John's Journal
After A Game That Ended In Double Overtime, The Aftermath3/8/2013
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)
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)