After a two-overtime hockey game that ended with players from one team piling on top of each other and players from one team leaning on each other in agony, the debriefing provided an equally clear contrast.
The process at the boys state hockey tournament goes like this: When a game ends, a media steward asks the reporters who they would like to interview. Both coaches are automatically brought to the interview room, along with the requested players. The losing team normally goes first, sitting at a raised table in front of microphones and bright lights as the media asks questions, followed by the winners.
The difference is stark. The losing team, especially the players, are usually grim. Sometimes the losing coach will meet the media by himself. The winning team enters the interview room at Xcel Energy Center in a buoyant mood, ready to talk, smile and laugh.
So after Hermantown had defeated Breck 4-3 in a Class 1A semifinal that went into two overtimes, the Mustangs were the first on duty in the interview room. Coach Les Larson sat between seniors Matt Colford and Thomas Lindstrom. Larson did most of the answering, which was understandable.
“It’s hard, but you know what? We told our guys the best that they could do is the best that they could do,” Larson said. “And I don’t think we left anything on the table. Is it hard to take? It’s tough. And our guys are taking it tough. But the greatest thing about this game is tomorrow we get to play again (for third place), and we get to play here.
“You’ve got to turn the page and you’ve got to accept losing. That’s part of the deal. Maybe that’s the best thing about this game; how do you handle that stuff, adversity?”
Larson, who has been the Breck coach for five years, talked about the pride he had in his players and he complimented Hermantown and Hawks coach Bruce Plante.
“It was a great game. Hermantown’s a great team, strong defensemen, great kids. They’re hockey players up there, and well-coached. And Bruce is a great guy. That’s why we play, to be in situations like this. It couldn’t get any better. When you critique your own play, you have to take into consideration the other team. And they played very well.”
Colford summed up the Mustangs’ day pretty well when he said, “We worked really hard the whole game and didn’t get the last bounce.”
Plante then brought four requested players with him to the interrogation center: Zach Kramer, Jake Zeleznikar, Bo Gronseth and Travis Koepke. The man of the hour was Kramer, who had scored the winning goal. His smile didn’t need the bright lights to make it sparkle.
The first question to Kramer was garden-variety Journalism 101: How does it feel?
“Oh, pretty good,” said the smiling junior. A few questions later he was about racing to reach the puck that, a second later, he put in the net. “That was probably the fastest I’ve ever moved on skates.”
Plante is an old-time coach – in his 24th year as the head man at Hermantown -- who admits that he’ll bark at his players but they always know how much he cares about them.
He admitted to having tears in his eyes when Kramer scored the game-winner. He also gave some love to Lane LeGarde, who did not score when the Hawks were awarded a penalty shot in the first overtime.
“We could have chosen to have a power play or let 28 (LeGarde) take it,” Plante said. “We gave him a chance to be the hero. He made a nice move, he just missed by an inch or so and the kids rallied around that, as they should, because it was a positive thing.”
Pretty quickly the questioning turned to the championship game. The second semifinal had not yet started, but just about everyone assumed that St. Thomas Academy would get past East Grand Forks (which the Cadets did by an 11-0 score).
Hermantown and St. Thomas Academy will meet in Saturday’s championship game for third straight year. The Cadets beat the Hawks 5-4 in overtime two years ago and 5-1 last year. Hermantown fell to Breck in the title game in 2010, meaning the Hawks are trying to avoid four consecutive runner-up finishes.
“We just have to play our game again,” Plante said. “We have to play as good as we can. I think in last year’s championship game we played as good as we can. I think the two previous years we played very well. We didn’t get the puck to go our way. Today it kind of went our way.”
--St. Thomas Academy has scored 23 goals in the tournament; the tournament record is 30, set by Eveleth in 1945. The Hermantown-St. Thomas Academy game will begin at noon Saturday. This is the Cadets' final season in 1A before they move up to 2A next season.
BEST COSTUME CHANGE
Breck’s enthusiastic student fans came to the game wearing white. But they had something special in mind, and it was pretty clever. When Breck scored, the students yanked off their white shirts to reveal red shirts. That signified, of course, that the goal lamp had been lit.
2A CONSOLATION BRACKET
--Moorhead 5, Lakeville North 3: Aaron Herdt and Grant Weiss each had two goals for the Spuds and Jack Poehling scored twice for North.
--Eastview 3, Centennial 2: The Lightning scored a goal in each period to advance to Saturday’s fifth-place game vs. Moorhead,
--To see a photo gallery from the tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.
BY THE NUMBERS
*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 11 for the tournament, 33 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)