John's Journal
Willmar Players Honor Coach With ‘Terrible’ T-Shirts 3/14/2018
When the Willmar High School girls basketball team gathered for a sendoff from school before they journeyed to the Twin Cities and this week’s state tournament, they posed for a photo wearing their favorite t-shirts.

Everyone had a big smile, even the coach whose face was plastered on the shirts. But the face of Cardinals coach Dustin Carlson is not from a recent photo, oh no. It’s one of his Willmar High School graduation photos from 2004, and – as with most people who look back at such photos from their younger days -- it’s a hoot.

The teenage Carlson is shown in a nearly shaved head, arms crossed in front, with the words “STRAIGHT CASH HOMIE” printed above the photo on the black t-shirts.

“They picked the worst one of the five they could find, and that was on purpose,” he said with a grin after the Cardinals rallied to defeat DeLaSalle 52-47 in overtime in Wednesday’s Class 3A quarterfinals at Williams Arena. “They scanned through them and said, ‘That one’s decent, that’s one decent, oh that one’s terrible, let’s put that on a shirt.’ ”

Senior Cayle Hovland, who scored a game-high 15 points Wednesday, came up with the idea for the shirts. When the team had dinner at the home of Carlson’s mother early in the season, she found a treasure trove of old photos of their coach.

“I was like, ‘We’ve got to get the worst one,’ ” Cayle said. “And I have a friend who works at a t-shirt company and she said, ‘Oh, yeah, I got you. We’ll make them.’ We made them.”

On the court, Carlson was very well-dressed Wednesday in a red sport coat, white shirt, striped tie, gray slacks, gray shoes. The jacket came off for the second half; DeLaSalle led by 15 at intermission before the Cardinals outscored them 28-13 to tie the score 42-42 at the end of regulation.

The Cardinals shot only 23.5 percent in the first half but 52.4 in the second. The Islanders’ percentage went the other way: 33.3 in the first half and only 12.5 in the second.

The line “Straight Cash Homie” was made famous by the Vikings’ Randy Moss when discussing how he paid fines to the NFL. Carlson said he likes to borrow the phrase when the players make shots in practice, or when he does.

The shirts were unveiled to the coach before a game early in the season.

“We were standing out there right before warmups and the girls weren’t coming out on the floor. I was thinking, ‘What is going on? Why is it taking so long?’ All of a sudden they all come out in these black shirts and my head snapped back, ‘What the heck is that on there?’ And then I saw my face.”

Willmar will meet Cooper in the state semifinals Thursday at noon at Target Center. There's no word on whether the t-shirts will make an appearance.

Tournament Tidbits

Cooper is playing at state for the first time in school history, but the Hawks coach is very familiar with the tournament as well as Williams Arena. Kiara Buford (pictured), in her fourth year as Cooper’s coach, played in four state tournaments at St. Paul Central and was on championship teams as a junior and senior in 2007 and 2008. After that she played at the University of Minnesota, where she was a two-year team captain and MVP.

The top-seeded Hawks defeated Alexandria 58-51 Wednesday in the 3A tournament at Williams Arena. Buford’s sister Jada led all scorers with 20 points.

“It’s always different when your shoes don’t look like their shoes,” Kiara Buford said of the difference between playing and coaching. “When you’re a player you’re anxious to play and you feel a responsibility to win and you feel like you have control. As a coach you don’t expect to feel the same way as the players do. The difference is you can’t play. I try to communicate with them as best as possible and hope I’ve prepared them throughout the season.”

--Alexandria coach Wendy Kohler, a Hall of Famer in her 33rd year, is old-school when trying to get her players' attention: She puts two fingers in her mouth and whistles.

--The smallest enrollment among the schools competing in the girls state basketball tournament is Stephen-Argyle Central with 81 students in grades nine through 12. The largest is Prior Lake with 2,466.

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Quarterfinals

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
Sauk Centre 67, Byron 61
Norwood-Young America 67, Minnehaha Academy 58
Wednesday at Williams Arena
Maranatha Christian 85, Mesabi East 49
Roseau 62, Tracy-Milroy-Balaton 56

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
Robbinsdale Cooper 58, Alexandria 51
Willmar 52, DeLaSalle 47 (OT)
Northfield 49, Mankato West 44
Grand Rapids 75, Holy Angels 60

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
Eastview 78, Prior Lake 44
Lakeville North 68, Maple Grove 66 (OT)
Hopkins 74, Forest Lake 38
Roseville 56, Cretin-Derham Hall 48

Thursday’s Semifinals
At Target Center

Class 3A

Noon: Cooper vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
6 p.m.: Eastview vs. Lakeville North
8 p.m.: Hopkins vs. Roseville

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Girls State Basketball Tournament3/10/2018
Quarterfinal Pairings

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
6 p.m.: Byron vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m.: Norwood-Young America vs. Minnehaha Academy
Wednesday at Williams Arena
6 p.m.: Mesabi East vs. Maranatha Christian
8 p.m.: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. Roseau

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
10 a.m.: Robbinsdale Cooper vs. Alexandria
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Mankato West
4 p.m.: Holy Angels vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
10 a.m.: Prior Lake vs. Eastview
Noon: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville North
2 p.m.: Forest Lake vs. Hopkins
4 p.m.: Roseville vs. Cretin-Derham Hall
The Voice Is Gone, But The Memories Will Last Forever 3/10/2018
Orono High School boys hockey coach Will Scholz felt bad and sounded worse. His voice had been on a downward glidepath from the start of the state tournament on Wednesday, and it was little more than a rasp by Saturday afternoon.

“Sorry guys, this is just awful,” he said to reporters assembled for the Spartans’ postgame news conference after the Class 1A state championship game at Xcel Energy Center. But he was smiling, and that message was loud and clear.

Orono defeated Alexandria 2-1 in a game between two teams seeking their first state titles, and the Spartans were delirious.

Orono senior Thomas Walker, who scored his team’s first goal, talked about imagining such things while skating on the pond in his backyard.

“This was a little better than that,” he said. “You dream about this forever.”

Orono played at state for the ninth time; their previous trip was in 2014. They won 16 games in each of the last two seasons before coming to state this week with a 20-7-1 mark and finishing with three more wins. This kind of accomplishment usually has implications that extend far beyond one team and one season. (Pictured are Landon Wittenberg, Thomas Walker and coach Will Scholz.)

“It’s amazing. I cannot wait to see how this impacts the program, because I know it’s going to have an impact,” said Walker. “I think this really shows the community that we’re a force to be reckoned with. When you put your mind to something and you work hard, you can compete with the big boys.”

Landon Wittenberg, who scored the winning goal (his first of the tournament) in the third period, summed it up nicely.

“It’s crazy,” he said. “There are all these little kids watching and they look up to you. And we were once those little kids. ... it just means a ton to us and the community.”

The two interview sessions after the 1A game started 10 minutes apart, and it’s no surprise that the mood is quite different – and the session shorter – when the losing team comes to the dais. Alexandria coach Ian Resch was accompanied by senior goaltender Jackson Boline and junior Jack Westlund, who scored the Cardinals’ goal Saturday. Players aren’t required to speak to the media, but it says something about Jackson and Jack that they were willing to do so.

The Cardinals brought a record of 17-10-1 to the tournament, with seven of those losses coming in a nine-game stretch between Dec. 12 and Jan 4. That fact makes their run to the state championship game especially remarkable. And when you consider that they were seeded third in Section 6, it’s even more of a feat.

“We were underdogs just to come out of the section. And to be playing in the championship game today, I couldn’t be prouder of this team,” Resch said. “It’s going to take a couple days but the guys will be able to reflect and realize what they accomplished. Right now they’re in the middle of it and it stings, it hurts. But they’ll be talking about this and they’ll remember this for the rest of their lives.”

Boline, who received the Herb Brooks Award after the game, said he never lost faith.

“I believed in our guys. When we were in that stretch, we were still getting to know each other, almost, because some of these guys had never played together. It’s a young team. We just had to come together and that’s what we did. I always believed that we could come here, and we did.”

Westlund was asked about what he did immediately as the game ended; he skated to Boline and embraced him.

“The way he played was the reason we were in that game,” Jack said. “And he had nothing to be ashamed of, he played unbelievable all year. Especially in the playoffs. Without him we wouldn’t have been in this game.”

Boline said, “All these guys on this team are my family. I love them all. It’s just a tough way to go out.”

Minnetonka defeats Duluth East for 2A title

The Minnetonka Skippers made history by capturing their first boys state hockey championship with a 5-2 victory over Duluth East. Minnetonka’s previous best finish at state was runner-up in 2010. Duluth East won state championships in 1960, 1995 and 1998. The Greyhounds have finished second six times.

Minnetonka’s Joe Molenaar, who received the Herb Brooks Award during the postgame awards ceremony, scored one goal and had two assists. Grant Doctor had three assists, giving him nine points in the tournament.

Tournament Tidbits

--Minnesota Wild assistant coach Darby Hendrickson, who played in the 1991 state tournament for Richfield, missed the Wild's game in Edmonton on Saturday night. He had a good reason: He was at Xcel Energy Center to watch his son Mason, who plays for Minnetonka.

--Also on hand at the tournament on Saturday was Maddie Rooney, former goalie on the girls and boys teams at Andover High School who won an Olympic gold medal with Team USA.

--Attendance for the Class 1A championship session was 8,544 and a crowd of 18,914 attended the evening 2A session. Total attendance for the tournament was 107,674.

Boys State Hockey Tournament

Class 1A

Fifth-place game: Thief River Falls 5, Mankato East 1
Third-place game: Hermantown 4, Mahtomedi 0
Championship game: Orono 2, Alexandria 1

Class 2A
Fifth-place game: St. Thomas Academy 6, St. Michael-Albertville 2
Third-place game: Edina 11, Centennial 0
Championship game: Minnetonka 5, Duluth East 2

Wells Fargo All-Tournament Teams

Class 1A:
Blake Biondi, Darian Gotz, Hermantown; Kory Pilarski, Mahtomedi; Nick Corneliusen, Thief River Falls; Daniel Eckerline, Jack Kubitz, Jack Suchy, Thomas Walker, Orono; Caleb Strong, Jack Powell, Jack Westlund, Jackson Boline, Alexandria.

Class 2A: Ben Brinkman, Sammy Walker, Edina; Rob Christy, St. Thomas Academy; Garrett Worth, Ian Mageau, Luke LaMaster, Parker Klieve, Duluth East; Bobby Brink, Charlie Glockner, Grant Docter, Joe Molenaar, Josh Luedtke, Minnetonka.

Herb Brooks Award winners

Class 1A:
Jackson Boline, Alexandria.

Class 2A: Joe Molenaar, Minnetonka.

Girls State Basketball Tournament
Quarterfinal Pairings

Class 1A

Thursday at Williams Arena
11 a.m.: Heritage Christian vs. Lyle-Pacelli
1 p.m.: Menahga vs. Minneota
3 p.m.: Stephen-Argyle Central vs. Mountain Iron-Buhl
5 p.m.: Sleepy Eye vs. Ada-Borup/NCW

Class 2A
Wednesday at Target Center
6 p.m.: Byron vs. Sauk Centre
8 p.m.: Norwood-Young America vs. Minnehaha Academy
Wednesday at Williams Arena
6 p.m.: Mesabi East vs. Maranatha Christian
8 p.m.: Tracy-Milroy-Balaton vs. Roseau

Class 3A
Wednesday at Williams Arena
10 a.m.: Robbinsdale Cooper vs. Alexandria
Noon: DeLaSalle vs. Willmar
2 p.m.: Northfield vs. Mankato West
4 p.m.: Holy Angels vs. Grand Rapids

Class 4A
Wednesday at Target Center
10 a.m.: Prior Lake vs. Eastview
Noon: Maple Grove vs. Lakeville North
2 p.m.: Forest Lake vs. Hopkins
4 p.m.: Roseville vs. Cretin-Derham Hall

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
You Gotta Have Heart, And Alexandria Has Lots Of It 3/9/2018
In the final minutes of Friday’s big surprise in the Class 1A boys state hockey tournament, Alexandria senior goaltender Jackson Boline was briefly shaken up in a collision in the crease. As he slowly got back on his skates and stretched a bit, the Alexandria student section began chanting “MVP! MVP!” in appreciation for what Boline had accomplished.

He didn’t do it all by himself, certainly, but holding high-powered Hermantown to one goal in the Cardinals’ 6-1 semifinal victory at Xcel Energy Center was jaw-dropping. The Hawks’ previous single-game season low was two goals and they had won their four previous postseason games by a combined score of 23-5.

But the biggest blockbuster was this: Hermantown had played in the previous eight championship games. And this: since losing to East Grand Forks in the 2015 title game, the Hawks had gone 48-0 against Class 1A competition.

Friday’s game, meanwhile, was Alexandria’s first-ever time in the state semifinals. When results like Friday’s happen, the word “heart” is often used, such as, “The guys played with heart.”

For Boline, playing with heart means more. It’s not noticeable from the stands, but he wears a neck guard that extends down to cover his chest. Its specific purpose? Protecting his heart.

Jackson’s dad, Pat – a Cardinals assistant coach -- smiled when asked about Friday’s game and the dream of getting to state and playing for a championship, which the Cardinals will do when they face Orono on Saturday at noon. (They are pictured here.)

“We’re almost speechless right now,” Pat said. “It’s hard to put it together. When you think about winning the section; we’ve been trying to do that for a few years. The boys are just responding and preparing. It’s amazing.”

It is amazing, but not any more amazing than what the Boline family has been through since the first day of November in 2016. Pat collapsed at work that day, was airlifted to a hospital in the Twin Cities and underwent lengthy surgery. It was his heart. Surgeons found three tears in his aorta.

Asked about that day, Jackson said, “To be honest I can’t remember 100 percent of it.”

Pat recovered, but there were worries about other family members possibly having a similar heart condition. Jackson was tested on Feb. 3, 2017 and the results were bleak. He had a dilation in the trunk of his aorta. The doctor who gave them the results told Jackson that he could no longer be involved in contact sports.

Hearts? Sunk.

“That was heartbreaking,” Pat said. “I looked at him and he was white. It breaks your heart.”

They sought other opinions, and a series of cardiologists and a vascular specialist said Jack could indeed play hockey.

“Otherwise, I’d worry,” said Pat.

There were adjustments to make, most of them psychological. Jackson admits that he struggled at points a season ago, when the Cardinals finished 17-8-3 and lost to St. Cloud Cathedral in the Section 6 championship game.

“Last year it got into my mind and it showed,” he said. “This year you just have to forget about it. It’s not something that’s going to happen, nothing bad is going to come out of it.”

The Cardinals are at state for the fifth time in school history and first time since 2011. And they are all smiles.

“Oh my gosh,” said the goaltender who had just heard the MVP chants. “A dream come true is coming to the tournament. This? This is unexplainable.”

His dad put it this way: “We’re very lucky.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Alexandria's Jack Powell scored three goals vs. Hermantown. The last hat trick against the Hawks was by Hopkins' Nate Nelsen on Dec. 5, 2015, in a 3-3 tie.

--Orono built a 4-0 lead over Mahtomedi, saw it vaporize and finally beat the Zephyrs 5-4 in overtime. Thomas Walker had a hat trick as Orono took the 4-0 lead but Mahtomedi scored four times in a span of 5 minutes, 18 seconds to make it 4-4 early in the third period. The game-winner was scored by Dane Korsi at 2:26 of overtime.

--Duluth East defeated Edina 4-2 in the first Class 2A semifinal, with Garrett Worth – who had a hat trick Thursday – scoring twice and getting one assist.

--Minnetonka advanced to Saturday’s 2A title game with a 6-3 win over Centennial in the final game of the day. Josh Luedtke and Bobby Brink each scored two goals for the Skippers.

--Attendance for Friday’s afternoon Class 1A semifinal doubleheader was 11,905, followed by 19,055 for the evening 2A doubleheader. Total tournament attendance through three days is 80,216.

Boys State Hockey Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Friday’s semifinals
Class 1A

Orono 5, Mahtomedi 4 (OT)
Alexandria 6, Hermantown 1

Class 2A
Duluth East 4, Edina 2
Minnetonka 6, Centennial 3

Saturday’s championship games
Class 1A

Noon: Orono vs. Alexandria

Class 2A
7 p.m.: Duluth East vs. Minnetonka

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Skippers Assistant Made History With The Wild 3/8/2018
The players on the Minnetonka High School boys hockey team probably don’t know too many details about the background of assistant coach Steve Aronson. He is a 1996 Minnetonka grad and has been on the coaching staff for 11 years.

Aronson played hockey at the University of St. Thomas, where he was a first-team All-American three times, an academic All-American, the 2000 NCAA Division III player of the year and the all-time leading scorer in the history of the Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.

He played professional hockey for three years and never reached the NHL, but his bio includes this fact: Aronson was the first player ever signed by the Minnesota Wild.

“It comes up every now and again,” Aronson, 39, said Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center, where top-seeded Minnetonka defeated Hill-Murray 6-2 in the Class 2A state semifinals.

On May 5, 2000, Wild general manager Doug Risebrough announced that the expansion team – which would play its first season in 2000-01 – had signed Aronson to a two-year contract.

Risebrough had never seen Aronson play, but heeded the word of Wild scout Glen Sonmor.

“Glen told us that this guy had done an awful lot, and all I wanted to know was what kind of a player was he,” Risebrough told the Minneapolis Star Tribune after signing Aronson. “I kept hearing about his work ethic and character, and about his ability to score goals. When I asked what kinds of goals he scores, I was told he scores all kinds of goals, and a lot of them on the inside. That's all I needed to hear.”

After his playing career, Aronson was an assistant coach at the University of St. Thomas for one season before joining the Skippers staff. He and his wife Katie and their three kids live in Deephaven. He works in sales for a finance company.

In high school, Aronson played in the state hockey tournament once, in 1994. The Skippers lost to Duluth East in the quarterfinals and to Osseo in the consolation bracket. This year, Minnetonka is making its first appearance at state since 2010.

“I’m so happy for our kids, I’m so proud of them,” Aronson said. “To be here together with them is super exciting.

“I missed playing hockey but what I really missed was being around all the people that you know and being in locker rooms, whether it’s professionally, college or high school. It’s fun seeing kids that are so hungry to learn at this age, and they have so much passion. They’re such good kids and it’s so much fun. There’s nothing like it.”

The current players haven’t done much inquiring about their assistant coach’s playing career, and that’s just fine with him.

“What’s really great about kids this age is they live in the moment,” he said. “Their focus is on where they are. I try to limit any of that talk. I’m there to help them.”

Tournament Tidbits

--Duluth East senior Garrett Worth had a hat trick in the Greyhounds’ 5-0 2A quarterfinal victory over St. Michael-Albertville on Thursday. Worth enters Friday’s semifinal matchup against Edina with 45 goals and 23 assists on the season. Duluth East coach Mike Randolph, who has coached for 29 years and owns two state championships, compared Worth to Greyhounds legend Dave Spehar, who recorded three state-tournament hat tricks in the team’s run to the 1995 2A title.

“He’s got great teammates and he finishes a lot of stuff that those teammates create for him,” Randolph said of Worth. “He’s a great scorer, he’ll score at any level. … he has a gift that not all players have. … I put him with David Spehar.”

Worth and teammates Ian Mageau and Ryder Donovan form what’s known as the “WMD line.”

--Quote of the Day: Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner after the Pioneers lost to Minnetonka: “This is a fun deal but the real tournament is Friday night and Saturday night. That’s the wow.”

--As expected, there were big crowds for Thursday’s Class 2A games. Attendance for the first two-game session was 19,040 and the evening session drew 18,590. At the halfway point of the tournament, total attendance was 50,256.

Boys State Hockey Tournament
At Xcel Energy Center

Class 1A quarterfinals

Mahtomedi 4, Mankato East 2
Orono 6, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 1
Hermantown 4, Monticello 2
Alexandria 1, Thief River Falls 0

Class 2A quarterfinals
Edina 7, Lakeville North 1
Duluth East 5, St. Michael-Albertville
Minnetonka 6, Hill-Murray 2
Centennial 3, St. Thomas Academy 2

Friday’s semifinals
Class 1A

11 a.m.: Mahtomedi vs. Orono
30 minutes after first game: Hermantown vs. Alexandria

Class 2A
6 p.m.: Edina vs. Duluth East
30 minutes after first game: Minnetonka vs. Centennial

Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn