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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/11/2013 11:25:10 AM

By Brian Jerzak
John’s Journal Correspondent

The Indiana state basketball tournament, the Texas state football tournament, the Iowa state wrestling tournament and of course the Minnesota state hockey tournament – across the nation, they all have a certain ring to them. Saturday night was my first time taking in Minnesota’s historic tournament and I wanted to find out what makes this weekend so special. I spent about an hour before the Edina vs. Hill-Murray Class 2A championship game talking to hockey fans in the arena about that very topic.

This tournament has never been just about the high school teams. It goes much deeper – much younger – than that.

“You’ve got a hockey rink in every neighborhood,” said Aden Flannigan, a young fan from Edina. “We all get together and play pond hockey. It’s the land of 10,000 lakes and there is a rink on every one.”

“It starts with youth hockey,” said Steve Jones. “This is what the dream is. For me I played at Hill (Murray), I coached at Hill and it is fun to come down and support the team.”
The tournament’s familiarity is part of its charm.

“One of the nice things about it is not much has changed,” said Todd Mulkin, who has been coming to the tournament for 40 years. “The venues have been consistent even though they have changed. The two-class system has changed things a little bit, but it is still amazing.”

The on-ice product is not the only thing that remains familiar to fans who make the yearly trek.

“I recognize people (in the stands). I don’t know who they are, but I see them every single year,” said Bill Welander. “So I know I am not alone, there is this tradition of the hockey tournament. It is a special time.”

Those people – the hockey community – have helped make this weekend special.

“The parents are so committed to getting their kids to every practice, lacing their kids’ skates up when they were three and just to watch them grow,” said Mulkin. “It is just a great opportunity to watch their kids grow and be connected with other parents.”

“The hockey community is a small community, but it is a passionate community,” added Welander, who has missed one championship game in 35 years. “You can talk to people just out of nowhere about how the Gopher hockey team is doing or how the Wild are doing because everyone runs in the same circles in this crowd.”

The atmosphere in the arena is reason enough to take in the tournament.

“You need to watch the fans and the students’ reactions,” said Mulkin. “The fans will be going back and forth.”

Both the Edina and Hill-Murray student sections were nearly as precise as their teams with their organized cheers – and occasional good-natured taunts – and added yet another layer of atmosphere to the event.

In the end it is all about the kids on the ice.
“It is a special event. You get to see kids do something remarkable,” said Jones. “It is the time of their life so it is a memory they won’t forget. It is the same thing the NHLers talk about who made it here and have gone on to do better things, but they still talk about this being one of the best times of their lives when they have been here at the show. They are putting their heart out there for everyone to see and there could be a moment of greatness at any time.”

Jones, who was on the Pioneers’ 1997 state tournament team, summed up nicely what it meant to participate in one of the most storied high school championships in the nation.
“It was amazing. It is the dream you hope for. It’s why you work all those days and you shoot all those pucks. When they turn out those lights for the first time and the next thing you know there are 18,000 people going crazy, you don’t forget it.”

Perhaps an anonymous young boy from Prior Lake summed it up best when I asked him why he liked coming to the tournament.

“I like watching hockey. I like to play hockey, it is fun.”

That young boy also had the pulse of the majority of the fans. He is not from either school in the championship game. He is from Minnesota, he is a hockey fan and when asked who he wanted to win he simply said – “the green team.”


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