John's Journal
On The Road Again For Some Hockey And Some History 12/8/2010
Call me a silly Minnesotan if you wish, but I really enjoy taking to the road on a frigid winter night and doing some exploring. That was the plan on Tuesday: leave home as the sun was dipping below the horizon, drive south while the temperature danced just on the positive side of zero and drive past country homes all decked out in holiday lights.

The objective was a boys’ hockey game in Rochester. If all went well, history would be made. But getting there – and home again – is half the fun for me, and that was the case this time. Again, feel free to call me goofy, but spending time on the road, tuning the iPod to Johnny Cash (name that tune: “I've been to Reno, Chicago, Fargo, Minnesota … Buffalo, Toronto, Winslow, Sarasota … Wichita, Tulsa, Ottawa, Oklahoma … Tampa, Panama, Mattawa, La Paloma …”) and just driving is fun. A clear road, a good game, watching the garage door open up to greet me at 11 p.m. and writing until well after midnight; this is the business we have chosen. And business is really good.

Tonight’s focus was Albert Lea coach Roy Nystrom. He came into Tuesday’s game against Rochester John Marshall with 616 career victories. Former Edina coach Willard Ikola, one of the game’s legendary figures, also won 616 games before ending his 32-year coaching career. Nystrom is in his 45th year of coaching, but there is another fact to his victory total that gets some folks a little riled up.

Nystrom’s first 94 victories came while he was coaching in North Dakota. There’s the rub for the Minnesota hockey purists. They argue that Ikola won more games in fewer years and all of them were in Minnesota. Those arguments hold water, but as Nystrom said after his boys beat John Marshall 7-4, “617 is 617 no matter where you got 'em.” (That's Nystrom in the photo, getting a congratulatory hug as the game ended.)

On a national scale, there’s no arguing that Nystrom now ranks ahead of Ikola. According to the National Federation of State High School Associations record book, here are the top five:
1. 897 Bill Belisle, Rhode Island
2. 695 Edward Burns, Massachusetts
3. 623 Ron Baum, Michigan
4. 617 Roy Nystrom, North Dakota and Minnesota
5. 616 Willard Ikola, Minnesota

Close on their heels is Rochester Mayo coach Lorne Grosso,who got his 610th win earlier this week. Grosso and Nystrom are great friends who were linemates at the University of Minnesota.

In 32 seasons, Ikola’s record was 616-149-38. His Edina teams won eight state titles (1969, '71, '74, '78, '79, '82, '84 and '88) and finished second twice. Nystrom has won 523 games in 38 years at Albert Lea, with the first 94 coming in seven years in North Dakota. He has taken three teams to state tournaments (2004, 2005 and 2007).

The connection between the two coaches goes all the way back to Eveleth, Minnesota, when the Ikola and Nystrom families lived a few blocks apart. Ikola is 11 years older than Nystrom, who remembers watching Willard play goaltender for Eveleth High School.

“He was a great goaltender,” Nystrom said after Tuesday’s game.

Nystrom (talking to his team during a timeout in the photo below) said he takes more pride in his coaching longevity than the number of wins. “My biggest accomplishment is lasting that long. Those 45 rank ahead of 617.”

He coached in Grafton and Grand Forks, N.D., before moving to Albert Lea. “A North Dakota teacher’s salary was not what you would call lucrative,” he said with a smile. He had opportunities to leave Albert Lea over the years, “but I never really considered leaving,” he said.

His coaching staff includes his son David and Jon Breuer, the leading scorer in Albert Lea hockey history. Roy Nystrom said he has no plans to retire, but he will know it’s time “when my son and Jonny have to carry me out and show me where the ice is.”

TIDBITS …

--A tip of the hat to John Marshall athletic director Paul Cox and his crew for a classy move Tuesday night. Before the game, this announcement was made to the crowd at Rochester Recreation Center: “Tonight, we have a special announcement. John Marshall High School would like to congratulate Albert Lea’s head coach, Roy Nystrom, on his successful coaching career and tying Willard Ikola as the winningest coach in state history.”

After the game, this announcement was made: “At this time, we would like to congratulate Albert Lea head coach Roy Nystrom on becoming the winningest coach in state history. Congratulations Coach Nystrom!"

--I saw two things fall from the sky during the game. The first was a puck, which came over the glass near where I was sitting and rattled around before I leaned over and grabbed it. I am holding it hostage until I can have Nystrom autograph it for me. Why didn’t I think of that before I left the arena? Darn good question. I also saw popcorn raining down. I was sitting at my laptop in the scorekeeper’s area. The fans are stationed about 10 feet above that spot, and someone spilled a little bit of popcorn near my spot. Could have been worse. Could have been liquid.

--On the way home I smelled a distinctive odor as I stopped at a red light on Highway 52. The windows were rolled up tight and the heat was blasting, so this was one strong smell. Skunk. Big skunk. Dead skunk. Big stinky dead skunk. I’m lookin’ at you, Cannon Falls.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 261
*Miles John has driven: 5,531

--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
National Academic Honor For Bloomington Jefferson Athlete12/7/2010
Bloomington Jefferson boys’ soccer player Scott Clinton has been named an Academic All-American by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America. He is the only Minnesotan selected in 2010 and one of only 36 players to receive the honor across the country.

Clinton is a four-year starter and captain for the Jaguars. While playing soccer at Jefferson, the team qualified for the MSHSL state tournament three times and won the Academic Silver Award three times. Clinton was an all-state selection and a first-team all-metro selection during the 2010 season.

Clinton is the first player in the history of the Bloomington Jefferson boys’ soccer program to be selected for the award.
A Few Scattered Thoughts And Observations … 12/6/2010
After being inside the Lindbergh Center at Hopkins High School on Saturday – which was Minnesota Basketball Central for the day, with 11 girls’ games and two boys’ games – I have gathered up all my sportswriting instincts and developed a few thoughts.

Thought No. 1: It’s not always good to be ranked No. 1 (or maybe No. 2).

Defending state champion Lakeville North was the preseason No. 1 team in Class 4A girls and Eden Prairie was No. 2. Both teams lost Saturday during the Breakdown Tip-Off Classic at Hopkins. No. 3 Hopkins beat North 83-64 and Eden Prairie lost to Hill-Murray (No. 2 in 3A) 59-45.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s, the defending champion and top-ranked team in 3A, also lost at Hopkins, falling to Bloomington Kennedy (No. 5 in 4A) 51-49. The No. 3 team in 3A, DeLaSalle, beat unranked 4A Minnetonka in double overtime.

In other words, it looks like a wild ride in girls’ basketball.

Thought No. 2: Hopkins is pretty good at boys’ basketball.

This just in … the Hopkins Royals are the team to beat in 4A boys. The Royals own the last two 4A state titles and look like a solid favorite to make it three in a row. They beat Lakeville North 73-57 Saturday in one of the boys’ games at the Tip-off Classic, using a very familiar formula: passing, patience, athleticism and defense. Division I signees Joe Coleman (Minnesota) and Marvin Singleton (Northern Iowa) lead the way for Hopkins.

Keep both eyes on DeLaSalle: The Islanders completed a sweep of Minnetonka at the Tip-Off Classic, with the boys beating the Skippers 87-67. The DeLaSalle boys are ranked No. 2 in 3A behind defending state champ St. Paul Johnson. Johnson opened the season on Friday with a 61-60 victory at Lakeville South, which is No. 5 in 4A.

Thought No. 3: Can Lakeville North complete a rare girls’ double?

Lakeville North won the large-school state volleyball state title in November, and the Panthers also have one of the top girls’ basketball teams in the big class. If North wins another basketball championship, it will be the first time that one school won large-school state titles in volleyball and girls’ basketball in the same school year.

Has that feat been accomplished by schools outside the biggest class? That is your homework assignment for the week. Do some research and send your findings via email. Grades may be publicly posted.

My assignments this week include hockey and basketball, with wrestling on the horizon. I’m planning (weather permitting, of course) to be in Rochester on Tuesday night for a boys’ hockey game between Albert Lea and Rochester John Marshall. The Breakdown Tip-Off Classic returns for round two on Saturday at Minnetonka, with 14 boys’ basketball games scheduled.

Next week I’m planning two road trips; one to Breckenridge and Hawley and another to Rochester for the Minnesota Christmas Wrestling tournament. Let’s all keep an eye on the weather, and give me a wave if you see me on the highway.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 259
*Miles John has driven: 5,394

--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
Special Guest Author From Breckenridge High School12/3/2010
Here’s a special treat: An essay written by one of our talented Minnesota high school students. Turner Blaufuss is a junior at Breckenridge High School, a member of the Cowboys’ football team and a skilled writer. He is a member of the MSHSL’s Student Sports Information Directors program, writing stories about his school on the Breckenridge page on this website.

After his team’s football season ended last month, Turner wrote about his experiences on the team. His story was published in the nearby Wahpeton (N.D.) Daily News, and we are passing it on here so you can enjoy it, too.

“Living the dream like a modern-day Cowboy.”

By Turner Blaufuss

On Oct. 27, 2009, the Breckenridge Cowboys were knocked out of the first round of the playoffs at home by the lower seeded Holdingford Huskers. I was in the locker room crying with my teammates and I looked into the eyes of the juniors and my fellow sophomores. We were all thinking the same thing that night: we need to get better.

Many people think being on a football field is the greatest feeling in the world. If someone was to tell me that, I’d kindly disagree. I would tell them that it is a wonderful feeling, but the only thing better is walking on to a football field wearing a green jersey with Cowboys printed on the front with all your best friends. The feeling of when you get your chance to step on Cowboy Field under the lights on a Friday night is unexplainable.

Being on the Breckenridge football team is a little different than other football teams. Other teams don’t play “Should’ve been a Cowboy” by Toby Keith in the locker room four straight times after a victory and then follow it up with other various country or rap songs. Other teams don’t jump up on their seats in the locker room and bang the top of the lockers as hard as they can one time for each point scored on their head coach’s cue. I am blessed with the best coaching staff in the world. Our coaches always have us prepared and help us get better every single day with constant tips and encouragement. The coaches deserve tons of credit for all the time they put in to making us better.

One of my favorite memories of the year was after we won our first playoff game; we had a team meal at coach Chad Fredericksen’s house.

The reason it was so memorable was because I wanted to see the inside of his new house and our whole team got to sign our names on his garage wall. That day, I felt closer to my team and coaching staff and I felt part of a second family.

My teammates are equally encouraging. The thing our team needed was leadership and that happened to be this group of seniors’ specialty. Our seniors constantly encouraged the new varsity players to hit the weight room and that surely made us a better team.

I’ll never forget how I felt when there was only a couple people left finishing our conditioning and our seniors would get everybody cheering the last few on.

The seniors couldn’t have been better leaders this year and they’ll surely be missed.

Our team lost in the Section championship game to Ottertail Central and for the second year in a row, I sobbed with my teammates. The cries seemed to have more pain and sorrow in that the seniors would never get to play the game they’ve loved since they were kids ever again. We had worked so hard in the off-season and just like that, season’s over. I hugged every senior and let him know I’ll miss him and like last year, we have another loss to motivate our team to work harder in the off-season.

This season was the most fun I’ve ever had in my life. I’ve made tons of friends, grown closer to my teammates and coaches, and most importantly, I got to play the game I love for the Breckenridge Cowboys with my best friends.

I’d like to thank all the coaches for the time you’ve put in, the seniors for being the best leaders anybody could ever ask for, the parents for being supportive and cooking our incredible team meals, and our fans that make high school football some of the best days of our lives.

Who knows? Maybe we can win a couple more next year. Go Cowboys.

Have a comment for Turner Blaufuss? Reach him at: blaufuss_3@hotmail.com
(Final Update) Reports From Board of Directors Meeting …12/2/2010
The gavel has fallen and the meeting has been adjourned. Feel like discussing what happened? Go to the MSHSL Facebook page and post a comment.


12:10 update...

The board has approved a change in the structure of the state wrestling tournament, going from four days to three days. The change reduces the number of days participants will need to be in attendance at the tournament (while missing school), and also reduces expenses.

Through the MSHSL’s conference-placement process, Grand Rapids has been assigned to the Central Lakes Conference and Duluth East and Denfeld have been placed in the Mississippi 8 Conference. None of the schools or conferences filed appeals of those decisions, and the board has approved those placements.


11:30 update ...

The board has unanimously approved several details for Zero Week football scheduling. They include: a committee of two coaches, two athletic directors and one MSHSL staff member will review and approve or deny applications to schedule Zero Week games; schools may apply to play the same Zero Week opponents for two consecutive years; teams playing Zero Week games will be allowed to practice up to three days during a mandatory regular-season bye week.


11:07 update ...

Two guests spoke to the board about football…

Rochester Century athletic director Mark Kuisle, a past board president, asked the board to "slow down" on the Zero Week concept. He suggested the board instead consider adding a bye week for every team during the season. He also said Class 5A football "needs to be fixed" because of the size disparity between 5A schools, in which teams can play teams from schools that are more than twice their size. Kuisle suggested adding an additional football class, with the largest 16 or 36 schools.

The second speaker, Faribault athletic director and Region 1AA chairman Ken Hubert, spoke against Zero Week. An early Zero Week document suggested that teams would not be allowed to practice (other than conditioning, weight-lifting,etc.) during the bye week that would be mandatory for teams playing Zero Week games. In the course of meetings by a football Task Force, the language now allows teams to practice for a maximum of three days during their bye week.

“As a region, we are unanimous in our opposition to that change,” Hubert said,asking that the original language be restored to the proposal.


Original post ... The meeting is underway. Immediate updates are being posted on Facebook and Twitter, and I’ll post updates here as the meeting goes on.