John's Journal
Hockey Is A Numbers Game:You’ve Got To Score To Win 3/9/2012
Before Friday’s Class 1A boys hockey state semifinal games began, there was one pretty darn vital statistic standing tall for three of the four contending teams to contemplate: St. Thomas Academy had given up only five goals in its last 13 games, and eight of those games were shutouts.

But there was also another pretty important fact to consider. St. Thomas Academy’s opponent at Xcel Energy Center was Breck, and in the quarterfinal round the Mustangs had set a new school record for goals in a season.

Performing a pregame boil-down of those numbers left one pretty strong question: How would St. Thomas Academy’s six blocks of granite fare against Breck’s rat-a-tat attack?

The answer came 14 minutes, 6 seconds into the second period when Peter Krieger scored with an assist by Tony Bretzman. Both of those boys happen to be students at St. Thomas Academy. And that was that. Final score: Cadets 1, Breck donut.

This was quite a turnaround from the quarterfinals, when STA beat Little Falls and Breck defeated Duluth Marshall, both by 7-0 scores. But as Breck coach Les Larson explained during the postgame media interrogation, this stuff’s not always easy.

“There’s no magic formula for success,” Larson said. “When two teams are evenly matched, and when you get to this level, it’s hard. You’ve got to work, you’ve got to win the battles, you’ve got to hope for a bounce, you’ve got to shoot the puck, you’ve got to crash the net, get the puck over the goal line. It’s not easy. It’s a battle.”

Both teams had plenty of chances. There were a total of 104 shots attempted in the 51-minute game, with Breck getting 25 shots on goal and St. Thomas Academy 31. But only one single puck landed in the happy zone, and that’s what was counted because that’s all that really counts.

“We didn’t score any goals,” Larson said. “You can’t win unless you score goals. We hold a very good team to one goal and we don’t win? That’s our fault. We didn’t score any goals. And we’ve got guys who can score goals. There’s the game right there, in my mind.”

HERMANTOWN 3, THIEF RIVER FALLS 2

Saturday’s 1A title matchup will be second-seeded St. Thomas Academy vs. top-seeded Hermantown. The Hawks advanced with a 3-2 victory over Thief River Falls. Jared Thomas’ second goal of the game was the difference, coming at 11:45 of the third period.

Hermantown has been the state runner-up the last two years, losing to St. Thomas Academy 5-4 in overtime last year and to Breck 2-1 two years ago. The Hawks are the only undefeated team in the state, but they will be viewed as the underdog against the Cadets.

“Isn’t that something? We’re 30-0 and we’re the underdog,” said Hermantown coach Bruce Plante, who always speaks his mind.

“To win this game tomorrow we have to play our best game of the year,” he said. “We played our best game of the year last year and lost. Two years ago we played our best game of the year and lost. We have to play our best game and hopefully it goes our way.”

Plante was asked about matchups between private Twin Cities schools and outstate public schools. His response was honest and clear.

“No it’s not, it’s not a level playing field,” he said. “Even if we could draw every kid in northern Minnesota, that’d be like 100,000 people. And they can draw from, I don’t know, how big are the cities? Eight billion people? They can get players from anywhere, everywhere.

“It’s hard for us to compete with these kinds of teams. Any small school will tell you that.… Nine out of every 10 people will be cheering for Hermantown, probably. They know we’re the underdog.”

CLASS 2A SEMIFINALS

In Friday night’s games – all involving uneeded teams that beat the four seeded teams on Thursday – Hill-Murray met Moorhead and Lakeville South faced Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Stories on those games will be posted this evening.

DANGEROUS JOB

Derek Montgomery is a talented photographer who is shooting the tournament for the Duluth News Tribune. We all know hockey can be a dangerous sport, but Derek’s experience this week sheds a whole new light on what can happen even when you’re not on the ice.

In each corner of the glass at Xcel Energy Center, small holes for camera lenses allow photographers to fire away without worrying about the glass affecting their photos. Derek was photographing Wednesday’s Class 1A quarterfinal game between Hermantown and Rochester Lourdes when … well, let’s allow Derek to explain:

“I was covering the action from one of the corner holes. They were battling for the puck and one of the Hermantown or Lourdes players came skating around behind the net, and then another player did like a soft check. It wasn’t anything violent, but a stick went right into the camera and the camera went into my face. That’s kind of where my eyebrow opened up.

“I didn’t think anything was going on, and then I turned around and these girls from Hermantown were looking at me with this ghastly look on their faces. I touched my eyebrow and there was blood everywhere.”

Derek had been sliced in the eyebrow. No stitches were required, but medical personnel at the tournament patched him up and he kept shooting.

That’s called taking one for the team.

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

Lots of good questions are asked via Facebook and Twitter during these tournaments, and here’s a good one from Friday: “I noticed that the referees change pucks at the TV commercial time-outs. Do you know why?”

The answer was found via a phone call from the Xcel Energy Center press box to the timing/penalty box at ice level. A bucket containing ice and pucks is kept in the box, and the officials exchange pucks in order to have a “fresh, cold” puck in use. The same thing is done during NHL games.

Asked and answered.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

The first game of the day Friday started 10 minutes late because of the large crowd that was waiting to enter the arena. The puck dropped at 11:29, which brings us to a point of great discussion during this tournament.

The game schedules always look like this: First game of early session starts at 11 a.m. and second game at 1 p.m.; for second session each day, starting times are listed as 6 and 8 p.m. But …

The 1 and 6 o’clock times are actually the times when the Channel 45 television coverage begins. The actual puck drop times are 1:19 and 6:19. That’s easy to explain. It’s tougher to figure out when the second game of each session will actually start. The listed times of 1 and 8 p.m. do not always have a strong relationship with reality. In fact, a pretty common phrase among the media goes something like this: “The 8 o’clock game is starting right on time at 8:45.”

I don’t have a major issue with the starting times of the first games listed at the top of the hour; that’s pretty common in televised sports. It might be better for the MSHSL, however, to list the starting times for the second game of each session as something along the lines of “approximately 30 minutes after first game ends.”

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

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 18 for the tournament, 44 for the winter tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 405
*Miles John has driven: 6,733

--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
Hill-Murray Beats Spuds In OT, Heads To 2A Championship Game3/9/2012
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