Shards of a Broken Sublime

22 Mar

I have been a writer, in some sense of the word, for over a decade now. On paper, this development was no great surprise. I’m the son of an academic and a librarian, and one side of my family has a strong literary strain to it. I read voraciously as a kid, and had snobby tastes even then. I invented worlds throughout my childhood, some of which endure in recesses of my brain like long-lost friends or fondly remembered vacations. Sometimes I wrote these worlds down, and sometimes they lived only in my mind, but never did I imagine myself a writer as an adult. I was just a somewhat creative kid who grew up in a literary milieu.

That all changed during my freshman year at Georgetown. One night, in the dark of a New South dorm room long after my roommate had passed out, I began to pound out a few lines of a novel. For the next year and a half, I continued to chip away at it every day. While I finished that draft and made some halfhearted efforts to edit it, I immediately undertook additional writing projects as well. My fictional universes grew. I invented people, towns, races, even full-blown theologies, all of which fed on themselves and grew outward even as I went about my daily life as a student. I quietly churned out hundreds of thousands of words that I shared with no one.

My writing birth came at a time when I had no shortage of material. I was astute enough to recognize that, decades later, I might look back on my eighteenth year as the most dramatic of my own life. (I had an older fictional character share this possibility with a teenage protagonist.) From my own journey out of high school to the East Coast to family upheaval to broader a political drama in which I was a bit player, I careened across a full range of emotion, and I had to write about it, both to process what it all meant and to capture it all for my memory. My twentieth year, which included four months in Mexico, brought forth a similar sense of urgency. The intensity of life demanded an outlet, and I’m not sure I would have found it if I hadn’t gone through or done some of the things I did in those handful of years where ambition became reality.

In retrospect, I am in awe of how naturally all of that came. While I still finish most of my nights writing or rereading some of my past writing, my output is a fraction of what it was in those prolific early years. For a long time, I had no concept of writer’s block, no sense of what it was like to ever sit down to write and fail to produce. It was absolutely uninhibited, which may have been the source of its ease. While there were vague pretensions of publication floating around in my mind, I was writing strictly for myself. Not a soul knew about my little project, and there were no expectations.

Maybe some unconscious awareness that I’d lose that freedom was the reason I told no one of my writing life for years. When I finally did start my halting explanations of my efforts, that ease came crashing down, and I began suffering from the aggravating blocks that still plague me to this day. I’d gone from a person who wrote in secret to someone who aspired to the title of writer, and I had to perform. There was no turning back, though: it had become too much a part of my life to hide, and if my writing had half the insight within it that I thought it had, it deserved more than one reader. My writing life aged out of carefree childhood and found its teenage angst.

Recently, as I transferred files from an old laptop to a new one, I took some time to revisit some of those old musings. They had their moments of insight and their moments that don’t deserve to ever be read by anyone else, but above all I was struck by the intensity of the emotion of that teenage author. At that point I was still entranced by the possibility of everything that Georgetown represented to me, still had a sense of unquestioned destiny and a certainty that I would write history. In time I came to doubt this sense, but it never truly left me. That captivation with the power of words and with my youthful dreams has, with distance, returned with renewed strength, albeit through a world-weary recognition of how ephemeral it can all be.

As I looked for an easier outlet for my writing than unmanageably large works of fiction, I started to blog. Or, more accurately, I became an essayist, and had the good fortune to come of age as an essayist when it became the easiest it’s ever been to do so, thanks to a platform that allows for easy dissemination. I wrote my earliest essays from the perspectives of my various fictional characters, an attempt to respond to developments in the 2010 elections from a number of different angles. In time, the stronger of those writing voices emerged as my own, and I decided I had enough material to share on a semi-regular basis. On to a WordPress platform it all went, and has stayed ever since.

As I’ve shared before, blogging comes with its challenges, but is a welcome outlet. Essays allow for much more precise reflection on specific topics, which did a lot of good for the writing development of someone whose fiction tends toward the all-encompassing. (I write novels that look to explore a full swath of society! That plumb the depths of the human psyche! And meta-allegories! And coming-of-age stories! And…you get the idea.) Essays were a valuable bridge between the academic writing I’d honed in school and the fiction I’d honed in isolation. They taught me to be far more precise and concise, two qualities that I have since sought to infuse into both my fiction and my research-related writing in my work life (and really just into life in general). All those styles come with distinct voices, but the fundamentals beneath them never change.

Once I gave up the idea of making a living as a writer, certain things grew easier again. While I still sought to perform for an audience, it was a slightly less existential push, though existential it remained. I also just got older, and developed some maturity as I moved from a passionate sharer of all emotions toward a craftsman trying to perfect his art. Such a claim comes with a certain pretension, clearly, but so, too, does any attempt at authorship. The privilege of writing is accessible to all with a certain level of comfort with the ideas they seek to share; the privilege of being read comes to those who have found some way to consistently craft something memorable.

My writing life was made possible by good fortune and support from parents willing to put up with literary experimentation, and I’ve put in my ten thousand hours since. I wish I could say it gets easier over time, but it doesn’t. Standards rise, the critical eye grows ever more discerning, and when it becomes an expectation, failure to write is a burden. I suspect many writers must first learn how to over-write and over-share, and only with time come to learn how to cut out the excess and hone in on the core message with a deliberate precision.

Good writing, I think, benefits from a natural reticence. There’s a reason we writers have chosen the written word to express our thoughts instead of saying it all aloud to anyone around us. I don’t like to over-share, and while I think stream-of-consciousness has its virtues, the good stuff isn’t something I’d idly write on a lazy Tuesday night. At our best, we find ways to cut through the clutter and form coherent story arcs, and impose order on a world that otherwise can so often lack it. One of my first posts on this blog quoted Mario Vargas Llosa’s Nobel Prize lecture, and I can’t think of any truer words on the function of good written storytelling.

My writing life, after some time out in the working world, is now at a crossroads. I’m perfectly content to write for myself, and will probably continue to do so on some level for as long as I am able. It’s a method of processing, a method of exploration, a cathartic release. But if I am going to write for an audience beyond my hockey work (where I’ve got my little cult following) or the occasional reaction to a life event (which gets reliably read by people who know me), it needs to evoke a reaction.

Writers may respond differently to the array of responses their work inspires, but for me, nothing is more aggravating than silence. Straight praise, while welcome, also often feels incomplete. My writing has never been a claim to perfection but instead a struggle toward it, a struggle that demands engagement and criticism, and without it, writers are left guessing, or worse, looking at view counts and turning their output into a crass popularity contest. Did we make you think? What about our writing draws you in, or puts you to sleep? On which topics are we at our best or worst? Where to next? If we didn’t want people to engage with us, we would have left our writings in those vast unpublished archives of our minds.

This rambling setup is all a way of saying that I’m going to invest some time over the next few months to see if my writing life can progress beyond the state it’s inhabited for several years now. I don’t know quite what this means yet beyond a certain level of time commitment. I have no shortage of material that is probably a good editor away from publication, from things I could adapt from past essays to a novel draft I finished before grad school to the episodic story collection that I put out on this blog. I need to explore the worlds of writing submissions and publishing, which is foreign to me, and apparently requires one to be comfortable with rejection, which has never been one of my strong suits. I also need to do all of this while keeping up my day job and a couple of other pursuits that will still be central to my life.

No matter where this little experiment goes, though, I will go on writing. The title of this post comes from the New Yorker review of one of my favorite films, Y tu mamá también: the protagonists, writes Anthony Lane, “may spill over with sauce and silliness, but that is the privilege of the young; and it is the job of the adult artist to dig back into that time, and to unearth, from the ridiculous, the shards of a broken sublime.”

Aside from capturing the theme of so much of my writing, that sentiment sums up my writing itself. If I have a task, perhaps even a calling, well, that’s it. Unreason and entropy threaten to drag down lives into despair or apathy, but we have the power to take those downward spirals and turn them to insight, to humor, and to those glimmers of revelation that allow us to reclaim that sublime. It’s time for me to try to share that, such as I can.

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Yes, This Blog Talks About Things Other Than Hockey Sometimes

18 Mar

Hockey coverage completely hijacked this blog over the past couple months. This change stemmed from a combination of obligation to that ever-enjoyable commitment, life developments that limit my willingness to comment on certain topics, and a good old-fashioned case of writer’s block. (More on that in the next post.) For now, though, I’ll get back into the swing of things by bringing back the feature in which I collect interesting articles and share them.

The news topic du jour is the college admissions scandal that has nailed a number of rich people behaving badly in their efforts to get their undeserving children into certain institutions of higher education, including my own alma mater. This is so terrible on so many levels that I almost left it alone; I try to avoid shooting fish in barrels on this blog. It’s a shameful indictment of the parents, the culture that makes them think they need to do this, and, well…instead of trailing on, I’ll let Claire Cain Miller and Jonah Engel Bromwich in the New York Times do it for me. Snowplow parenting is very real, and while I can’t say I knew any non-tennis-playing tennis scholarship kids in my Georgetown days, I’ve certainly seen no shortage of overzealous parents trying to do the heavy lifting for their kids, and not just on the East Coast. It’s a disease, and does no one any good in the long run.

In American Affairs, Jacob Siegel dives into California’s stunning homelessness problem. He explores poverty in Los Angeles in lurid detail, and touches on the factors that drive it, from housing policy to NIMBYism to the role of nonprofits to the decline of mental institutions. The piece also brushes on the perils of a technology-centered economy and a belief that said technology will somehow solve everything. It’s a sobering account of the growing class divides in America’s wealthiest cities, and makes one wonder if the rest of us aren’t that far behind.

A little old now, but excellent: Derek Thompson explores the American culture of “workism” in the Atlantic. Somehow, we’ve developed a cult of work that has made the well-off even more obsessed with results and the bottom line than they were before. The piece spends some time with college-educated millennials, who have been told to chase our passions instead of money or free time, which it turns out is a rather brilliant strategy by our superiors to turn us into workoholics. (I had the good fortune to fall under the spell of several iconoclasts who fought this vision in my Georgetown days, and Duluth, being somewhat out of the way of the march of history, also helped buffer me from it. But even with those influences I’ve felt the push, and given slightly different circumstances I have no doubt I would have been a total victim of this culture of work.) Work can develop meaning and should not be hell, but it is a means, not an end.

Oh, you thought you were going to escape hockey entirely? Nah. The New Yorker has a piece on the ten-year run of Minnesota hockey hair videos created by John King. The videos were a delight every year, though I don’t blame King for bringing it to an end now that his kids are out of high school. The whole thing went a bit overboard in the later years, with kids blatantly pandering to the video instead of just rocking luscious locks. I’m guessing someone, or several someones, will try to pick up the slack, but it’ll be hard to top King’s deadpan delivery and amusing interludes. And if it’s going to end, it might as well be with a Greyhound on top.

State Tournament Look Back: 2009

16 Mar

One last piece to wrap up my hockey coverage this season: after a successful test run a season ago, here’s a second post that looks back on the State Tournament from ten years prior. 2009 was a memorable one: it featured one of the great upsets I’ve seen, a first-time AA champion, and a couple of other games that were just flat-out entertaining. The field was loaded with top-end talent, including three first-round picks and ten future NHLers. A team that featured three of those players would lift a trophy in AA, while a deeper, less heralded squad would edge out the stars for the Class A title.

Class AA

The 2008-2009 season opened with Hill-Murray looking to follow up on its powerful run to a title the previous season. For half the season that appeared likely, but after coach Bill Lechner dismissed four veteran players for rules violations, the Pioneers floundered down the stretch before recovering to reclaim a Tournament berth. Edina, stung by its title game loss the season before, saw its Fab Five golden generation return for their senior seasons, though the five became four when Zach Budish lost his season to a football injury. The Hornets appeared to have a stiff challenger in 2AA in Bloomington Jefferson, but the Jags’ schedule was misleading, and the Hornets put the state on notice with a 5-0 demolition in the section final. They would be the top seed entering the Tournament.

The only other team to beat Jefferson that season was Eden Prairie, which lurked at #3 heading into sections. The Eagles had future first round pick Nick Leddy and the state’s next great single class, a group of sophomores headlined by Kyle Rau and Nick Seeler. Right behind them were a Blaine team with some quality senior talent and its own great sophomore class headlined by Nick Bjugstad and Jonny Brodzinski. Up north, a Duluth East team led by Mr. Hockey finalist Max Tardy and four D-I defensemen, including future NHLers Derek Forbort and Andy Welinski, overcame some recent playoff demons in 7AA. Those three teams all advanced to the Tournament, setting up an entertaining top four.

The final four entrants were a mixed bag. There was Hill-Murray, the wounded powerhouse looking to prove it could still win with a much younger core. Out of 1AA, Rochester Century was a 4-seed with little in the way of front-line talent. Moorhead’s 2009 edition, while deep and steady, likewise had zero D-I skaters, and was a far cry from its dominant teams of the mid-00s. Cretin-Derham Hall, state champs with a very different group three years earlier, also made its way across St. Paul to the Xcel Center.

In the morning session, things went according to plan, but not without some trepidation for second-seeded Eden Prairie. The Eagles drew the short straw and got Hill-Murray in the quarterfinals, and while they staked themselves to an early 2-0 lead, two goals by Hill’s young guns in less than a minute early in the second knotted the game at two. The game was tight through the remainder of regulation, but when the game moved into overtime, the Eagles finally began to carry the play. Mike Erickson pumped in the game-winner in the third minute of the extra frame, though it took an interminable replay review to confirm Eden Prairie’s place in the semifinals. There was no such drama in the second quarterfinal, as Blaine blasted its way past Rochester Century 5-0 on the strength of two Nick Bjugstad goals.

The enduring memory of the 2009 Tourney, however, came in the Thursday night session. On paper, the top-ranked Hornets had little to fear from Moorhead. As the game unfolded, though, it quickly became clear that everything was amiss. Unlike some upsets in which the lower-seeded team clings to life and gets 40 saves out of its goalie, the Spuds took the game to the surprisingly listless Hornets. Moorhead came out of the first period with a 2-1 lead, and while Edina pressed in as the game went along, they only mustered a pair of Brendan Baker power play goals, while Trent Johnson and Tyler Larson both collected two goals for the Spuds. Two scores midway through the third sealed a 5-2 Moorhead win. The much-hyped Hornets were headed to Mariucci, dispatched by a team whose lone D-I player was a freshman backup goalie.

That upset was a difficult act to follow, but Cretin-Derham Hall gave it a good run in the nightcap against Duluth East. Despite being outshot 15-4 in the first period, Cretin sprung a couple of odd-man rushes to go up 2-0 after one and then 3-0 early in the second, and just when it seemed like East had found its groove and stormed back to within 3-2, another breakaway goal took the life out of the Hounds. Unheralded Cretin would go on to win 5-2 despite being outshot 39-15, a result that ranks behind only the 1997 championship game loss to Edina and a 2012 upset at the hands of Lakeville South on the list of Mike Randolph era Tourney tragedies at East. Just as Edina’s bevy of front-line talent couldn’t muster anything 5-on-5 against Moorhead, East’s vaunted defense got carved up by the opportunistic Raiders.

The two remaining seeds battled in the first semifinal. Blaine jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period, but the game slowly began to tip Eden Prairie’s way as the clock ticked away. Down 2-1 heading into the third, Kyle Rau performed his first—though hardly his last—Tourney heroics. His unassisted tally at 6:29 of the third period tied the game, and a second goal with just under four minutes left in regulation gave the Eagles the lead. Leddy collected an empty-netter, and the Eagles were on to their first ever title game appearance.

Title game appearances were familiar territory for Moorhead, who used a Jordan Doschadis goal late in the second to slip past Cretin 2-1 in an otherwise plodding second semifinal. The Spuds were 0-6 on Saturday night, and as impressive as their run had been, this was not the group to bust through. Eden Prairie jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the first period, with the second goal coming on a laser of a shot by Leddy. While the Spuds poured 16 shots on Eden Prairie sophomore goalie Andrew Ford in the final frame, the Eagle defense held firm, and a Dan Molenaar tally gave the western suburb its first state title.

The win was a watershed moment for the Eagle program, which to that date had been more defined by playoff losses than wins. It began a tradition of star players sticking around through their senior years, a trend that would net them a second title behind Rau and friends two years later. Elsewhere, Edina, left with only a runner-up trophy and two consolation titles from its Fab Five years, would look to regroup under less of a spotlight the following season. Hill-Murray, too, would be in reload mode, and the amount of young talent that jumped in when their upperclassmen went down went to show the incredible depth of the program at the time. Century’s Tourney trip was, as of this writing, the last by a AA Rochester school. Trent Johnson and the Spuds became the stars of a Sports Illustrated piece that was originally supposed to be about the Hornets, and their run to the title game belongs on a short list with Duluth East’s run in 2015 for sheer improbability in recent memory.

Class A

If the AA field featured a bunch of great teams, the A field was much more of a free-for-all. St. Thomas Academy, by far the most talented team in the state, was upset in the 4A final by Mahtomedi. The Zephyrs boasted a high school star in Ben Marshall, and a number of other teams—Little Falls with Ben Hanowski (recently minted as the state’s all-time leading scorer), Warroad with Brock Nelson, St. Cloud Cathedral with Nate Schmidt—featured a single superstar who would go on to an illustrious career. As is so often the case, though, star power would be trumped by depth. Breck, with a deep roster led by a stellar junior class, would emerge as the champion.

There was no drama to speak of in the quarterfinals, where the top seeds won by three goals or more in each game. In retrospect, only Mahtomedi’s struggles are any real surprise; they were heavily outshot by 2-seed Cathedral despite being tied for the most D-I players of anyone in the field, and also lost to lowly Hutchinson in the consolation round. Warroad put Hutchinson in running time, while Virginia drew undefeated Little Falls and suffered a Hanowski five-goal blitz. Breck, meanwhile, methodically took care of Rochester Lourdes.

Class A’s best drama came in the semifinals, where Warroad and St. Cloud Cathedral traded goals back and forth until Warroad put in a pair in the third period to pull away for a 5-3 win. Hanowski’s dream team hit a final roadblock against Breck, which again plugged away in the early periods and built up a 2-0 lead before erupting for three more in the early stages of the third period en route to a 6-1 win. The final between the two deepest teams in Class A featured a frenetic first period that ended at 2-2, but Breck’s strong second period gave the Mustangs a 4-2 lead they wouldn’t relinquish. While Warroad brought the pressure from there, they wouldn’t score again until after Breck had grabbed another late in the third. Two empty-netters sealed a 7-3 Breck win and a third state title for the Golden Valley private school.

Fourth-seeded Breck’s state title bore some resemblance to Hill-Murray’s win in AA the season before. The Mustangs’ depth and defense held firm over the undefeated, top-seeded darlings of the Tourney and a Warroad team that was deep and offensively gifted, but bled more goals. With a strong junior class leading the way, they’d be back to defend their title, and Warroad would also return in search of revenge. Little Falls closed out its run of five straight Tourneys with its best finish ever and a third place trophy, but a title eluded the Flyers.

The 2009 Tournament was a memorable one for me, too. I was a freshman in college on the East Coast, my spring break conveniently timed for Tourney week, and I started a tradition of staying with friends at the U of M. I attended every AA game, plus the Duluth East-Edina consolation battle at Mariucci, drifting about the arena to wherever stray friends and random tickets purchased from the long lines at the X’s box office took me. As soon as it ended, I knew I’d be back again for the whole thing in 2010. I haven’t missed a AA game since.

The Ryder of a Lifetime: Duluth East 2018-2019 in Review

14 Mar

After the end of the 2018 state championship game, I joined the parents and fans in waiting for the Duluth East players to emerge from the bowels of the Xcel Center. I commiserated with the other loyalists and gave a few players some hugs. But a brief moment with Ryder Donovan, the then-junior forward, became my iconic memory of that Tourney. He told me in no uncertain terms that he had unfinished business, and promised he would do what he could to bring the Hounds back.

It wasn’t always clear that East would finish that business. The team ran out to a strong start, but things began to unravel with a loss to Champlin Park that kicked off a spotty 4-5-2 run in the middle of the season. The offense went cold for long stretches, and the team pressed when down. Mike Randolph continued his endless search for answers to life’s persistent line-building questions and cycled through countless options in search of a winning combination. More so than at any point in recent memory, this East team teetered on the edge: would they all pull together and make one more run, or would they come apart at the seams? But by the end of the season things seemed to fall back into line, and by the grace of a reinforced defense, a Ricky Lyle barrage, and Donovan’s delivery on his promise, they made their way back to St. Paul. The section final upset of Andover was a triumph of steady determination and unflinching belief, even as events over the course of the year gave reason for doubt.

A state championship was always going to be a reach for this group. These Hounds did not have the across-the-board front-end skill that several of the other top-end teams did. Their great demon over the course of the season, an inability to finish the chances they had, reared its head in the state quarterfinals. The Hounds carried play and out-chanced St. Thomas Academy over the course of the game, but could only slip one goal past Muzzy Donohue in net, and several golden chances went by the wayside. The gameplan was there, but the execution was not. The question will linger as to what this team could have done if given a crack at Edina on Friday night, but it wasn’t to be.

The Hounds defended their pride in the consolation bracket at Mariucci, where they avenged an ugly January loss to Moorhead and rolled past Lakeville South to add another trophy to the case. Showings at Mariucci say something about the mindset of a team after a dream comes to an end, and these Hounds found ways to produce. Donovan and his fellow seniors went out with some style, and some of the underclassmen began to pick up the scoring load and gave a glimpse of the future. The last few games were a fitting sendoff for a group that was deep, skilled, and just plain fun.

We now bid farewell to a deep senior class that also had an excellent cast of characters. Carson Cochran provided steady defense and the greatest save of East’s 2018 semifinal win over Edina, while E.J. Hietala and Jayson Hagen blossomed into quality defensemen as seniors. Brody Rabold and Lukan Hanson were a steady tandem in goal, and it was a shame there was room for only one of them in the lineup. David Holliday provided valuable depth, while Jonathan Jones combined his giant frame with some subtle skill, and should get a shot at higher-level hockey somewhere. Jack Fitzgerald and Brendan Baker were steady producers over long varsity careers. Ricky Lyle combined his tenacious hits with a flair for the dramatic, and put the team on his back in sections. Frederick Hunter Paine, or whatever name he goes by these days, shared Lyle’s physical edge and was the two-way star on the blue line.

Ryder Donovan’s graduation, meanwhile, feels like the end of an era for Duluth East hockey. He was a central player in so many moments over his five years on the roster, a run that included three Tourney berths and two second place finishes. His senior year came freighted with immense pressure and a change in college plans, yet the future NHL draft pick made it clear he left with no regrets. The narrow losses leave questions of what might have been, but those wistful what-ifs of our adolescent lives define high school for all but the most charmed among us. The true test comes in developing the ability to learn from that unavoidable adversity, and in building a community of people that one can look back on fondly, no matter how far one may wander. On that count, Ryder was far ahead of his years from the start, and understood exactly what he was a part of. He is an example to the East program for years to come.

We wish Ryder and his teammates the best in hockey and in life, and thank them for their time in this brotherhood of Greyhound hockey. From early morning bag skates to section championship celebrations, they built memories that will last a lifetime, and those who will be back next season now get some well-earned time off before the excitement starts to build again. I’ll sign off in my role as the scribe for this program until any offseason intrigue or preseason previews bring me back. The adventure never ends.

Tourney Reflection 2019

13 Mar

Less than a week after it all comes to an end, it seems like some other life left behind. I’ve recovered some sleep and escaped the comedown, but my mind is still caught up in my annual reunion with good friends and those once-a-year acquaintances who make their way to St. Paul for four days. From Eveleth to Mahtomedi, from Pine City to Plymouth, from the old Duluth crew to people who come from across the country for just this week, we all unite for our annual revival. Sleepless nights and marathon days, the rhythm of the commute to and from the X, the circuits around the concourse to bring life back to sleeping legs, to say nothing of the revelations that come late at night at Eagle Street. A few moments of wonder pierce through the mad blur and endure beyond those 96 hours, and as always, I look to collect a few of them before my memory fails me.

A steady exodus of old powers and one colossal section final upset left Class A as fresh as it has ever felt. Debutants came in from North Branch and a stretch along the Minnesota River to show their newfound puck pride; Mahtomedi found itself in a new favorite status, while Delano suddenly looks like a program on the rise. The small school division crowned a first-time champion, a ruthlessly efficient St. Cloud Cathedral team that left little doubt over three days that they had the formula down right. Derrick Brown and his merry band set a new standard for Class A, and we can expect them at noon on Saturday again in the near future.

In AA, an old guard that has ruled this past decade took home most of the hardware. The Lake Conference guaranteed its eight title in eleven years before the title game even began. St. Thomas Academy’s Vannellis, in their final season, finally broke through to a semifinal, their Cadets bringing a physical and defensive edge that had eluded them in AA quarterfinals past. The Cadets in the stands brought a refreshing energy to their student section and livened up an unusually straightforward Friday night. Lakeville South made a valiant push for a third stunning upset in a decade behind Henry Welsch, whose performance in net pushed toward the record books and came close to derailing Eden Prairie before their run began. But Jack Jensen spared us the chaos of a morning restart with a game-winner late in the third overtime, and the Eagles took flight the next night against Blaine as they stormed back to topple the powerful Bengals.

For a stretch on Saturday night, it looked as if Eden Prairie’s depth would lift the Eagles to a state title. But Edina, ever the gold standard for Minnesota high school hockey, lived up to their legacy yet again. The Hornets stung twice in the third to take the lead, but the Eagles had an answer. Seize the moment, Peter Colby: the unsung senior buried a feed from Jett Jungels and added his name to a list that includes just one other in the two-class era, that of Kyle Rau. Beneath a blanket of snow on championship Saturday, the Hornet revelers took to the icy streets to celebrate a thirteenth crown in fifty-one years.

As always, a handful of players rose to the occasion. Greenway’s Casadonte Lawson dazzled against the background of his brother’s kidney transplant, and his pairing with Ben Troumbly gave the Tourney its most dynamic duo since perhaps Locker and Spehar. Jon Bell recovered from his introduction adventure to claim a spot on the All-Tournament Team. For the AA finalists, glory fell to the less famed names: Clayton Shultz, Louden Hogg, and Colby all took their turns stealing the spotlight from their teams’ established stars. In its swan song, the All-Hockey Hair Team video captured a full range of flow that has become a full-on sideshow. And sometimes, the most jarring sights are not those of glory: Joe Paradise, heir to Herb Brooks’s legacy, lingered in the arena long after everyone else had left the ice after his Mahtomedi team lost to Greenway, gutted by a final defeat at the X.

The truly exceptional combatants in this Tourney came down from Itasca County, where Greenway showed championship resolve in a second-place run. Coleraine, Bovey, Taconite, Marble, Calumet, Pengilly, Nashwauk, and Keewatin relocated themselves to St. Paul for a week. The support came from down the generations, an array of letter jackets dating to the dawn of Iron Range hockey littering the stands across one half of the arena. Already the darlings of the Tourney after an upset of mighty Hermantown, the Raiders made up a two-goal deficit to Delano and then gave us the finest game of the Tourney, a thrilling semifinal against Mahtomedi in which Ben Troumbly’s heroics unleashed a wave of green on St. Paul. The Raiders’ two lines, their legs beaten to mush, somehow kept on coming nearly all the way through the final against St. Cloud Cathedral. Greenway lost a hockey game but won in everything else.

Only two seasons ago, when Monticello showed us the raw excitement of a newcomer, have I seen anything that approached this level of commitment. Greenway in 2019, however, had a different feel, that of a giant from the past roaring back to life. This was a collective identity that left eyes wet and bars dry, a show of support so profound that it took any cliché about tradition or community and made it real. Greenway’s return to greatness was a celebration of everything that high school sports can be, and a reminder that, in some places, it is far more than just a game. To join that nation in the stands and drink it in, if only vicariously, is the Tourney at its best.

Now, though, that great Greenway run is nothing more than a memory. A brutal winter that took out too many games is starting to melt away into Minnesota spring. We add their exploits to the record books, write down what we remember, and stash away recordings to pull out at some distant date when we want to remember what it meant to dive straight into the pursuit of glory for one’s friends, to sacrifice one’s mind and body for a game, to care only about the results on the ice and where the party might be afterward. It goes by all too quickly, though we can always pass it along to that next group to descend on St. Paul for four days in March. We’ll do it all again next year.

Tourney Preview 2019

3 Mar

It’s the first full week in March, which can only mean one thing: the annual party in St. Paul kicks off this Wednesday, and we get four straight days of nonstop hockey fun. As usual, Danny, Tony, and I have a preview podcast up, and I now offer some storylines and capsules on each game.

An Open Class A Field With no Hermantown for the first time in ten years, the Class A field has a decidedly fresh, open look to it. We’ll see if any of the unseeded teams, two of them making their first Tourney trips, can stick with the top three; otherwise, it has the makings of a very entertaining final two rounds. St. Cloud Cathedral and Mahtomedi are the deepest teams of the bunch, but neither has ever made it out of a State semifinal. East Grand Forks is the only one in this group to win it all in Class A, but will need to prove it has the depth to run with the top two. Greenway, fresh off the upset of Hermantown, is the wild card here: can they build on their momentum and go the whole way?

Edina’s Redeem Team Last season’s Edina team often seemed untouchable, but it all came crashing down when they collided with Duluth East on Friday night. This group of Hornets hasn’t been as dominant as the previous season’s, but they do appear to be peaking at the right time, and have the most talent of anyone at State. In some ways, the smaller gap between them and their competition and help: it won’t be unfamiliar territory if they find themselves in a dogfight, as it may have been for last season’s squad. But they will still need to go through three tough games to finish the deal, and withstand a likely barrage of physical play from their opponents.

A Thursday Night Carnival It doesn’t get much better than this: two northern powers come south to face the two teams I’ve jokingly called Minnesota’s Axis of Evil, Edina and St. Thomas Academy, in back-to-back games on Thursday night. On paper, it’s one of the most entertaining quarterfinal sessions in recent memory, and gives us some chance at a fifth Duluth East-Edina semifinal in nine years. From the Edina-Grand Rapids battles of the 70s to East versus Jefferson in the 90s, these night games between North and Metro are among the most iconic the Tourney has to offer, and we’ll see if these two—and potentially more from there—can live up to the hype.

Power Forwards Collide? The upper side of the AA bracket, which features four big suburban schools, may lack the storylines of the lower side, but there will still be plenty of talent on display. White Bear’s student section should liven up the Thursday morning session as the Bears go for the upset of Blaine, and Lakeville South has slain giants in its other two State appearances this decade. But if the top seeds advance, we’ll be treated to rematch of a 6-5 December thriller in which Eden Prairie beat Blaine. The Bengals’ Bryce Brodzinski and the Eagles’ Jack Jensen are among the frontrunners for Mr. Hockey, and combine physical play with scoring finesse.

Senior Nights While the Tourney often showcases some up-and-coming stars, a lot of the AA contenders this season are dominated by their senior classes. That’s certainly true for Edina, Duluth East, and St. Thomas, and Moorhead and Blaine also rely on some senior big men to carry much of the offensive load. The Lakeville South-Eden Prairie game is the one real exception here, where both teams have a lot of quality sophomores, and White Bear is relatively balanced. Does that veteran leadership carry a team to a title, or do any of these vaunted groups start to feel the pressure to claim a title?

Now, capsules for each quarterfinal:

NORTH BRANCH VS. #2 ST. CLOUD CATHEDRAL

11:00 Wednesday

-The Tourney opens with a season-long frontrunner in Class A welcoming a new entrant. These teams have no recent history against each other.

North Branch (19-7-2, Unranked, 2-seed in 5A)

First State appearance

Key section win: 3-2 over 4-seed Chisago Lakes, 3-1 over 3-seed Princeton

-The Vikings are new to the Tourney and may have arrived ahead of schedule, as they have a strong sophomore core. Cody Croal (14) is the star of that young group, but Joey Kircher (9) and Tucker Sachs (38) are also among their top four scorers. Jacob Richards (15) is their senior leader, and Jake Turek (35) will get the nod in goal. They don’t have a ton of depth, though they do have a goal-scoring defenseman in Justin Sachs (18), plus a freshman, Alex Langevin (16), who produces some. That defense and Turek will face a stiff test against Cathedral, and needs to come up big for the Vikings to stick around.

St. Cloud Cathedral (24-4, #5, 1-seed in 6A)

State appearances: 9 (last in 2017)

Key section win: 4-1 over #4 Alexandria

-With Hermantown out of the way, the Crusaders probably have the most top-end talent of anyone in the field. The top line, which features Blake Perbix (27), Jack Smith (20), and Nate Warner (8), who missed much of the season with an injury but is playing now, is loaded with skill, and they also have strong depth up front. The defense, led by Reid Bogenholm (2), Jon Bell (4), and C.J. Zins (15), can also move the puck well and contribute to the cause. Senior Noah Amundson (30) has the goaltending job. While they lost 6-2 to Mahtomedi without Warner a few weeks ago, they have the skill to pull off their first trip to the Class A title game and finish the deal. They also enter the Tourney on a strong note after taking care of the team that beat them a season ago, Alexandria, in the 6A final.

MINNESOTA RIVER VS. #3 EAST GRAND FORKS

1:00 Wednesday

-As in the first game of the day, a Tourney debutant collides with a regular. These two have no history.

Minnesota River (20-4, #17, 2-seed in 1A)

First State appearance

Key section wins: 6-2 over 3-seed Albert Lea, 5-3 over 4-seed Rochester Lourdes

-The Bulldogs, who formerly went by LSHSPTCUC—the acronym for co-op constituents LeSueur, Henderson, St. Peter, Tri-City United, and Cleveland, and now including Belle Plaine—make their debut at the Xcel Center after a strong season. Hunter Wilmes (8) is their clear leading scorer, and Tyson Sowder (9) isn’t far behind him in goals scored, with Charlie Weick (3) rounding out their offensive headlines. They have respectable depth for an unseeded Class A team, as their top eight forwards all registered over 15 points in the regular season. They did lose to the other two unseeded teams in the Tourney this season, and will be facing an entirely new level of competition in this one, but otherwise had a very strong year.

East Grand Forks (20-8, #6, 1-seed in 8A)

State appearances: 12 (3 one-class, 9 in Class A; last in 2017)

State championships: 2 (2014, 2015)

Key section win: 5-1 over 3-seed Warroad

-The Green Wave are back in the Tourney after a one-year absence, and are the only team with a Class A title in this year’s field; coach Tyler Palmscino, who was behind the bench for their two titles, is also back this season. As usual, they have a tough group of players, with Tanner Mack (19) being their leading scorer and Carter Beck (7) and Jake Hjelle (8) next in line. Sophomore forward Landon Parker (10) and freshman defenseman Trey Ausmus (9) give them some serious young talent; their depth is better than most of the teams behind them, but not quite on the level of Cathedral or Mahtomedi. They lost 7-2 to Cathedral early in the season, so barring a surprise upset, we’ll see if they’ve come along enough to give the Crusaders a game on Friday.

NEW ULM VS. #1 MAHTOMEDI

6:00 Wednesday

-The top seed takes on a surprise out of the southwest to begin the evening session. Mahtomedi beat New Ulm 6-3 in a 2015 quarterfinal meeting.

New Ulm (17-8-1, Unranked, 3-seed in 3A)

State appearances: 6 (last in 2015)

Key section win: 2-1 over 2-seed Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, 6-4 over 5-seed Hutchinson

-The Eagles are the mild surprise entrant out of 3A after a run through sections that included a win over defending champion Litchfield. Offensively, junior Glavine Schugel (2) is this group’s clear leader, and he has support from Josh Seidl (3), Landon Strong (11), and a productive freshman in Braxten Hoffmann (10). Shane Esser (14) and Ethan O’Connor (12) lead the way defensively, and Jack Raymond (1) has been their man in goal. Withstanding the depth of a Mahtomedi will be a serious test for this team.

Mahtomedi (21-6-1, #2, 2-seed in 4A)

State appearances: 11 (3 in a row)

Key section win: 5-0 over #3 Totino-Grace

-The Zephyrs roll into State after a convincing 5-0 win over Totino-Grace, and took the top seed on the strength of a 6-2 win over Cathedral in January. While no stranger to the Tourney, they are in a new position as the favorite, and have yet to advance past the semifinals. Nikolai Dulak (9) leads the way offensively, with support from Joe Paradise (17), Colin Hagstrom (4), and Kory Pilarski (10). The defense also has a couple of active offensive contributors in Dylan L’Allier (15) and Noah Skillings (8). They have a freshman, Ben Dardis (32), in goal, who has been excellent down the stretch. They don’t quite have Cathedral’s firepower, but they are the deepest team in the field, and will look to ride that edge into uncharted territory.

#5 DELANO VS. #4 GREENWAY/NASHWAUK-KEEWATIN

8:00 Wednesday

-The team that beat the defending state champs plays the team that beat this season’s #1 in the Class A nightcap. Delano won a regular season meeting 4-3, and both come into this game with some momentum.

Delano (17-9-2, #15, 2-seed in 2A)

State appearances: 2 (first in 2017)

Key section win: 2-0 over #10 Orono

-The Tigers enter the Tourney on a hot streak, as they are undefeated in their last ten, and pulled a mild upset of defending state champion Orono in the 2A final. Goaltender Aaron Kruse (30) was the star of their run through sections, as he posted three straight shutouts. The offense isn’t as flashy as Greenway’s, but they get steady production out of two lines, with the forward corps led by Hogan Williams (12), Adam Brown (13), Quinn Daly (28), and Joseph Blanchard (21). Jack Keranen (3), a sophomore, leads their charge from the blue line. With continued steady production and great play from Kruse, they have the pieces to be tough out, even if they don’t have the flair of Greenway or Mahtomedi.

Greenway/Nashwauk-Keewatin (15-13, #9, 3-seed in 7A)

State appearances: 10 (7 one-class, 1 Tier II, 1 in AA; last in AA in 2001)

State championships: 3 (one-class Tournament, 1967 and 1968; Tier II, 1992)

-The Raiders are the state’s goliath-slayers after toppling top-ranked Hermantown in the 7A final, and give the Iron Range its first Tourney entrant since 2011. They roll just two lines and four D, but there’s a lot of talent in that group, led by the dynamic offensive duo of St. Cloud State recruit Ben Troumbly (8) and Casadonte Lawson (13). Nikolai Rajala (19) anchors a tough second line, and a solid defensive corps includes a second future Husky in Christian Miller (12) and Cameron Lantz (10). Logan Wright (24) was a hero in goal in sections. If their depth can hold up over the course of the Tourney, this team has enough quality parts to make a run.

WHITE BEAR LAKE VS. #2 BLAINE

11:00 Thursday

-The long-suffering Bears meet a Blaine team looking to make its stamp on the Tourney. Their regular season date was lost to weather. Blaine leads the series 2-1 in the past five years, with the Bears winning the 2018 meeting 6-4. The Bears also won their lone State Tournament meeting, a 2011 consolation semifinal.

White Bear Lake (21-4-1, #7, 1-seed in 4AA)

State appearances: 19 (last in 2011)

Key section win: 3-2 over #15 Hill-Murray

-A year after a star-studded Bears team fell short, a more balanced, steady version broke through for the program’s first Tourney berth in eight years. Senior veteran Blake Meister (29) is their leading scorer, while up-and-coming sophomore Lleyton Roed (9) led the team in goals. Chase Bill (26), Billy Rose (10), Grant Hofeld (5), and Sam Newpower (8) round out their strong top two lines. Goalie Evan Foss (33) has been solid, and while the defense produces very few points, it takes care of business in its own end. To break the program’s 0-18 first round curse, they’ll need to rely on their edge in scoring depth and keep that defense at home to try to contain Bryce Brodzinski and company.

Blaine (22-2-2, #2, 1-seed in 5AA)

State appearances: 12 (last in 2015)

Championships: 1 (2000)

Key section win: 2-1 over #6 Maple Grove

-When the Bengals go to State, if often seems to involve a dynamic forward duo, and this group is no different. Senior Bryce Brodzinski (22) may be the favorite to win Mr. Hockey, and his junior sidekick Carson Richels (17) scored the game-winner over Maple Grove and has piled up a heap of points as well. Nick Hauck (21) is an assist machine for a defense that performed well this season, and Joe Daninger (1) may be the best goaltender left in the AA field. They don’t have the scoring depth of some of the other top teams, though Will Hillman (9) adds some goal-scoring punch, and their lower lines do a good job of logging quality ice time. They haven’t lost in 18 games, though that last defeat came to potential semifinal opponent Eden Prairie.

LAKEVILLE SOUTH VS. #3 EDEN PRAIRIE

1:00 Thursday

-The surprise 3-seed meets the lowest-ranked team in the field in the day’s second game. Eden Prairie won a regular season meeting 7-4, and also won the 2017 3rd place game in overtime over the Cougars. Those are their only two recent meetings.

Lakeville South (14-12-1, Unranked, 4-seed in 1AA)

State appearances: 4 (last in 2017)

Key section wins: 8-1 over #23 Hastings, 4-0 over 2-seed Lakeville North

-The Cougars make the Tourney as a 4-seed, but were probably the most complete team in the section over the course of the regular season. Adam Harvey (9) and Nico Aguilera (10) are the senior leaders at forward and defense, respectively. Beyond that this is a fairly young group, as sophomores Cade Arenholz (19) and Jack Novak (14) contribute to a fairly spread-out offense, while Jacob Malinski (21) and D-I recruit Griffin Ludtke (3) round out a productive defense. Henry Welsch (1) has been strong in net. They have pulled significant quarterfinal upsets in their last two Tourney appearances.

Eden Prairie (17-9-2, #11, 3-seed in 2AA)

State appearances: 11 (last in 2017)

Championships: 2 (2009, 2011)

Key section wins: 7-3 over #10 Chaska, 3-1 over #24 Holy Family

-The Eagles were the beneficiaries of Holy Family’s upset of defending champion Minnetonka and a generous seed, but have been a dangerous team in their own right this season, with excellent depth at forward and no shortage of stars. Jack Jensen (18) is one of the state’s top senior talents, and he’s supported by an excellent cast of up-and-coming sophomores, including Drew Holt (8), Carter Batchelder (22), and defenseman Luke Mittelstadt (27). Brother John Mittelstadt (9) adds some punch up front, while Spencer Rudrud (7) is an unsung hero whose physical line will likely play a key role, especially if they advance to face the Brodzinski-Richels combo from Blaine. If they can hold up in back, they have a solid shot at the state final.

MOORHEAD VS. #1 EDINA

6:00 Thursday

-An evening of North vs. Metro begins with two storied programs. Edina won a regular season meeting 6-5, which is their only recent game. Their only State Tournament meeting came in 2009, when the Spuds upset top-seeded Edina 5-2 in the quarterfinals.

Moorhead (21-6-1, #9, 1-seed in 8AA)

State appearances: 16 (last in 2017)

Key section wins: 3-0 over #17 Buffalo, 3-2 over #18 Brainerd

-The Spuds marched through 8AA, and as a team that has given some top teams (including Edina) tight games this season, they are no easy draw. While not the deepest team in the field, the top line of Kyler Kleven (10), Isaac Henkemeyer-Howe (4), and Nolan Westra (7) can be overpowering, and junior defenseman Luke Gramer (3) is an elite talent, and their only real offensive threat from the blue line. Thomas Horan (2) and Carter Johnson (18) head up their second unit, and Hudson Hodges (31) has performed well since winning the goalie job. Knocking off Edina is a tall order, but it the Spuds’ big guns produce and the lower lines can hold serve, they have a shot.

Edina (24-2-1, #1, 1-seed in 6AA)

State appearances: 39 (6 as Edina East/West in 70s and 80s; 2 in a row)

Championships: 12 (1969, 1971, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, 2013, and 2014 as Edina; 1974, 1978, and 1979 as Edina East)

Key section wins: 4-2 over #20 Blake, 5-1 over #13 Benilde-St. Margaret’s

-The Hornets enter this year’s Tourney as prohibitive favorites. As usual, they have some front-line talent at forward, this year in the form of Mr. Hockey finalists Jett Jungels (22) and Mason Nevers (18), plus second line anchor Liam Malmquist (7). Their real strength, however, is a rock-solid defense led by star Mike Vorlicky (17), defensive rock Mason Reiners (21), Jake Boltmann (2), and up-and-coming Nick Williams (4). They aren’t as deep as in some past seasons, though Kevin Delaney (23) had as strong senior year, and Brett Chorske (17) adds a large physical presence. If they can protect sophomore goalie Louden Hogg (1) adequately, they can atone for last season’s miss. The road will not be easy, but the talent is there.

#5 DULUTH EAST VS. #4 ST. THOMAS ACADEMY

8:00 Thursday

-Two Tourney regulars collide in another excellent North vs. Metro battle. East leads the all-time series 3-1, including a 6-5, 2OT win in the 2015 quarterfinals.

Duluth East (18-6-2, #12, 2-seed in 7AA)

State appearances: 24 (2 in a row)

Championships: 3 (1960, 1995, 1998)

Key section wins: 4-1 over #21 Cloquet-Esko-Carlton, 4-3 (OT) over #4 Andover

-The Greyhounds return to State after yet another stunner in the 7AA final. While this team is not as deep with star power as last season’s runners-up, they do have a few big guns, including slick-skating Mr. Hockey finalist Ryder Donovan (22), gritty defenseman F.H. Paine (20), and Ricky Lyle (15), who went on a tear through sections. Beyond that, they’re deep with respectable players at every position, and are probably the most physical team in the field. Logan Anderson (28) and Brendan Baker (37) play productive supporting roles, and Jacob Jeannette (19) is next in the line of East stars. With good play in back and continued steadiness out of Brody Rabold (39), they have a chance to go on a run.

St. Thomas Academy (24-3-1, #5, 1-seed in 3AA)

State appearances: 4 in AA (3 in a row); 8 in Class A

Championships: 5, all in Class A (2006, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013)

Key section win: 4-1 over #19 Eagan

-The Cadets enter the Tourney on an 18-game win streak and have allowed just 14 goals over that stretch, though the competition wasn’t always front-line. Offensively, Ryan O’Neill (12) had a breakout season, while Rob Christy (11) is the established star, and Brendan McFadden (21) is a wrecking ball. They have strong depth up front, with Luke Herzog (22) also in a tight group among their top point-getters, and Nico Vega (9), who led the way in the section final. The defense, led by Carter Henry (3), has held its own this season after being an issue in past Tourneys, and will be the most important piece of a potential run. There has been some uncertainly in goal, where Muzzy Donohue (1) replaced Wes Gervais (30) after one period on the section final.

That’s enough of my longform written blather until it’s all over. For those of you who will be in attendance, don’t be strangers: come visit in section 107, or we might run into each other somewhere along 7th Street sometime over the course of the week. See you in St. Paul.

Rising to the Occasion

2 Mar

The drama never fails. For the fifth time in six years, the 7AA final went to overtime. Amsoil Arena rose to a fevered pitch, with girls screaming on every rush, and the stage was set for another kid to write himself into Minnesota high school hockey lore. This time, the hero was one of the more likely ones: Ryder Donovan, who pumped home a no-doubt game-winner in the first minute of overtime. It was the Hounds’ second consecutive title, their ninth in the past 11 years, the 18th under Mike Randolph, and 24th in the history of the program. The legacy writes itself, and Donovan, the senior captain headed to his third Tournament in five years, is a fitting bearer of the torch.

The regular season had its share of tumult. East beat one State Tournament entrant and tied two more, but also lost to teams like Prior Lake and Champlin Park. When not disrupted by bad weather, East pulled things together toward the end and entered the playoffs on a strong note. But questions lingered, and to advance to State, they had to get past two quality opponents. While Cloquet had a similarly frustrating regular season, the Lumberjacks had enough talent to make things interesting, plus a rivalry factor; ten minutes into the game, it looked like they would give the Hounds everything they could handle. And Andover, a top four team all season long, deserved favorite status in 7AA. They’d beaten the Hounds in the regular season, and were deep and dangerous at every position. But neither team could finish it, and 7AA’s goliath claimed another title.

The star of the section run was Ricky Lyle, who accounted for eight of East’s 16 playoff goals, and assisted on five more. The tenacious forward has a flair for the dramatic, and coupled his sniping with a barrage of nasty hits. His scoring-opening against both Cloquet and Andover set the tone, and showed the Hounds would go blow-for-blow with their opponents; his second one against the Huskies swung the momentum in East’s favor. He drew the penalty that set up Donovan’s game-winner, and slipped his teammate a perfect pass to seal a section title. Over four seasons at East, Lyle has found ways to always put himself in the middle of the action, and is playing his way toward a brighter hockey future.

Donovan, too, rose to the occasion. As with his team, his season had its ups and downs, but his prodigious talent shined most in the semis against Cloquet, where he was a one-man wrecking crew on the penalty kill. He set up Lyle on a first shorthanded rush and then finished one of his own thirty seconds later, a dagger that took all the life out of the Lumberjacks. In the section final, battling an illness, he made his presence felt up and down the ice, double-shifting to keep his calming presence out there. Whatever his goal total may be, his skating ability and hands put him in a truly elite class, and in the biggest moment of his season, he didn’t miss.

In a season where their rivals had every chance to derail the defending section champs, the Hounds separated themselves with senior leadership. With 12 seniors on the playoff roster, had the physical maturity to wear down opponents, and they’d been down this road before. Plenty of teams would have folded after giving up a game-tying power play goal midway through the third period, but it never felt like a serious shift in momentum. East went back to work: their top players in particular refused to cave. Not once were they caught up in the moment, while Andover coach Mark Manney said many of his players were.

Much of the credit for East’s success should go to the rebuilt defense. Ever the backbone of a Randolph-coached team, the Hounds came into this season with little experience on the blue line. F.H. Paine was the star of the unit, a two-way playmaker whose open-ice hits might be the nastiest in the state. But Carson Cochran added a veteran presence, E.J. Hietala showed tremendous growth over the course of the season, and Jayson Hagen returned from injury around midseason and was a rock in his own end. If that group could break out reliably, I thought, this group could beat Andover, and they did so just often enough.

‘Just enough’ was the theme of the night. While the Hounds have encountered a few Grand Rapids and Elk River teams over the past decade that had more top-end talent, this Andover team was the first opponent over that time frame that could legitimately outskate an East team, top to bottom. Their forward corps was three lines deep, Ben Fritsinger was one of the state’s very best goalies, and the puck control of the defense, led by junior Wyatt Kaiser, was elite. But East’s physical play did enough to disrupt them, and by driving traffic to the net, they made Fritsinger look mortal. Thursday’s final was only the second game all season in which he gave up more than two goals. Brody Rabold, meanwhile, did just enough to win, and the rest of the Hounds’ supporting cast chipped in here and there as well, from Jack Fitzgerald’s go-ahead goal to Brendan Baker’s strong night all over the ice.

Fortune did not frown upon the Hounds, either. Lyle’s second goal of the night, which tied the game at two, took a convenient bounce off his leg. The referees made their presence felt throughout the game, first by calling nothing in the early going to enable a physical war, and then by suddenly inserting themselves in the middle of the third period. This broke both ways, and each team, when gifted a power play opportunity, finished immediately. Andover’s came at an opportune time to tie the game in the third after East had appeared to enter lockdown mode, and East’s came in overtime. The Hounds never relinquished the puck, and Donovan finished just eight seconds in to the man advantage.

East heads to State as the 5-seed, and will open in the late game against St. Thomas Academy, a rematch of the 2015 thriller in which the Hounds came back from 3-0 and 5-2 deficits to win in overtime. Their side of the bracket, which also features Moorhead and top-ranked Edina, is brutal, but just about everything a fan of high school hockey could ask for in terms of juicy matchups in the quarterfinals and semifinal. The Hounds won’t be a favorite on paper, but they probably will be in the arena, and they should make this week a memorable one, in one way or another. St. Paul, here we come.