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There was just enough time between the Class A and Class AA state hockey championship games at St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center for a group to gather a couple blocks down West Seventh Street at the Downtowner’s Woodfire Grill. It was 50 years ago at this year’s state hockey tournament that coach Bob Gernander took a gang of proud but unassuming West Range kids to the old St. Paul Auditorium, where they won the school’s first state championship.
They were comparative unknowns in a Twin Cities that was just starting to feel confident in the game that had been dominated by the Iron Range -- as in, International Falls winning the previous three titles and four of the last five. Greenway High School, located in Coleraine, and attracts players from eight or more area towns -- Calumet, Bovey, Marble, Taconite, Coleraine, and others.
Gernander somehow brought all the disparate parts together in a colorful and highly skilled unit that beat Minneapolis Roosevelt in a big upset, then knocked off Hibbing in the semifinals and St. Pau Johnson to win the championship.
Mike Antonovich, from Calumet, was a 112-pound sophomore center on that team, with a captivating, headlong, hurtling style. He went on to stardom with the University of Minnesota and later the Minnesota Fighting Saints as the best-known of those Raiders. But there were a lot more, wherever they came from.
Gernander attended the reunion, along with Paul Rygh, Antonovich, Mick Metzer, Gordy Holland, Jim MacNeil, Jim Stephens, George Delich, Jeff Kosak, Mike Adams, Mike Barle, and goaltender Bill Joy. The group, with their wives, met amid the raucus early celebration of St. Patrick’s Day that closed West 7th, but it all worked out, because they all were wearing green.
Thunderhawks make it a Northern Sweep
It took the Grand Rapids Thunderhawks two games in the Class AA state hockey tournament to realize there was no rule that said they had to fall behind before starting to play their best hockey. Once they figured it out, the Thunderhawks jumped on Moorhead for a 6-3 victory and a Northern sweep that returned both big trophies to the Northland.
Rapids came from the No. 4 seed in Section 7AA to stun top-seeded Elk River 5-3 with a 5-goal third period in the semifinals, then knocked off arch-rival Duluth East in a double-overtime final.
At the state tournament, the Thunderhawks fell behind Maple Grove 2-0, then roared back for a 4-goal second period and a 6-4 victory. “Compared to Elk River, we started earlier,” said coach Trent Klatt. “Instead of five in the third, we got four in the second. If we ever start in the first... I don’t know what that’s like.”
Blake McLaughlin scored two goals and fellow-junior Gavin Hain one on the Thunderhawks big first line in the quarterfinals, but top-ranked Eden Prairie held down that usually explosive unitby in the semifinals, but the supporting cast stepped forward. John Stampohar’s goal tied it 1-1, and Keaghan Graeber gave Rapids a 2-1 lead in the second period. But it was 2-2 after two. Midway through the third period, Graebner fought through two checks along the right boards before sending a pass to the slot as he was going down. Connor Stefan ripped a one-timer into the EP goal at 7:56, and the Thunderhawks turned to goaltender Zach Stejskal and their own tough defense to hang on for a 3-2 victory that most considered the AA tournament’s biggest upset.
That sent Grand Rapids to the final against Moorhead, and finally the Thunderhawks tried a different approach. They scored the first two goals, in the first period, and made the game strangely anticlimactic with the first two goals of the second period for a 4-0 bulge. After the steady beat of overtimes in the Class A tournament, a 4-0 lead was outrageous. Never mind that Moorhead came back for two goals later in the second period. Hain, who scored a hat trick in the third period against Elk River in the massive 5-goal rally in the 7AA semifinals, came up with another hat trick that will be just as memorable, coming in the first half of the state title game. McLaughlin also scored twice, and Micah Miller, usually the most explosive of the three., added one as the line completed its season scoring all six goals.
Hain scored the first goal and assisted McLaughlin for the 2-0 start, then Hain scored two more to open the second period and complete his hat trick. Moorhead, always hustling, countered with two goals 59 seconds apart to trim it to 4-2. But Miller scored to open the third, and McLaughlin finished the victory by hitting an empty net.
“We didn’t have an answer for their top line,” said Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman.
Rapids coach Trent Klatt, who guided the Thunderhawks to their second straight state tournament, said: “I saw my players in the last two days do things I haven’t seen ’em do all year. Tonight and last night were the best we’ve played.”
Bulldogs seek NCHC crown
By sweeping Miami of Ohio last weekend, the UMD men’s hockey team advances to Target Center where they will face Western Michigan at 4 p.m. Friday in a Frozen Faceoff semifinal game of the NCHC tournament. Top-seeded Denver faces North Dakota in the 7 p.m. second semifinal. Winners play Saturday night for an automatic berth in the NCAA’s 16-team men’s hockey tournament.
For second-seeded UMD and Denver, the NCAA spots are assured because of their high national rating, with Denver No. 1 and UMD No. 3. Western Michigan is probably secure, and North Dakota questionable, which gives those two more incentive to win the automatic spot at the league playoffs.