John's Journal
Here We Go! Girls State Hockey And Gymnastics Take Center Stage2/24/2012
It’s a big day of state tournaments in Minnesota. We continue the girls hockey tournament at Xcel Energy Center with the semifinal games in Class 1A and 2A, and the state gymnastics meet begins its two-day run at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion.

Here’s the hockey schedule…

Class 1A
11 a.m./ #2 seed Warroad vs. #3 seed South St. Paul
1 p.m./ #1 seed Breck vs. #4 seed Red Wing

Class 2A
6 p.m./ #2 seed Roseville vs. #3 seed Edina
8 p.m./ #1 seed Minnetonka vs. #4 seed Lakeville North

In gymnastics, team competition will be held today and individual competition will be on tap Saturday. Class 1A teams are competing today beginning at 11 a.m. and the 2A teams go at 6 p.m.

The hockey games are being televised by Channel 45 while the hockey and gymnastics action is being streamed online at www.prep45.com

It’s going to be a great day!

--Diet Coke Count: 0 for the day, 8 for the tournament, 8 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 297
*Miles John has driven: 6,397

--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 twitter.com/mshsljohn
Red Wing’s Cori Fairbanks: A Comeback, A Goal And A Happy Ending 2/24/2012
The most remarkable line from the scoresheet of Friday’s second Class 1A girls state hockey semifinal game read like this: “2nd 05:32 REDW EV Fairbanks, Cori.”

That line of code described the period, time and even-strength status of a goal scored by Red Wing’s Cori Fairbanks during the Wingers’ 8-4 loss to top-seeded Breck. But it said much more than that, because of where Fairbanks had come from.

Two years ago, in the third game of the regular season and the Wingers’ home opener, the sophomore was tripped and went into the boards head-first. She broke the C6 and C7 vertebrae in her neck, as well as several ribs. It was bad. Early on, there were fears that she might be paralyzed.

“It was really scary,” she told me Friday at Xcel Energy Center. “No one knew what was going to happen, we didn’t know the outcome of it.”

Thankfully, she recovered but for a time her future in hockey was uncertain. You can’t blame a young player for being scared after experiencing something like that, and when Cori – now a senior – was cleared to play a year after being injured, she had second thoughts.

“I didn’t think I wanted to play again,” she said. “I was scared. My teammates talked me into it. I didn’t want it to happen again. I knew it was a once-in-a-lifetime thing, how it happened. But it still made me nervous, and my family was nervous, too.”

Red Wing coach Scott Haley said, “I give her a ton of credit. She loves this team, and her family and everyone has been really supportive.”

When Benilde-St. Margaret’s player Jack Jablonski was paralyzed during a hockey game this season, it brought back lots of memories for Cori. She posted a message on Jack’s CaringBridge website; “I told him that it happens to people all the time and he can get through it,” she said.

Cori rejoined the team halfway through last season, a season which ended with the Wingers getting to the state tournament . They lost to Eveleth-Gilbert in the quarterfinals before winning two games and finishing fifth. She scored what proved to be the winning goal in a 5-4 fifth-place victory over Hutchinson at Ridder Arena.

“It’s just been tremendous,” Haley said. “Last year I credited her for being the reason we made it to the state tournament. This year she’s just been a rock. She’s my captain and she’s the captain that I have do all my dirty work. She lives across the street, too, so she has double-duty with me at the rink.”

Cori’s goal Friday at Xcel Energy Center drew Red Wing within 5-3 of Breck.

“It was amazing,” she said of the feeling. “Even though we were down, I felt like that was the point where I thought we could come back up.”

The Winger were unable to do so. But in the long run, Cori sure came back.

“Here’s the thing with Cori,” Haley said. “Any time she does something, we’re happy. Because she’s that kind of kid. Those are the kids who are special to you.”

--The scoring star of the tournament so far is Breck junior Kate Schipper. She had a hat trick in the quarterfinals against Chisago Lakes and scored four goals against Red Wing.

IN OTHER GAMES

--South St. Paul defeated two-time defending state champ Warroad in the other Class 1A semifinal. Emily Reibert scored twice for the Packers, who will meet Breck in the title game at noon Saturday. One of the day’s young stars was South St. Paul freshman goaltender Sydney Conley, who made 17 saves.

----In the 2A semifinals, Roseville and Minnetonka advanced to Saturday’s title game.

Roseville defeated Edina 4-1 with Kate Flug scoring two goals, just as she did in Friday’s quarterfinals vs. Grand Rapids/Greenway. Erika Allen made 18 saves for Roseville and Edina goalie Maddie Dahl had 20 stops.

In the final game of the day, there was no scoring until the final minutes of regulation and Minnetonka defeated Lakeville North 2-1 in overtime. Freshman Riley Tousignant broke the scoreless tie for Lakeville North with 3:57 to play in regulation and Sidney Morin tied it for the Skippers with 20 seconds to go. In overtime, the winning goal was scored by Amy Petersen with 1:39 left in the eight-minute period.

THE WOOGER

I was on a lot of various sports beats during my days as a newspaper reporter. One of the best jobs was covering the Gophers men’s hockey team when Doug Woog was the coach. I have fond memories of spending time with Woog, so I smiled Friday when I heard one of the South St. Paul players say, “Wooger!”

I was inside the room where the media interviews coaches and players after games. The Woog Alert – Doug is a South St. Paul native -- was sounded in the corridor, where a few Packers were waiting for their postgame interrogation. I slipped out of the interview room, shook hands with the coach and told him how great it was to see him. He said he'd be back for Saturday's title game.

THE VOICE

I was standing one step behind the Breck bench, shooting a few photos, as the Mustangs and Wingers were being introduced by public-address legend Dave Wright. Breck coach Chris Peterson said to me, “I love being in games when Dave Wright is doing the PA!”

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--The day’s best band moment: The musicians from South St. Paul playing the Chicken Dance and the student section dancing along.

--The day’s best mascot: The Mustang from Breck.

--Diet Coke Count: 3 for the day, 11 for the tournament, 11 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 297
*Miles John has driven: 6,397

--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 twitter.com/mshsljohn
The Numbers Add Up, And So Do The Memories2/23/2012
There are some crucial numbers to crunch in the wake of the first two games of the Class 2A girls state hockey tournament on Thursday at Xcel Energy Center: 16:32 … and 00:17 … and 16:45. Those were the times of the afternoon’s most important goals, and the most important goal that wasn’t a goal came in the final minute of play.

Add it up and the first two games of the 2A quarterfinals were everything you could ask for and more as Roseville defeated Grand Rapids/Greenway 3-1 and Edina held off Mounds View 3-2. The Raiders and Hornets will face off in Friday’s semifinals at 6 p.m.

Grand Rapids/Greenway held a 1-0 lead over Roseville after one period and the score looked to stay the same through two periods. But that’s where the number 16:32 enters our discussion. Roseville’s Lee Stecklein scored unassisted at 16:32 (that means 28 seconds were on the clock) to tie the score; and 17 seconds into the third period a goal by Kate Flug put the Raiders ahead 2-1. Flug finished the scoring late in the third period to wrap up the win.

“It was game-changing, I think,” Stecklein said of her goal. “After the goal we all kind of took a deep breath and really knew we could start playing our game.”

Flug said, “After Lee’s goal our team really got that momentum and decided we needed to pick up our momentum for the third period. I think getting ahead of them sort of lowered their confidence and it upped our team. I think it was a really good thing.”

The Raiders knew that putting the Lightning away was not going to be easy. Grand Rapids/Greenway won its Section 7 semifinal in two overtimes and the section title game in four overtimes. So clearly, the larger the lead the better. Roseville coach Vic Brodt understood this.

“If they had said, ‘If we can play Roseville in overtime, would we take it?’ I think they would say absolutely,” Brodt said. “That’s kind of what it felt like; this could be an overtime game. So that goal in the last minute of the second period, and the one in the first minute of the third period, were a big relief.”

In the second game, 16:45 was the big set of digits for Edina. Sarah Nielsen scored with 15 seconds to go in the second period, giving the Hornets a 3-1 lead over Mounds View. Lindsey Wolter scored at the 15:42 mark of the third period to make it Edina 3, Mustangs 2. And then …

The goal that wasn’t came on a shot by Mounds View’s Maddie Peake in the final minute. She closed in on Edina goaltender Maddie Dahl and shoved the puck underneath Dahl … and through her pads, or so it appeared. It certainly appeared that way to Peake, who raised her arms in celebration. But the red light never turned red and the officials never gave the goal signal.

“I still believe that I saw something there,” said Peake, meaning she believes she saw the puck inch past the goal line. “I can’t blame it on the camera angle or anything. I should have buried it harder so I knew for sure. I still think I saw something.”

Replay officials are always watching for such things from the press box, and they will alert the on-ice officials if they want to review a play. That did not happen in this instance.

“We were down 3-1 with very little time left and bam, we got that one,” Mustangs coach Pete Aus said of Wolter’s goal. “I’m disappointed that last one didn’t go, because we sure made it exciting.”

EVENING GAMES

--Top-seeded Minnetonka showed that it is worthy of that spot in the bracket, defeating Eagan 4-1. The Skippers were outshot 25-21 but goaltender Sydney Rossman made 24 saves. Minnetonka scored three third-period goals to break open a close game.

--No. 4 seed Lakeville North will play Minnetonka in Friday’s 8 p.m. semifinal. The Panthers defeated Roseau 5-0, with Ashley Kloncz scoring three goals.

UNIFORM CODE

Roseville wore – shall we say? – interesting uniforms Thursday. The Raiders wore white jerseys, white breezers and white socks, making for a slightly off-kilter appearance.

“We couldn’t afford white helmets,” joked Brodt. “It’s kind of funny. We’ve had them for two years, and that was maybe the fourth time we wore them. It was just kind of something fun and something different, and maybe the other team will worry about our pants and then we’ll take care of business out there. Grand Rapids wasn’t fazed by our white pants at all.”

MAKING MEMORIES

After the loss to Edina, Mounds View’s Aus talked about the messages he gave his players before the tournament began.

“We said this a couple times: make a memory. And we made a memory getting here,” Aus said. “And the other message was give everything you’ve got to give.”

Memories are always part of any state tournament, and they can happen at any time. Before Thursday’s night session began, a wonderful memory was made on the ice by teenagers in street clothes.

The Minnetonka team posed together as photos were snapped. The smiles were huge and everlasting, no matter what was to come.

COMING UP FRIDAY

The Friday schedule will begin with the Class 1A semifinals. Warroad and South St. Paul will play at 11 a.m., followed by Breck vs. Red Wing at 1 p.m. The 2A semifinals will be played at 6 p.m. (Roseville vs. Edina) and 8 p.m. (between the winners of Thursday night’s games).

The semifinals in both classes will be televised by Channel 45, as will Saturday’s state championship games. They also will be streamed live on the internet at www.prep45.com.

--A neat improvement to the MSHSL home page debuted Thursday morning. As you look to the right side of www.mshsl.org, you’ll see direct feeds from our Twitter and Facebook pages.

--Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 8 for the tournament, 8 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 297
*Miles John has driven: 6,355

--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 twitter.com/mshsljohn
Girls State Hockey: Detroit Lakes Coach There From Beginning2/22/2012
Gretchen Norby remembers when the girls hockey program at Detroit Lakes High School got off the ground. She talked about that first season -- which was 12 years ago – in a quiet corridor at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday after the Lakers’ first game in a state tournament.

Norby was a freshman player during that first year and now she is the Lakers’ first-year head coach. So if anybody understands what it takes to get from there to here, it’s Norby.

“It’s surreal to be there at the start of the program and now be here as a coach,” she said. “It’s special for me and I’m honored to be part of this team.”

Things didn’t exactly work in Detroit Lakes’ favor during the Class 1A state quarterfinals. The Lakers were defeated by second-seeded Warroad 13-1 in what can safely be called a drubbing. But Norby and senior Brianna Seebold (who scored the Lakers’ goal) didn’t have any problems being cordial during the postgame media session.

“When we went out there, we were a little shocked,” Seebold said, managing to smile. There was plenty of shock to go around. Warroad scored four goals in the first period and nine in the second before the Lakers won the third period by a score of 1-0.

“We played tough teams,” Norby said. “That didn’t prepare us for today.”

Warroad moves into Friday’s semifinals against South St. Paul. Detroit Lakes will head to Ridder Arena and face New Ulm in Thursday’s consolation bracket.

The Lakers came to state with a record of 12-15, so their loss to powerful Warroad (now 23-4-1) was no surprise. Norby knew what could happen.

“Not to downplay our team or anything, but I think I was being realistic going into this game today,” she said. “We had done our homework on Warroad, we knew what they have. So really my goal for these girls, and I said this, was to enjoy this week. Take this experience, play your hearts out. … it’s the state tournament, take it for all it’s worth.”

Despite the defeat, the smiles told the story.

SOMETHING’S MISSING FOR SOUTH ST. PAUL

When the South St. Paul Packers won the Section 4 championship, something was different during the postgame awards ceremony. When they left the ice after defeating New Ulm 12-1 in Wednesday’s state quarterfinals, again something was different.

Mike Funk was not there. The South St. Paul activities director died on Jan. 29 after suffering complications from an aortic aneurysm in mid-December. Funk, a former hockey coach at St. Thomas Academy, had been with the South St. Paul school district for 20 years.

“It’s very different,” Packers coach Dave Palmquist said after Wednesday’s game. “Mike was a hockey guy and he would have been the first guy to greet us as we came off the ice. It is a different feeling this year. A year ago he was putting the medals around the kids’ necks after the section final and shaking our hands and he was always right there for us. He was a good friend and it is a big loss.”

ONE YEAR LATER, A REMATCH

In last year’s Class 1A state championship game, Warroad defeated South St. Paul 5-1. The Packers held a 1-0 lead before Warroad scored five times in the third period.

Packers senior Sam LaShomb, who had four goals against New Ulm and will play collegiately at North Dakota, remembered last season’s title game as she talked about the semifinal rematch with the Warriors that will be played at 11 a.m. Friday.

“Thinking back, you don’t ever want to lose a state championship like that. We came out and got the first goal and we were all psyched.

“I think this year we have a lot better chance. It’s not going to be a miracle this year. If you see us in the championship game, it won’t be, ‘How the heck did that happen.’ It will be, ‘It’s South St. Paul.’ ”

The teams have met once this season, with Warroad beating the Packers 5-0 in the Kaposia holiday tournament in South St. Paul.

IN OTHER GAMES…

--Top-seeded Breck was tested by Chisago Lakes before advancing with a 7-3 victory. Chisago Lakes led 3-2 at 8:12 of the second period before the Mustangs scored the final five goals of the game.

The prettiest goal of the tourney’s opening day was by Breck senior Milica McMillen. She went left-right-left, leaving defenders in her wake and banging the puck home to tie it 3-3.

“I just wanted to try and get the momentum back,” said McMillen, who has signed with the University of Minnesota. “I saw the opening, shot it and it went in.”

--The day’s last 1A quarterfinal went to overtime before we had a decision. Red Wing defeated Hutchinson 6-5 on a goal by Nicole Schammel – her fourth of the game – at 3:53 of overtime. The Wingers and Breck will meet in Friday’s semifinals.

FRIENDS OLD AND NEW

New Ulm is making its fourth consecutive appearance in the Class 1A state tournament. That means many of the Eagles are accustomed to the sights and sounds of the Xcel Energy Center, as well as the people they see every year at this time.

One of those people is Marty Manley, a member of the Xcel Energy Center staff who helps keep things running smoothly in the locker room areas as teams arrive, prepare, play and depart.

As the New Ulm girls milled around in a corridor Wednesday morning long before their game against South St. Paul, they spotted Marty. Several Eagles shouted, “Hi Marty!” One girl – clearly making her first visit to the tournament -- said, “Hi Marty! I’m new!”

Marty gave her a fist bump.

RECORDS FALL

In Warroad’s 13-1 victory over Detroit Lakes, several state tournament records fell. The 14 total goals was a record, as was the Warriors’ 13 goals and its nine goal in the second period.

--Further updates will be posted here during the evening session…

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

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 289
*Miles John has driven: 6,313

--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 twitter.com/mshsljohn
Lessons Learned: Perham Yellowjackets Look Back And Look Ahead2/20/2012
PERHAM – As the regular season winds down to its final days, there is a sense of familiarity inside the Perham boys basketball team. The Yellowjackets know the drill: It's time to prepare well for what’s to come.

A year ago, the Yellowjackets were the team that everybody knew about because of Zach Gabbard. Gabbard, then a junior, collapsed with cardiac problems during a January game and nearly died. He was a source of inspiration as Perham went to the state tournament for the first time and brought home a Class 2A championship. Zach is now back in uniform, although a lack of strength means his playing time is limited.

Perham takes a 19-2 record into Tuesday night’s game at Pequot Lakes. A year ago at this time they were 19-1; last season they lost at Pelican Rapids in late January and didn’t lose again. This season they have split two games with Pelican Rapids and lost to Ellsworth in a holiday tournament.

The question, then: Can they do it again? Can they win another state championship?

Talking before a game last week, coach Dave Cresap rephrased the question. “Do we have the makings? Yeah, we can beat anybody. But a lot of teams can beat us, too.”

As last season ended and eyes began turning toward 2011-12, there was plenty of reason for optimism around town. Of the seven individuals who played in the state championship game against Rochester Lourdes, the only senior was guard Nick Topkin. But two hammers have dropped: Forward Sam Stratton, who was named to the all-tournament team at state as a junior last season, is now playing basketball at Fargo North after a family move, and junior guard Jordan Hein was lost for the season to an injury in December. Without those two, as well as Gabbard, the Yellowjackets know the road can be rocky. But here they are at 19-2. So far, so good.

“We were thinking, ‘We’re going to have to have some kids step up,’ ” Cresap said. “To be where we’re at right now, the one word I use to describe these kids is I’m proud. I’m proud of what they’ve done. They’ve bought into our system, they’re reaching out to get to their goals, and all their goals are still within reach.

“Goal number one is to win the (Heart O’Lakes) conference championship, and that’s still in reach. The goal to get to the section championship game? Still in reach. The goal of staying together as a team and not falling apart? They have done a wonderful job with that.”

The story of the 2010-11 Yellowjackets is one of the most memorable in history. It was a storybook tale that has been made into a documentary film, “For Three” (Gabbard, in center of photo at left, wears jersey number 3). Lessons learned then are paying off now.

“I think the main thing we learned is that the first thing you have to do is always believe in yourself and never give up,” said senior captain Jordan Bruhn. “You’re not going to do certain things in life without the help of others, and we became a really close family last year. I think that was the most important thing that we did to win state.”

The other captains, Mark Schumacher and coach’s son Jordan Cresap, echoed that feeling of togetherness.

“That cohesiveness we built last year really helped, and that adversity we faced last year has really helped us,” Schumacher said.

“We really became close last year after Zach collapsed and I think that’s a testament to our team and how well we work together, both on and off the court,” Cresap said.

Of course, the Yellowjackets are fully aware that life -- and basketball – can be full of surprises. The loss of Gabbard – as well as his return -- is Exhibit No. 1 in that category, and Perham’s run to last year’s title may be Exhibit No. 2. All this means that the team knows to expect the unexpected, be prepared for anything and play every game like it’s their last.

“The kids have to live in the moment,” Cresap said. “They’ve got to play for that present moment.”

Bruhn said, “Once playoffs start we’re going to have to look at each other and say, ‘This could be it. This could the last time we ever play together.’ It’s going to be scary and sad.”

Gabbard has gone from being a starter before his ailment to a bench player now. He says his strength is 80 percent back to normal; Dave Cresap puts that figure closer to 65 percent. But Zach is back in uniform, back with his teammates, and that’s what matters.

“Basketball was my life and still is,” he said. “Just being back on the court, warming up with the team, it means a lot.”

One of the surprises of Gabbard’s return to health was the return of his voice. When he left a Twin Cities rehabilitation hospital and rejoined his team at last year’s state tournament, he could speak in little more than a whisper and his voice remained raspy through the summer and into the new school year. But while cheering at a volleyball match last fall, his voice returned in full force.

“I started yelling and then boom, my voice was back,” said Zach, who is thinking of attending Minnesota State-Moorhead and majoring in elementary education. “It was so weird. No one had heard my voice for a while.”

Zach inspires his teammates, and his mere presence is a reminder of what’s truly important.

“You think, ‘What if it had happened to me?,” Schumacher said. “ ‘Would I be able to come back and do all this?’ None of us wanted it to happen but it happened and all of us cope with it the best we can. We know how lucky we are to still have him here and we’re able to talk to him and go to class with him. You don’t take it for granted when you see him.”

So Zach is back, the season is nearing the final stretch and the Yellowjackets are preparing for a journey that will hopefully end with another trip to state.

“Like we say to the players, we’re not going to surprise anyone this time of the year,” Dave Cresap said. “We need to pay attention to the details, do the little things, defend and rebound.”

The only certainty is that the end will come … maybe early in the section playoffs, maybe in the section final, maybe at the state tournament, maybe with the Yellowjackets holding another championship trophy. When that time comes, Cresap knows what he hopes to see.

“At some point it’s going to end and they have to enjoy every moment of this and cherish what they’ve had," he said. "Hopefully they can walk away from the program thinking, ‘We had fun, we played smart, we played together and we did all those little things that are necessary to have a good season.’ ”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 281
*Miles John has driven: 6,271

--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 twitter.com/mshsljohn