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There are no sure things at the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, but hopes are high from all corners of Duluth that Duluth East can win the “big school” Class AA tournament, and that Hermantown can repeat as Class A champion.
Hermantown, of course, began play as the No 1 seed in the Class A tournament, and, bristling with the skill level and depth of a good Class AA team, Hawk watchers were optimistic their lads would be in Friday’s 1 p.m. second semifinal. Hermantown’s first foe was no pushover, of course; it was Monticello, the team that took the Hawks into two overtimes before yielding the title.
While it also is pleasant for Duluth-area hockey fans to wind up with championships in both AA and A, the time might be dwindling for Hermantown’s continuing domination in Class A, because first-year coach Pat Andrews has said that he will do whatever he can to convince the Hermantown administration to move up from A to AA, a move that would be cheered statewide, particularly by the very good but thin teams from smaller programs at smaller schools. That process, however, can occur only every two years, so for now teams will have no choice but to go after the Hawks in A.
Duluth East needs to regroup from its scare in the Section 7AA championship game by Andover, when the Greyhounds had to overcome a 2-0 deficit in the third period, tying the game 2-2 on goals by Brendan Baker and getting a behind-the-back set-up attempt from behind the goal by Ryder Donovan for a 2-2 tie. Sophmore Logan Anderson got his stick on Luke LaMaster’s point shot for the winner, same as Baker had done to get the sputtering Hounds howling.
The AA field is one of the best in recent memory. There are no soft touches. That includes first-time entry St. Michael-Albertville, a pair of small towns on I-94 heading toward St. Cloud, best known as the site for a major factory outlet mall. But the school is growing fast, and the skill level can no longer be questioned. If St. Michael-Albertville is the Cinderella story of Class AA, ask Moorhead. The heavily favored Spuds were upset by St. Michael-Albertville in the Section 8 championship game.
The Class AA teams were seeded as follows: 1. Minnetonka, 2. Edina, 3. East, 4. St. Thomas Academy, 5. Centennial. The remaining three — Hill-Murray, Lakeville North, and St. Michael-Albertville — were sprinkled in by blind draw.
Thursday’s quarterfinal round starts with Edina, a team many thought should be No. 1, facing Lakeville North, a rising suburban power from the south suburbs. That winner will await the winner of East and St. Michael-Albertville in the day’s second game.
The Thursday night quarterfinals find Minnetonka against Hill-Murray, in a match between perennial powers. Minnetonka has had an exceptional season, while Hill-Murray is in an unusual position, having been rebuilding with younger players. Coach Bill Lechner said in midseason that his team was “too young and too small” to make it, but I suggested he should amend that to “too young, too small, and too quick,” because he has some diminutive sophomores who can play the game.
The final game of the quarterfinal round has St. Thomas Academy against Centennial, in another intriguing battle between the consistently strong Academy skaters against the more recent but sprawling northern suburb Centennial outfit.
There will be no easy games, and it’s fun to speculate. Knowing the first Class A quarterfinals are already complete before yu read this, my picks going in were for Hermantown and Mahtomedi to win the afternoon games, while Orono and a final-game toss-up where I pick Thief River Falls as sthe underdog to continue its run. Mainly, I’m picking Thief River Falls because I love their nickname — Prowlers.
That would mean I have to pick Hermantown over Mahtomedi in the first semifinal, and the Prowlers over Orono in the second semifinal. If it comes down to such an all-Northern championship game in Class A, I have to go with Hermantown.
In Class AA, I know Duluth East was about a mile off its game in the 7AA final, but I anticipate the Greyhounds to return to the form they showed in the awesome 9-1 romp over a very good Marshall team in the semifinals against St. Michael-Albertville, and reach the semifinals Friday night against Edina, which has too much speed for Lakeville North. That would set up one of the state tournament classic matches between East and Edina, and I’ve got to go with the Hounds.
The second semifinal? I haves to think Minnetonka has too much experience and depth to overcome the zip and rising skill of Hill-Murray, and I also think unseeded Centennial, behind the mercurial scoring threat of Lucas McGregor, will upset St. Thomas Academy. That will set up another classic, between West Suburban power Minnetonka and Lino Lakes scrappers from Centennial in the second semifinal, where Minnetonka should prevail.
That puts us into Saturday night’s championship game, and I believe Duluth East will conquer Minnetonka for the title. This Greyhounds team is the best one since the Dave Spehar championship teams from the mid-1990s, and there could be no better way to prove it than by winning the Class AA state championship for incomparable coach Mike Randolph.
Bob Olson Remembered
I never knew that Bob Olson was born in Superior. All I knew is that from my earliest days as a reporter covering UMD hockey for the Duluth News Tribune, and later covering the University of Minnesota for the Minneapolis Tribune, I always enjoyed the amazing road trips to Houghton, Mich., for games against Michigan Tech.
From 1970 on, I also recall sharing press boxes in Houghton, Duluth, or Minneapolis with Olson, who was a fixture doing the play-by-play of Michigan Tech’s hockey teams. That includes the great championship teams of John MacInnes, who had great battles with the Gophers. In fact, when Herb Brooks coached the Gophers to their first national championship, it was against the Huskies, in Boston. The next year, the Gophers lost the final, also to MacInnes’s Tech Huskies.
Through it all, no matter how much tension or even hostility there might have been between the teams, Bob Olson was the model of decorum. Always classy and always fair.
In a way, Olson also was an icon. He wanted to go to the Houghton-Hancock area and broadcast hockey, so he bought WMPL radio station and did just that. He also started the WMPL national rating of college teams and it was more accurate than what you might read today.
Since the breakup of the WCHA, the Minnesota-Tech rivalry, and the UMD-Tech battles, are few and far between, and only for exhibition purposes. Just as well, because Bob Olson retired, years ago. He was living in Connecticut when I got the word from former News Tribune hockey writer Kevin Pates that Bob Olson had died, at age 87. Having not been back to Houghton for years, I will be able to continue imagining that whenever Tech plays a home game, that Bob Olson will be there, in spirit at least, the way I remember him best.