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Posted by Guest (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 3/8/2012 11:09:24 PM

By Luke Sleeper

After upsetting No.1 seed Duluth East 3-2 in Thursday night’s quarterfinals of the Class 2A state hockey tournament, Lakeville South stars Justin Kloos, Joe Freemark and Alex Harvey were seen practically skipping down the hallway after their date with the media, yelping cries of excitement with every step, acting in a way that only best friends could.

A year ago, after a heartbreaking section final loss, it was conceivable that these guys might not even play together again.

In recent years, Lakeville -- like many communities in our State of Hockey -- has seen a number of its great players leave their hometown teams to play for metro private schools or developmental programs. These programs are very well-respected and provide a great opportunity for any hockey player, but there is something to be said for finishing where you started.

Kloos, Harvey and Freemark have spent three seasons on the varsity team and have seen teammates and friends come and go.

“I can’t speak for the guys that left because I don’t know their situation,” Kloos said. “But I know why I stayed; getting to play with my best friends in a game like this. It’s why I played another year of high school hockey.”

Harvey agreed. saying “Playing with your best friends is what this game is all about.”

Kloos has had some tough decisions to make during his hockey career. As the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year, a Mr. Hockey candidate and the leader in points in Class 2A this season, there is no doubt that Justin had several other routes he could have taken other than staying home and finishing his career in Lakeville.

Like Kloos, Harvey and Freemark could have followed the paths of former Lakeville South players to other private hockey powerhouses; two of their former teammates led the 2011 Class A state tournament in scoring. A former linemate and Minnesota’s record holder for most points scored by a freshman left after the 2010 season for the U.S. Developmental Team in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

Instead of asking what could have been, the players on the 2012 Lakeville South Cougars have committed themselves to their community and most importantly to each other.

“We have been playing together for so many years,” Freemark said. “These are the guys I grew up with. We hang out together, play pond hockey together…I can’t imagine playing in this tournament with anyone else but my best friends.”

Once the final horn sounded in South’s victory over Duluth East, the Cougars sprang from their bench and mauled each against the Xcel Energy Center glass, a feeling of pure happiness.

“I don’t think I have ever cried tears of joy in my life,” winning goalie Tyler Schumacher said. “This is incredible.”

“These are the kinds of games you dream about when you’re younger, playing on the pond, picturing yourself scoring and celebrating with your teammates,” said Kloos.

After he scored the empty-net game-sealer with less than a minute left, Kloos finally got to live out that dream, heaving himself into the Cougars bench in celebration. A surreal moment such as that is exactly why he stayed home.

Although other great opportunities were available to the likes of Kloos, Harvey and Freemark, they chose to finish what they started and make a little history while they were at it. They are the first hockey team from Lakeville to win a quarterfinal game. These accomplishments certainly do something to validate the decision to stay together, but it was the pure joy they shared after the game -- as displayed in the Xcel Energy Center corridor -- that truly justifies the path they took.

Lakeville South will play Benilde St. Margaret’s in the 2A semifinals Friday night.

--Luke Sleeper is a journalism student at the University of Minnesota


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