John's Journal
Familiar Friends/Foes Meet Again On The Ice …With A New Twist11/29/2011
In last season’s girls state hockey tournament, Edina defeated Rosemount 6-0 in the Class 2A quarterfinals. The coaches in that game -- Edina’s Laura Slominski and Rosemount’s Tracy Cassano -- were not only hockey teammates at the University of Minnesota, they were roommates, team captains and they won a national championship together in 2000.

The teams coached by Slominski and Cassano met again on Tuesday evening at Braemar Arena in Edina, but this time there was a new twist on the rivalry: Cassano is now the coach at Chaska-Chanhassen.

But some things never change. The coaches were walking off the ice together after Edina -- the No. 3 team in the Let’s Play Hockey Class 2A rankings – recorded a 2-0 victory when Slominski said to Cassano, “You guys look good, you have a really good team.”

Cassano replied, “Same to you guys. And we’re still waiting to score a goal against you.”

Whether it’s February or November, the Edina Hornets indeed have had the edge on Cassano. But Tuesday’s early-season contest was a solid reminder of how long the hockey season can be and how much work is required to get a program to the highest level.

Slominski has taken the Hornets to those heights. Now in her fourth year at the helm in Edina, her teams know nothing less than the state semifinals. They finished third at state in 2009 and played in the last two state championship games, losing to Roseville 4-0 in 2010 and to Minnetonka 3-2 last season.

This season Edina has a record of 4-1-1, giving Slominki a career record at Edina of 73-18-8.

“Since I’ve been here, all three years we’ve been to state and it’s been a lot of success so far,” she said. “These girls, coming up they’ve seen that and they want to be a part of it, and I think it’s kind of a year for us to regroup and make sure we’re ready to go to make that final run.”

Every successful team loses quality players to graduation, but Edina looks poised for another very good season. Five Hornets were named to the all-state tourney team last season, and the only senior was forward Sami Reber. Back this season are senior defenders Ali Austin and Megan Armstrong, senior goalie Maddie Dahl and junior forward Sarah Nielsen.

Armstrong had one of Tuesday’s goals on a power play, junior Liz Trautz scored the other goal unassisted and Dahl notched her first shutout of the season. The Chaska/Chanhassen Storm Hawks played a very solid first period, outshooting Edina 8-6 and trailing 1-0. After that, the Hornets’ strength and skill was evident.

“It was a really good battle, a good game,” Cassano said. “Edina obviously is one of the top teams in the state and every year they’re there. So I think it’s a good measuring stick for us as far as how we stack up against some of those top teams. I thought the kids came out and worked hard. In the first period I thought we looked pretty tough and in the second period I felt like they really took it to us and they used their speed and their physicalness. We got behind by those two goals and we couldn’t quite put one past Maddie Dahl.”

Chaska/Chanhassen sophomore goaltender Laura Chalupsky played very well, stopping 24 shots in a backup role. Starter Carly Van Orden, another sophomore, is on the shelf while she recovers from mononucleosis.

“I thought Laura stepped up, played solid and made great saves,” said Cassano. “She really stepped up her game and kept us in there. She gave us a chance to possibly win, and that’s all you can ask.”

The loss was Chaska/Chanhassen’s first after opening the season with victories over Farmington, Holy Family Catholic/Waconia and Holy Angels. Edina had defeated Eastview, Lakeville South and Blake while losing to Breck and tying Blaine.

Next up for Edina is a road trip that is both long (on miles) and short (on duration). The Hornets will get on a bus Friday morning and head for Roseau, where they will play that evening. They will play in Warroad on Saturday afternoon before driving home.

“The girls are excited,” Slominski said. “It’ll be seven or eight hours on a bus, so it’ll be good.”

*Schools/teams John has visited: 153
*Miles John has driven: 5,085
*Diet Coke Count: 1

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It’s The Journey, Not The Result,That Matters The Most 11/26/2011
Eighteen high school football games were played at the Metrodome in the last two weekends, culminating with six state championship games on Friday and Saturday.

The on-field postgame scene was similar after each game of Prep Bowl XXX: The losing team accepted its second-place trophy with resignation, the captains slowly raising it into the air and showing it to their fans. Conversely, the winning teams mobbed their captains once the championship trophies were presented at midfield, followed by mad dashes to celebrate with their fans and then posing for a team photo, all smiles and screams of delight.

But behind the scenes, where the television cameras do not go after games, things are a little different. When I can, I try to spend some time with the teams that did not see their season end in a victory. I can relate to them because my last game as a football player followed that route, with a heart-breaking defeat in a state championship game.

Two Metrodome memories, gathered while standing outside losing locker rooms, will stay with me as we tuck the 2011 football season into the history books.
One came in the semifinal round, after Hill-Murray lost to Rocori 37-35 in Class 4A. Brooks Bollinger, former NFL quarterback and first-year Hill-Murray coach, talked about the value of a season spent together.

“We were so lucky to get the experience we did and have some success,” he said. “It hurts when you get that close and don’t get it done, but my message to them was we lost today, but we won, I won, to be able to be part of something like this.”

A similar scene played out Saturday after Fairmont was defeated by St. Croix Lutheran 34-32 in the Class 3A title game. The Cardinals played their hearts out but came up short. All these years later, I remember the feeling.

After coach Mat Mahoney walked out of the locker room, he chatted with longtime Fairmont Sentinel sports editor Charlie Sorrells and me. I asked the coach what he had said to his players.

“I told them that I loved them,” he said. “I told them that this season they became better people, they became better teammates, they became better football players. We grew as a team as the season went on.

“These boys have done everything that we’ve asked them to do, and to be able to make a run like this is very special for our community. Just look at all the fans we had in the stands today; that’s what it’s all about. At the end of the day, football’s only a game. The support we saw out there with our crowd, our community was just phenomenal.”

The scenes are the same no matter the season, no matter the sport. Athletes, coaches and teams work so hard for so long, trying to improve, trying to keep the season alive until the final game is played. There are always winning teams and there are always losing teams. And everyone is better because of it.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 151
*Miles John has driven: 5,048
*Diet Coke Count: 4 for the day, 59 for the fall tournaments

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Shopping For Football Memories: Notes From The Prep Bowl 11/25/2011
Casey Schilling and his mother both smiled when I asked them if Ellsworth – on the heels of Edgerton/Ellsworth winning the Nine-Man football state championship Friday – was now a football town.

They affirmed that Ellsworth remains a basketball town, and who can argue? The Ellsworth boys basketball team is nearly a fixture at the state tournament. But Friday’s 36-28 victory over Wheaton/Herman-Norcross at the Metrodome put a new twist on the cooperative agreement that pairs Ellsworth and Edgerton in football.

“Ellsworth will always be a basketball town and Edgerton will always be a football town. That’s just how it goes,” said Casey, a 6-foot-6 senior who does nothing on the football field other than play wide receiver (seven catches for 82 yards and a touchdown Friday), defensive end, punter and kickoff kicker.

His mom, Carla, concurred. “This is unreal,” she said. “He’s had the best of both worlds; Edgerton’s a big football town so Ellsworth is fortunate to go there and play football.”

The Schillings, just like everybody in Ellsworth, know all about state tournament success in basketball. The Panthers have played in five Class 1A championship games since 2003, winning titles in 2007 and 2008. Clayton and Carla Schilling’s three sons – Curt, Cody and Casey – have played important roles on those teams; Cody, in fact, broke the state’s all-time scoring record before graduating in 2008.

Curt also played football through high school, while Cody concentrated on basketball after his freshman year.

Edgerton had previously played in the state football tournament in 2004, 2005 and 2006, and the combined Edgerton/Ellsworth team did the same last year. But all those teams lost in the state quarterfinals.

“Curt had some great teams but he never made it here, so I’ve got a little bit of bragging rights,” Casey said Friday.

Curt is now the athletic director and boys basketball coach at George-Little Rock High School, a short drive from Ellsworth across the Iowa border; George is Carla’s hometown. Cody is a senior at Augustana College in Sioux Falls, S.D., where Casey also will play basketball.

All the Schillings were at the Metrodome for Friday’s game, and a Twitter message from Cody summed everything up. He wrote: “E/E State Champs.. #proudbrother”

After Eden Prairie defeated Wayzata 13-3 in the Class 5A championship game, Trojans coach Brad Anderson was the picture of sportsmanship and class, as is always the case.

He smiled broadly as he congratulated the Eden Prairie coaches, and the smile stayed on his face as he spoke to his players, who were tearfully gathered around him on one knee.

"It hurts because it means something to you," he told the Trojans. "And I'm proud of every one of you."

(This item was written by Windom High School senior Thomas Elness, a member of the MSHSL Student Sports Information Directors program.)

It’s not unusual to see a group of people wearing identical t-shirts at a state tournament, but it is rare to see shirts with the names of two players from two different teams. That was the case Friday.

Aaron Vipond, a senior player for Mahnomen, and Tanner Kirkeide, a senior player for Wheaton/Herman-Norcross, both competed for state titles. The two are cousins and they had a cheering section of their own at the Metrodome. The group of around 50 family members all ordered matching shirts bearing the names and numbers of Aaron and Tanner.

“It took 10 hotel rooms, and the whole family wasn’t even here yet,” Uncle Joe Vipond said while cheering for Wheaton/Herman-Norcross. Football runs in the family, as does agriculture. “When the farming gets done, we go to all of the games,” he said.

Grandma Mary Ann made the trek to the Dome and noted, “It’s very, very exciting. I’m very proud.” With 10 children of her own, 26 grandchildren and 15 great-grandchildren (including one in her arms during the interview), it doesn’t look like football is going to be ending any time soon for the Viponds and Kirkeides.

Before the Caledonia Warriors defeated Moose Lake/Willow River 27-0 to win their second consecutive Class 2A state championship, they heard a special pregame speech. The message came from Farmington football coach Mark Froehling, a former coach in Caledonia who continues to have strong ties there.

Froehling is well-known for reading a different book to his team during the course of each season. This fall he read “Remember Why You Play,” which follows the football team at Faith Christian School in Grapevine, Texas, for a season.

“One of the mottos of that team was ‘focus and finish,’ ” Froehling told me before the game.

The Warriors have heard pregame talks by Froehling before, including last year’s Prep Bowl victory over Triton.

Edgerton/Ellsworth quarterback Isaac Heard completed 23 of 31 passes for 368 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. His favorite receiver was Devin Hulstein, who had seven catches for 198 yards and two scores. Two of those numbers were Prep Bowl records: Heard’s 368 passing yards and Hulstein’s 198 receiving yards.

In Dawson-Boyd's 35-20 victory over Mahnomen in the Class 1A title game, Dawson-Boyd's Evan Robertson tied a Prep Bowl record with three interceptions. Five previous players had picked off three passes in a Prep Bowl game.

*Schools/teams John has visited: 151
*Miles John has driven: 5,008
*Diet Coke Count: 6 for the day, 55 for the fall tournaments

--Join the MSHSL on Facebook by clicking on the Facebook button on the right side of John Millea is on Twitter at