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ST. PAUL…. The state boys high school hockey tourney has come and gone and as usual was a first-class event. Let’s face it (and I’m not trying to be pompous here): this tourney is the Stanley Cup of high school hockey. It’s that simple. I made my brackets out last Wednesday morning, too late for publication in last week’s edition, and I would have been reluctant to make them public anyway. Number one, this is an amateur competition, and two, I am not too good at picking high school puck games. My tourney brackets have never been too productive.
Having said that, I picked all four Class A games on Wednesday, but to underline my futility on this tourney, went 0-4 on Thursday’s Class AA tilts. Going into the tourney, with three area teams in, I thought two of them had a pretty strong chance at a title. However, I thought also that only one of them would succeed at that. In single A, my bracket went south when STA beat Breck in the semis, and then I had undefeated and untied Hermantown wining it all. That didn’t occur as STA bested H-town 5-1 in the title game (more on that to follow).
In double A, oddly enough I believe that Duluth East is probably the best overall team in the state, but I just had this sub-abdominal feeling that they weren’t going to prevail in this tourney. My AA title bracket had Maple Grove over East but neither team made it there. Like I said, so much for my prognosticating. In the end, the finals featured three private schools and one public school. This has only served to rekindle a long-running debate about having the private schools in the tourney. It has been an intense dialogue and looks to heat up even more. H-town had a 30-0 record going into the title game and lost to a private school unencumbered by the rules that they have to play by. Is that right?
All that aside, though, Saturday I was at my cousin’s barbershop getting all coiffed up. While waiting for a chair, I picked up the February 27th copy of Sports Illustrated and started to read the story about the young player from Benilde St. Margaret’s who had been paralyzed in a JV hockey game earlier in the season. I am not an avid reader of SI, but do see it from time to time. This story was written by the mother of a former teammate of Jack Jablonski and was an excellent read. It captured the spirit and essence of hockey in our state, and the story of what happened to this player during and since the accident.
That he served to be the emotional and spiritual inspiration to BSM in their championship pursuit is no surprise. Human and personal motivation can be an unbeatable combination in some instances, and when it comes to sports and young people, I can’t suppress my own emotions at times. This was such a gripping, emotional article that I found myself fighting back tears several times. If you haven’t read this, please do. You won’t be sorry you did. And by the way, BSM did win the AA title game, and I hope the positive spirit from this event can help this young man and his family persevere in the physical battles he faces ahead. Godspeed to you, kid, from every coach, player, and fan in the state…
I SAW AN ARTICLE on the MN hockey hub website about Hermantown hockey coach extraordinaire Bruce Plante. Or, rather, about his thoughts on the public versus private debate I alluded to earlier in this column. And it wasn’t a whining, woe-is-me diatribe about the inequities of HS hockey in the state of hockey. It was just a truthful, straightforward analysis on the realities of the situation. It is a pretty basic situation: public schools are governed and limited by their district boundaries and student-athlete transfer criteria, while private schools are not.
STA can enroll a kid from Hastings, Blue Earth, or Crookston. H-town cannot. How do you fix this? Man, oh man, that is a tough question. When I played, the private schools had their own tourney and the state tourney had only eight participants. Coach Plante wasn’t crying in his beer, though. He said that even though he doesn’t think there exists a level playing field, he believes the tournament is better with the privates in it. In my book those are some pretty gracious quotes from a guy who eventually had his 30-0 team lose a state title to a private school. So, how do you fix this? Or do you? Let the debate begin….
IF YOU CAN contemplate how hard it is to assemble a successful squirt team, then you might begin to imagine how hard it is to be successful at every level of hockey after that, so my heartfelt congrats to all area state tourney participants! You guys are all champs!
THE NHL IS down to one month to go before the greatest hockey tourney of all begins. In the East there are still four clubs with an outside chance to get the 8th and final playoff spot: Winnipeg, Buffalo, Tampa Bay, and the fading Maple Leafs. In the West, San Jose, Colorado, and Los Angeles still have a chance. The Wild? No, no, and no. PEACE
THE MFAN NHL POWER RANK FOR March 12th, THE M5:
1. ST. LOUIS BLUES...defending AND scoring, best 1-2 goalie punch in the show…
2. PITTSBURGH PENGWAH…won 9 in a row and EM best player in the world…
3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS...great club, maybe slightly better than last year’s finalist..
4. DETROIT RED WINGS…banged up at the moment, but will be refreshed and ready…
5. NEW JERSEY DEVILS...scoring goals and Brodeur at fountain of youth?
OVER & OUT!
Marc Elliott is a freelance sports opinion writer who splits time between his hometown in Illinois and Minnesota. Elliott grew up in the Twin Cities with many of his childhood neighbors working or playing for the Vikings and Twins. He participated in baseball, football and hockey before settling on hockey as his own number one sport. Elliott recently wrote “The Masked Fan Speaks” column for the Lake County News Chronicle for the past ten years and was a prominent guest on the former “All Sports” WDSM 710AM in Duluth.