to come, for varying reasons. For one, it was St. Thomas Academy’s last game in 1A before opting up to Class 2A next season, and the Cadets capped their time in the smaller class with a 5-4 victory for their third consecutive title and fifth in eight years.
Another reason was the way the game ended. Hermantown led 4-2 late in the second period before the Cadets scored three goals in the third, including the winner by Tommy Novak with six seconds to play.
But most of all, chatter will center around decisions by the officials in the final stages of the game. After a penalty was called on Hermantown, the Cadets scored the winner on a power play. The Hawks and their fans will aways believe that the officials should have called a similar penalty on St. Thomas Academy.
“I didn’t think we should have had a penalty on the one at the end,” Hawks coach Bruce Plante said, speaking in a measured tone. “And then we had the same type of thing at the other end. I thought they should have made a call right there. Their guys wraps our guy up and skates around. That’s the way I saw it, anyway.”
The Hermantown players were absolutely crushed after losing in the state championship game for the fourth year in a row and to the Cadets for the third straight time. During the postgame ceremony, there was no Hermantown rush to accept the runner-up trophy. Senior captain Jake Zeleznikar took it, skated to the bench and handed it to one of the coaches. While the Hawks sat in a silent locker room, the trophy was on a table outside the closed locker room doors.
Few teams ever play in a state championship game, doing so four years in a row is nearly impossible … and losing all four years is pure heartbreak. Especially when you’re playing the best game of your life and leading 4-2 in the final period.
“I loved our effort,” Plante said. “I thought it was the greatest effort ever. It was great. They played hard and played well. I don’t think we can play any better than that.”
In the locker room, he told his players that he loved them. He told reporters, “This is probably the most difficult loss I’ve ever had in my life.”
Plante and Cadets co-coach Greg Vannelli both showed their emotions afterwards, but when discussing massively different topics. Plante talked at length about the public school vs. private school debate, while Vannelli had tears in his eyes when asked about the fact that so many people outside of St. Thomas Academy don’t care for the Cadets.
A reported asked Vannelli a clearly satirical question: When you move to 2A, will you miss all this love and affection? The coach fought back tears and said simply, “I’m proud of our guys. It’s tough. We had a target on our back all year and to come through like this was really great.”
Next question: Do you get tired of wearing the black hat all the time? Vannelli’s reply: “We just focus on the positive things. I can’t control what other people think. I’m just proud of our guys.”
A question to Plante included the word “hatred” for the Cadets, and he quickly jumped on that interpretation.
“I have no hatred for the Cadets. And that’s another misconception that I heard on TV yesterday, that the coaches don’t like each other. That’s not true. I have nothing against the Vannellis, they’re great coaches, they do a good job of what they do. I don’t buy this private school philosophy, that’s all. I don’t think you should be able to get kids from Wisconsin and Missouri and all over Minnesota and make a team and play single A hockey. I don’t think it’s right. And I certainly don’t think it should be in single A hockey. We’ve been so unbelievably fortunate to be able to be in this championship game four times, it’s amazing, really.
“You saw how they played. These guys can’t play any harder than that. We don’t have three first lines; they have four. We just can’t pull guys like that. And I’ll tell you something else; this year I had nine parents, kids, (who sent) emails who wanted to move to Hermantown and play for us. You know what I tell them? ‘Stay there and play with the kids and do your best there and make everyone in your community proud.’ That’s what I tell them.”
--Hermantown's initial goal against St. Thomas Academy was the first goal scored against the Cadets in five-plus postseason games. At that point, St. Thomas Academy had outscored its last nine opponenets 80-3.
--Before games, players stretch, jog and otherwise limber up in the open spaces underneath the Xcel Energy Center stands. Before the 1A championship game, I walked past the official’s locker room and saw one of the officials – wearing a t-shirt, shorts and sneakers – jumping rope. It’s all about preparation.
--Cheap, unclassy shot by the St. Thomas Academy students, who chanted “Fire Bruce!” – a personal reference to Plante. Behavior like that is embarrasing to their school and their alumni.
HERB BROOKS AWARD WINNERS
CLASS 1A: Hermantown’s Chris Benson was the recipient of the award.
CLASS 2A: Ryan Lundgren, Duluth East.
CLASS 1A: Matt Colford, Breck; Colton Poolman, Tommy Hajicek, East Grand Forks; Alex Funk, Rochester Lourdes/Stewartville; Neal Pionk, Chris Benson, Travis Koepke, Adam Smith, Hermantown; Jack Dougherty, Wyatt Schmidt, Matt Perry, David Zevnik, St. Thomas Academy.
CLASS 2A: Meirs Moore, Alex Toscano, Phil Beaulieu, Duluth East; Jacob Dittmer, Moorhead; John Dugas, Zach LaValle, Sam Becker, Mitch Slattery, Hill-Murray; Parker Reno, Andy Jordahl, Connor Hurley, Dylan Malmquist, Edina.
--Breck 3, East Grand Forks 2: The Mustangs scored all three goals in the second period and defeated the Green Wave in the third-place game. Tommy Hajicek scored both goals for East Grand Forks.
--Duluth Marshall 6, Rochester Lourdes 5: The Hilltoppers finished fifth by winning a game that saw six goals in the first eight minutes. Connor Flaherty and Matthew Klassen each scored twice for Marshall.
--Duluth East 7, Wayzata 3: Alex Toscano and Phil Beaulieu each scored twice for the Greyhounds as they beat the Trojans in the third-place game.
--Moorhead 5, Eastview 2: The Spuds survived 37 minutes worth of penalties and eight Eastview power-play opportunities to win the fifth-place game at Mariuccu Arena.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 16 for the tournament, 38 for the winter state tournaments
*Schools/teams John has visited: 504
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,439
(*During the 2012-13 school year)