John's Journal
Benilde-St. Margaret’s Advances to Play Hill-Murray in Championship 3/9/2012
State Hockey Tournament: You Can Throw Those Seeds Out3/8/2012
Two things to know about the boys state hockey tournament: the scoreboard doesn’t lie and the seedings aren’t worth a bucket of warm pucks.

That was the lesson we – and by “we” I mean an Xcel Energy Center crowd of 17,222 -- learned during Thursday’s first session of the Class 2A tourney. Boom! No. 2 seed Maple Grove gets bounced out by unseeded Hill-Murray 5-2. Boom! No. 3 seed Eagan falls to unseeded Moorhead 4-0.

All of a sudden we have a wide-open tournament in which anything can happen. And if St. Paul has been turned into Upset City -- a theory that only became clearer during the evening session -- we better cinch up our seatbelts a little tighter for the remaining days of this stellar event.

History seems to come into play at times like this. Tournament history, to be precise. Maple Grove was making its first trip to the state tourney, and walking into the Big House and squinting up into the clouds and seeing the ceiling up there somewhere above the lower bowl, suite level, club level and upper bowl and behind that gigantic scoreboard that looks like an apartment building … well, it can make the stomach twist just a bit. Or maybe quite a lot.

Hill-Murray, on the other hand, is a veteran at these things. Although the Pioneers didn’t reach state last year, they had been here for the previous five years. So even if the kids don’t really have a feel for how things will work, the coaches know the frozen ropes. And that can provide a real edge.

“You’d like to hope so,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner said. “Our coaching staff has been together for a long time and we’ve lived through it as players and coaches. I think we sensed a calm in the locker room; it’s a big stage and it’s one of the most exciting things in your life, but they had it under control. And there is a way to handle literally everything from hotels to the banquet, pregames. It takes a while to get that knack.”

The Pioneers showed quite a knack against Maple Grove, and Moorhead did the same against Eagan. The Eagan Wildcats were here a year ago, and opened the tournament with a 4-0 victory over – well, what do you know? – the Moorhead Spuds.

There was a certain pound-of-flesh, Eagan-themed afterglow of revenge for the Spuds. Couple tournament experience with a veteran lineup and a dash of score-settling, and you see a team like Moorhead turn the tables – and the chairs – on last year’s 4-0 loss and give it right back to Eagan.

As for seedings, they’re good for the pre-tournament chatterboxes but they pretty much get thrown out onto West Kellogg Boulevard once sticks touch pucks.

“We really preach -- and I believe it because I’ve been at the other end, too – that it’s a new slate,” said Lechner. “There’s eight teams, they’re zero and zero, so don’t change anything.”

Hill-Murray’s Zach LaValle, who scored two goals against Maple Grove, spelled it out…

“The atmopshere’s really fun but we know we’re here for one reason, and that’s to keep winning games.”

--The Upset City theme continued into the evening session, with Lakeville South knocking off top-seeded Duluth East 3-2. This result did not follow the script of the first session at all; Lakeville South had not been to state since 2008 and East went all the way to the state title game last year before losing to Eden Prairie in three overtimes.

----In Thursday’s final game, Benilde-St. Margaret’s defeated No. 4 seed Edina 3-2. Jack Jablonski, the Benilde player who suffered a severe spinal injury in late December, watched the game from a suite. This is the first time in tournament history all four seeded teams lost in the quarterfinals.

FRIDAY’S SCHEDULE

We’ll start the day with the Class 1A semifinals. No. 2 seed St. Thomas Academy will meet No. 3 seed Breck at 11 a.m., with top seed Hermantown facing No. 4 seed Thief River Falls in the second game.

In the Class 2A evening session, Hill-Murray and Moorhead will kick things off at 6 p.m, with the game between Lakeville South and Benilde-St. Margaret’s to follow.

1A CONSOLATION BRACKET

--Little Falls 5, Duluth Marshall 4: Ben Newman, the Little Falls player who lost vision in one eye when he was eight months old (scroll down to read a profile), scored two goals for the Flyers at Mariucci Arena. Joey Hanowski also had two goals for Little Falls.

--Rochester Lourdes 10, New Ulm 1: Jason Samuelson, Alex Funk and Justin Dewitz all scored two goals for Lourdes, which will meet Little Falls in the fifth-place game Saturday at Mariucci Arena.

MUSICAL INTERLUDES

--Maple Grove’s “Crimson Harmony” a cappella group knocked the national anthem out of the park before the Crimson met Hill-Murray.

--The Eagan band was solid. Strong percussion without being overbearing and strong brass. I’m a softie for low brass.

TWEETS OF THE DAY

--“This solar storm better not interfere with my hockey.”

--“Have to love High School hockey in Minnesota! Silver lining to retiring as player here...I get to watch HS Hockey Tourney!” That Tweet was courtesy of former Wild player Wes Walz.

--Lots of photos from the tournament can be seen on the MSHSL Facebook page.

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 13 for the tournament, 39 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 405
*Miles John has driven: 6,691

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn
Lakeville South: Guys Who Stay Together Win Together3/8/2012
Back At The X For Another Great State Tournament3/7/2012
Good morning once again from Xcel Energy Center! For the third week in a row this building is the center of prep sports in Minnesota. After completing the girls state hockey tournament and the state wrestling tournament, we turn our focus this week to the boys state hockey tournament.

We will see four games played at the X each day through Saturday, when Class 1A and 2A state champions will be crowned. With consolation-round games being played at the University of Minnesota’s Mariucci Arena, the Twin Cities is home to plenty of high-level hockey this week.

The festivities will begin with today’s 1A quarterfinals. Defending state champ St. Thomas Academy and Little Falls will meet in the first game; Channel 45’s TV coverage will begin at 11 a.m. and the puck will drop at 11:19.

All quarterfinal, semifinal and championship games in this tournament are being televised by Channel 45 and webcast by www.prep45.com.

Here is what we’re looking at in today’s Class 1A quarterfinals…

#2 seed St. Thomas Academy (23-4) vs. Little Falls (19-9), 11 a.m.
#3 seed Breck (24-3-1) vs. Duluth Marshall (21-7), 1 p.m.
#1 seed Hermantown (28-0) vs. Rochester Lourdes (20-8), 6 p.m.
#4 seed Thief River Falls (22-4-2) vs. New Ulm (17-11), 8 p.m.

The Class 2A hockey tournament will begin Thursday…

#2 seed Maple Grove (24-2-2) vs. Hill-Murray (22-6), 11 a.m.
#3 seed Eagan (24-3-1) vs. Moorhead (21-6), 1 p.m.
#1 seed Duluth East (27-1) vs. Lakeville South (20-8), 6 p.m.
#4 seed Edina (23-5) vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s (22-6), 8 p.m.

Remember, instant updates and assorted deep thoughts can be seen by following @MSHSLjohn on Twitter, and the MSHSL Facebook page will also be plugged into the tournament.

--Diet Coke Count: 0 for the day, 0 for the tournament, 30 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 389
*Miles John has driven: 6,607

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter at MSHSLjohn
The Most Remarkable Player In The State Hockey Tournament3/7/2012
Ben Newman has overcome some physical issues during this high school hockey season. Early in the year, for example, the junior center from Little Falls had to deal with a shoulder injury that got in the way of his tough, physical style of play.

And during Wednesday’s Class 1A state quarterfinal game against St. Thomas Academy at the Xcel Energy Center, Newman was forced to leave the ice for a time after a high stick sliced into the skin above his left eye.

That episode could have been much worse, considering that Newman’s left eye is his only working eye. That’s right, Ben Newman plays hockey – and plays it very, very well – despite having vision in just one eye.

Is it a miracle? Not if Ben has anything to say about it. He lost the vision in his right eye when he was only eight months old, so as he put it after the Flyers lost to St. Thomas Academy, “I don’t know what it’s like to have two eyes.”

It is remarkable that he not only plays center on the hockey team’s first line but is a running back on the Little Falls football team. Wearing a facemask on the ice and a plastic visor on the football field protects his vision, but still … this is remarkable.

“I don’t notice it at all,” Ben told me. “It’s just like nothing’s wrong.”

He was just learning how to walk, pushing a wheeled planter across the floor. The toddler lost his balance and a brass rod on the planter struck his right eye. From that day forward, Ben has seen the world through his left eye.

“We’ve always been aware that he only has one eye,” Flyers coach Tony Couture said. “It’s a unique situation because you don’t realize what he goes through on a daily basis, and I don’t think he understands the whole process, either.

“The fact is that when he had his injury he was very young. He’s never had to play with two eyes so he doesn’t really know. You put your hand over one eye and your peripheral vision only goes so far.”

Couture said the coaching staff thought about putting Ben at wing, where his vision issue might not come into play as much as it could at center ice.

“But he’s been our center for a couple years now,” Couture said. “He never complains about anything. He’s kind of a hardnosed kid, a smart hockey player, kind of that grinder type.”

Newman became the 18th member of the Little Falls career 100-point club this season, and he has 21 goals and 24 assists in 2011-12. His linemates are Joey Hanowski (31 goals, 26 assists) and Luke Majerle (14 and 29). Majerle leadsthe Flyers in plus-minus this season at +44, and Newman is next at +43.

“For me, I just try to keep my head on a swivel more than other people,” Ben said.

A miracle? Maybe. Remarkable? Absolutely.

CLASS 1A RESULTS

--St. Thomas Academy 7, Little Falls 0: Senior Andrew Commers had two goals and three assists and freshman Tom Novak had two goals and two assists for the Cadets, who outshot the Flyers 42-15.

--Breck 7, Duluth Marshall 0: The Mustangs scored their first three goals on power plays and cruised past the Hilltoppers. Matt Colford had two goals and and assist.

--Hermantown 7, Rochester Lourdes 2: Jared Thomas scored twice and added two assists for the top-seeded Hawks, who moved to 29-0. The score was 2-2 late in the first period before Hermantown did the rest of the scoring.

--Thief River Falls 5, New Ulm 1: Riley Soderstrom and Tanner Nessen each scored twice as the Prowlers advanced to meet Hermantown in Friday’s semifinals.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

--Hermantown coach Bruce Plante referred to senior goaltender Matt Mensigner, who made 13 saves, as “a maniac genius.” He meant it as a compliment.

TWEET OF THE DAY

--“My friends and I are sitting in class, following your tweets. Excited to be at the X tomorrow!”

--My reply: “Keep those phones hidden.”

OVERHEARD NEAR THE MINI DONUT STAND

--“Oh God, they’re five dollars.”

MUSICAL INTERLUDES

Long before the first skate touched ice, the Little Falls pep band opened the musical portion of the tournament with the Yardbirds classic, "For Your Love." That one’s from 1965. To which I can relate.

--Pretty fair “Chicken Dance” rendition by the Duluth Marshall band. Couple of talented kids on snare in that bunch.

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

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 5 for the tournament, 35 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 397
*Miles John has driven: 6,649

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of www.mshsl.org. John Millea is on Twitter @MSHSLjohn