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They used to call it “Semifinal Saturday,” and it was an annual rite no matter who the best teams were, because AMSOIL Arena was the place to be for true hockey fans throughout the region, and on down to the Northern suburbs of the Twin Cities.
The four Class A teams — meaning Hermantown and whichever other three rivals — surviving the opening round quarterfinals would pair up at high noon, or thereabouts, and 2, for their semifinals, with those two winners destined to return to the following Wednesday championship.
About the time they got the fans and the empty popcorn boxes cleared out, the four surviving 7AA teams would come in — meaning Duluth East and three other potent foes — for their semifinal doubleheader. Their winners would advance to the annual following Thursday final.
This year, it’s almost the same. First, they used computers to indicate why it’s important for human beings to show their reasonableness, to seed the teams. That’s another story. For another, we have the UMD women’s hockey team, which narrowly slipped into the fourth and final home playoff slot on last weekend’s final regular-season weekend.
To clear the way of conflicts, UMD will engage Bemidji State at 2 p.m. Friday, 2 p.m. Saturday, and 2 p.m. Sunday, if necessary, at AMSOIL.
After the Bulldogs and Beavers play Friday, we’ll have the 7A semifinals, at 6 and 8 p.m.
Hermantown is back, but for the first time in a decade, the Hawks failed to win the Lake Superior Conference. And there is reason to think that Greenway of Coleraine, if they can make it, can give the Hawks a true challenge for the 7A title.
On Friday, top-seeded Hermantown will play International Falls, and Greenway of Coleraine will take on Virginia-Mountain Iron-Buhl.Hermantown thrashed North Shore, which had beaten a tough Proctor outfit to reach the quarterfinals, in an8-1 romp, while down at Essentia Heritage Arena, hopeful Denfeld saw a 2-0 lead vanish against International Falls, and it took a goal by Kian Gonzalez at 5:24 of the second overtime to give the Broncos a 3-2 victory.
Greenway beat Hibbing-Chisholm 5-0, to earn the right as No. 2 seed to take on a very good Virginia-Mountain Iron-Buhl team that hammered Eveleth-Gilbert 7-1.
When it all comes back to AMSOIL on Saturday, again the UMD women will play Bemidji State at 2, then they’ll clean house and bring on the 7AA lads.
Duluth East, top seed and ranked No. 3 in the state, will face Marshall, a new-old rival, in the first semi. Then No. 2 seed Andover will play Elk River in a Twin Cities North Suburb showdown.
East coach Mike Randolph said he didn’t like the Quality Results Formula computer that did the seeding this year. Trouble was, the computer doesn’t know that East played the toughest schedule in the state, or that Marshall also played a very tough schedule, and so did Cloquet. Andover played a reasonably tough slate, but Elk River avoided playing any 7AA foes from up here except East.
So the seedings had 1. East, 2. Andover, 3. Elk River, 4. Cloquet, 5. Marshall, 6. Forest Lake, 7. St. Francis, 8. Grand Rapids, and 9. Cambridge-Isanti. At face value, my picks would have been 1. East, 2. Andover, 3. Marshall, 4. Cloquet, 5. Elk River, 6. Grand Rapids, 7. Forest Lake, 8. St. Francis, 9.Cambridge-Isanti.
Because the computer prevailed, Grand Rapids had to play Cambridge in a play-in game, and winning that, the defending state champion Thunderhawks came to Essentia Heritage to face East, the No. 1 seed. East’s top line made sure there would be no upset. Garrett Worth scored at 0:23 of the first period and Logan Anderson and Brendan Becker made it 3-0. Worth scored again at 0:22 of the second, and his linemates, Ryder Donovan and Ian Mageau, got third-period goals to complete a 5-0 victory.
Marshall, having been seeded fifth, was in a hot streak that showed back-to-back victories over St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray, a pair of top 10 caliber Twin Cities perennial powers, but had to go to Cloquet. Marshall got three goals from Levi Stauber and beat the Lumberjacks 6-4 Tuesday.
That means Marshall will run smack dab into East in Saturday’s 7AA semifinals.
Andover, which had beaten St. Francis 10-0 earlier in the season, won 3-0 when it mattered Tuesday, and advances to play Elk River, a 9-1 romp victor over Forest Lake. That should be a very interesting game, between the rising power and the trying-to-stay power.
That seeding also assures there will be a North vs. South final, next week on Thursday.
In Wisconsin, Superior won the Sectional 1 battle 4-3 over New Richland, when Ian Johnson scored at 11:57 of the second overtime. Calen Welch made 48 saves for the Spartans.
n girls play in Wisconsin Sectional 1, Hudson beat Hayward-Ashland 4-3 for the title.
Olympics Roll On
Team USA did about as well as could be expected in the Winter Olympic hockey tournament. With a roster that only included a few college players — and one Minnesotan who played, in ex-Gopher Ryan Stoa — Team USA won only one game. Having been upset by Slovenia in overtime in the first game, Team USA won an upset itself against Slovakia, which had upset the Russians in the first game.
Then Russia beat the U.S., relegating the U.S. to a play-in game to reach the semifinals. But they lost to the Czech Republic 3-2 in a shootout, battling gamely to a 2-2 tie in regulation.
They are heading into the semifinals as this is written, and they should be great games. My feeling is that Sweden is the best, Russia second, and Canada third, with the Czech Republic fourth. But the Czech Republic and Sweden are the only two undefeated teams through the whole tournament.
If I had to guess, I would project a Sweden-Russia Gold Medal game. But whoever plays, it will be worth watching.