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.
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.
--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