Archive | January, 2014

A History of Minnesota High School Hockey Section Tournaments

31 Jan

We had some discussion on historical section tournament formats over on the forum this past week, so I decided to put together a timeline that gathers all of the information in one place. Here it is.

In addition to that thread, sources include archives at the Hill-Murray website, MinnHock, and things I once copied from the 2000 book Let’s Play Hockey Presents a Complete History of the Minnesota Boys and Girls High School Hockey Tournament, 1945-2000.

The year used is the year of the State Tournament (i.e., the 2013-2014 season would be called “2014”.) Thus most major format changes (realignments, etc.) actually took place before the season, in the previous calendar year.


1945: first State Tournament. Records of region (now section) play are spotty for the first few years, but simply to make most regions, teams had to do well in the district tournament. There are usually several districts in each region with a pre-assigned number of spots in the regional tournaments, though the Minneapolis and St. Paul regions appear to have been limited to the schools in each city’s conference. Most regional tournaments have eight teams, though some experiment with deeper fields some years (Region 6 uses this approach the most often). Private schools are not included. Regions are aligned, roughly, as follows:

Region 1: south

Region 2: eastern suburbs (plus south after 1949)

Region 3: western/southwestern part of state, reaching into the western suburbs

Region 4: St. Paul schools

Region 5: Minneapolis schools

Region 6: central part of state (plus western suburbs after 1949)

Region 7: northeast

Region 8: northwest

State tournament opponents are determined on a rotation of sections, with no effort to seed teams or otherwise plan the bracket. Eveleth wins the inaugural Tournament.

1947: first state title for a metro area school, St. Paul Johnson.  It’s the first of three titles for Johnson, but no other metro team will win until 1969.

1949: realignment folds Region 1 into Region 2 and Region 3 into Region 6, and the two Tournament back doors are created. The 2nd-place finishers in Regions 4 and 5 (Minneapolis and St. Paul) compete for the Region 1 berth, while the Region 3 berth rotates between the runners-up in Regions 7 and 8.

By the early 1950s, most regions have a recognizable 8-team playoff format with recorded playoff scores, though there are some exceptions. The exception is Region 5 (Minneapolis), in which the regular season conference champion received an automatic berth, and the rest of the teams held a playoff for the right to play in the Region 1 back-door game.

This is also the year of the first private Tournament, the Minnesota Prep School Tournament. It matched the state’s top four Central Catholic Conference teams against the top four in the Minnesota Independent School League (non-Catholic privates). Cretin High owned it in the early going.

1960: The Region 1 Metro back-door expands from a two-team playoff to a four-team playoff, with the second place teams in Regions 2, 4, 5, and 6 fighting for the last berth. The semifinals always pitted Region 2 against Region 4 and Region 5 against Region 6. The 1960 Tourney features the first of four state tiles by Region 3 back-door teams; Region 1 back-door teams won it once.

1962: Region 5 finally adopts a normal playoff format.

1965: A playoff is adopted for the Region 3 back-door, as the second place teams in Regions 7 and 8 face off for the Tourney berth.

Also, the first year of the State Catholic Tournament, which took the top six teams from the metro-based Central Catholic Conference and matched them up with Duluth Cathedral (Marshall) and Crookston Cathedral, both of which got automatic berths.

1968: elimination of the Region 1 back-door. Region 1 once again becomes the region for the southern part of the state, extending north through the eastern suburbs as far as North St. Paul. Region 2 shifts to cover the northern suburbs, from White Bear Lake across to Elk River. By this point, Region 6 has become the dominion of west metro suburbs, and the central MN teams no longer make it to the regional tournament.

1969: first State Tournament won by a suburban school, as Edina beats Warroad in overtime in the Henry Boucha game.

1970: first State Independent Tournament, which included all MN private schools. Given the number of participants, regions for the tournament usually involved just one or two games for each team. There were also a number of automatic berths at the start, though those had all been eliminated by the last SIT in 1974.

1975: major changes. Private schools enter the MSHSL and are sorted geographically into regions. Districts are eliminated, as is the Region 3 back-door, and the Tournament assumes the 8-region format we know today. Everyone gets a berth in regions, meaning they are very large, with as many as 20 teams in them at times, prompting a number of early-round play in games for the right to get slaughtered by the top seeds. The regions that cover large areas geographically sometimes divide their playoffs by areas; for example, the Region 2 tournament includes a Metro bracket, a St. Cloud bracket, and a Duluth bracket, with the winners meeting in the later rounds. New regions are:

1—southern MN, including suburbs as far north as Bloomington

2—awkward collection of north metro teams, St. Cloud area teams, and Duluth area teams

3—east metro

4—St. Paul schools, plus some southeastern suburbs such as South St. Paul

5—Minneapolis schools

6—western suburbs

7—northeastern part of the state (north of Duluth)


1977: “Regions” are renamed “sections.” First (and only) championship for a team from south of the metro area, Rochester John Marshall.

1980: Last non-Class A title for an Iron Range area school, Grand Rapids.

1981: a significant realignment, as the Bloomington schools move north into Section 5. Minneapolis public schools’ only Tourney berths since came during the failed two tier experiment.

1983: first private school MSHSL champion (Hill-Murray)

1991: last single-class tournament.

1992: creation of the two-tier system, in which the top 64 teams at the end of the season played for the Tier I title, and everyone else played in Tier II. New sections for Tier I/AA:

1—southern MN

2—SE metro

3—St. Paul/NE metro

4—N/NW metro

5—SW metro

6—W metro

7—northeast, including Duluth area; boundaries slowly shift southward toward the northern suburbs as northern teams drop to Class A

8—anything northwest of Elk River

1994: tier format scrapped in favor of current two-class system. Top 64 schools by enrollment placed in AA, the rest in A. Class A teams are allowed to opt up to AA. AA sections match Tier I sections; Class A sections are as follows:

1—southern MN

2—I-35 corridor from north metro suburbs north to parts of Duluth area

3—east metro

4—central MN

5—western metro

6—rural SW MN

7—northeast, including some of the Duluth area


Ever since, sections have been realigned every two years, though in most years the changes are relatively minor.

1999: first private school Class A title; privates have won 12 of 15 since.

2007: change in the State Tourney format, as the top four teams in each class are now seeded, and the rest parceled out by a random draw.

2008: a substantial section realignment in both classes, though in some cases it amounted mostly to a change in number.

1AA—southern MN, as far north as Lakeville

2AA—SW metro

3AA—SE metro

4AA—E metro

5AA—N metro

6AA—W metro

7AA—northeast, including the north metro periphery

8AA—northwest, including the St. Cloud area

1A—southern MN

2A—west metro

3A—rural SW MN

4A—east metro

5A—north metro/I-35 corridor

6A—central MN



2013: a slight change in Tourney format, with the top 5 teams now being seeded.

There you go…let me know if you have anything to add, correct, or if there’s anything else you think should be added.

Lurching Toward a Lakewalk: Duluth City Council Notes, 1/27/14

28 Jan

While much of the city shut down in the bitter cold, the beat went on in the Council Chamber this week. The crowd was fairly sparse but spirited—the clerk deputized me to close the doors on people chattering in the hall at one point—and there was also an empty seat at one end of the dais, as Councilor Boyle had tendered his resignation following his victory in the special election for a seat on the County Board. Boyle was suffering from a case of the flu and thus unable to say a proper goodbye, though President Krug said she’d invite him to do so at a later date.

In the opening comments, Councilor Gardner talked of her resolution to streamline the process to find his appointment, a necessary step following last fall’s botched effort to fill the seat of outgoing Councilor Garry Krause. She established a timeline: the deadline for applications is this Friday (Jan. 31) at 4:30; there will be interviews of February 6; Councilors will choose three finalists by February 7; the Council will interview them on the 10th; and they will then vote on the Councilor at a special meeting that same day. She also informed the public that no one has applied for the spot yet, so if you live in Congdon, around the UMD campus, or in Kenwood, your odds might be pretty good if you’re interested.

The consent agenda passed unanimously. The next three votes, all involving smallish sums of money for such items as the Sister Cities program and the Minneapolis-Duluth/Superior Rail Alliance, and an office design, passed without debate. Councilor Fosle opposed all three, and Councilor Julsrud joined him on the rail alliance. Councilor Gardner’s process to fill the vacant 2nd District seat passed unanimously after a few minor procedural questions, and a move to bestow landmark status on the Chester Park United Methodist Church, planned for reuse as a dance studio, passed unanimously.

Next up was the main event of the evening, a resolution authorizing a grant application for the completion of the Lakewalk between 21st and 23rd Aves. East. (This is the stretch between the parking lot at the east end of the Lakewalk and its resumption at the corner of 23rd and Water St., in front of the Beacon Pointe development.) The measure, pushed by the administration, would create a Lakewalk on the north side of Water Street opposite Beacon Pointe. There were four citizen speakers, two for and two against. The supporters were with the Friends of the Lakewalk organization, and cited safety concerns with heavy trail-use traffic on Water St. and a survey of their twenty members that indicated widespread support. The two opponents reminded Councilors that the plan for the cross-city trail had insisted upon a trail along the lakefront, not a street separated from the lake by a row of condos, and suspected a bait-and-switch. They recommended the tabling of the measure.

CAO Montgomery opened the discussion by saying that tabling would effectively kill the bill, as the city would miss the grant application deadline. This was enough to sway Councilor Julsrud toward support, and she said the city could always reject the grant if it later decided it didn’t like the plan. Councilor Gardner, on the other hand, was not at all swayed. She was especially worried by the Second District vacancy on the Council; as this part of the Lakewalk goes that district, residents’ voices were perhaps unheard. Councilor Russ agreed, saying “something went terribly wrong” in the process; she complained of the developers’ apparent encroachment on the lakefront, the lack of quality signage, and said the new proposal was “really just widening the sidewalk,” and would do nothing to keep bicyclists off the road. Councilor Filipovich echoed these general sentiments and added that there would be more opportunities to ask for money later; CAO Montgomery said the city couldn’t rely on future federal grants, while Councilor Gardner said there certainly would be future opportunities.

Councilor Larson and President Krug, on the other hand, expressed support. They thought any safety-improving measure was commendable and cited the Lakeside neighborhood Lakewalk as an example of a successful path away from the lakeshore. Councilor Gardner, after pausing to stare down the whispering Councilors Hanson and Julsrud, reiterated many of her critiques, called the whole process “very disturbing,” and questioned the current composition of the Friends of the Lakewalk. Councilor Fosle, meanwhile, shared some history with the rest of the Council, digging up resolutions from 2007 and 2008 establishing the initial intent to both widen the Water St. sidewalk and build a trail along the lakefront. Councilor Filipovich worried about a possible loss of political will for the lakefront trail if the Council were to pass only the sidewalk portion. “There’s a lot of despair already,” Councilor Gardner agreed, and both she and Councilor Filipovich wondered why the administration was pushing this during the week of the deadline.

As it became clear the Council did not have the votes to pass the measure, the reason behind the whisperings of Councilors Julsrud and Hanson came out, as they introduced an amendment to reassert the intent behind the original 2007 and 2008 resolutions. There was then a very long stretch of confused but ultimately productive wrangling, as the Councilors offered different wordings for the amendment and even toyed with waiting until a later date to clarify their intent so as to not be too “sloppy,” in the words of Councilor Larson. Councilor Gardner expressed qualified support for the amendment, and they finally settled on three points, as laid out by Councilor Hanson: a reaffirmation of the 2007 and 2008 resolutions, a public meeting to discuss the plan, and a commitment to “concurrently” find solutions to the situation. “We’re finally going to vote on something!” President Krug celebrated, and the amendment passed, 7-1, with Councilor Fosle in opposition.

After that the Council moved to consider the resolution proper, and Councilor Fosle explained his opposition: these sorts of promises are easily forgotten—the 07 and 08 resolutions would have been, had he himself not gone and dug them up earlier that day—and may come to nothing. He was also the lone vote against the resolution, which passed, 7-1.

The rest of the agenda passed relatively quickly. Councilor Fosle was the lone vote against a change in street and sidewalk obstruction fees, and was joined by Councilor Julsrud in a protest vote against Armory culvert repair (see here for the original details on this debate). Councilor Fosle amended a resolution that accepted a grant for emerald ash borer testing in Duluth trees to clean up its misleading language, and also celebrated the timing of a water utility improvement project; both passed unanimously. Councilor Gardner got a good laugh with her shock at the fact that the city was paying for the added costs of the harsh winter with excess revenue (“We have excess revenue?!”), and Councilor Hanson was pleased to hear these measures would have no appreciable impact on the general fund. Finally, the Council pushed back the months for its sprinkling credit to May through September, with Councilor Russ laughing that the city may as well start the credit in June, what with the weather Duluth has had lately.

It was an efficient night for the Council outside of the Lakewalk debate, and even there, they got things done after some spirited debate. There were powerful criticisms, a decent defense, and, ultimately, a sensible compromise. Even Councilor Fosle, who was having none of the whole affair, deserves praise for dispassionately providing information for everyone else, and reiterating the worry about political will. The Councilors who opposed the resolution as initially written must keep up the pressure to make sure the lakefront path isn’t lost in the shuffle, but if they do, there is a good chance the initial vision for the Lakewalk will still come to fruition. As Councilor Hanson said, they need to roll up their sleeves and get to work.

Hockey Parity Run Amok, Plus Gary Thorne!

27 Jan

There are only three weeks left in the Minnesota high school hockey season left, but for all of the games played so far, we are no closer to finding an obvious favorite.

A simple attempt to run through the frontrunners in each class is a mess. Among the big schools in Class AA, perennial favorites Hill-Murray and Edina are near the top of the rankings as always—ranked second and third, respectively—but both have shown more vulnerabilities than usual, and neither is a safe bet to come out of their section: Edina’s loss to Burnsville earlier this month was their first section loss in years, and Hill needed overtime to get past archrival White Bear Lake two weeks ago.

Instead, the new AA top-ranked team is a total surprise out of Lakeville North. The Panthers have are unbeaten in their last sixteen, and are the best team to come out of 1AA—normally the state’s doormat—since a one-loss 1997 Rochester Mayo team, if not ever. They are carried by a top line made up of the three Poehling brothers have no obvious shortcomings, and have a star-in-the-making freshman goalie, but they’re also a very young squad, and we have yet to see how they’ll respond to have a target on their backs.

There are plenty of serious threats beyond those top three teams. #4 Wayzata has allowed the fewest goals of any Class AA team, and are playing the dominant defense we have come to expect out of teams coached by Pat O’Leary. Fifth-ranked Burnsville is very much in the picture, as is an Elk River squad that must confront some sudden adversity after the defection of forward Andrew Zerban to the USHL. Blaine has looked as good as anyone when they’re on their game, but the consistency hasn’t quite been there; likewise, a young St. Thomas Academy squad showed off their superb top-end talent in a win over Hill this past week, but has been on the short end of a number of close games against top teams. Add in some decent Duluth East and Eden Prairie teams to round out the top ten, and the AA field is as wide open as possible. Even Section 8AA, which had appeared to be the weak link in the class, picked up a quality win when Roseau knocked off Holy Family 3-0 on Friday night.

Class A isn’t much different. This class has been owned by three teams in recent years—St. Thomas, Hermantown, and Breck—but with St. Thomas moving up to AA and relative down years from the other two, the field is wide open. Section 8A has as good a race as any going, along with a superb contrast in styles; East Grand Forks is the best defensive team in Class A, while Warroad relies on the firepower of one of the state’s most explosive lines. The Warriors slipped by another top five team, Duluth Marshall, on Friday night; while they were outshot in the game, their disciplined defense and timely scoring made all the difference.

Marshall may be the deepest team in Class A, but their road to State goes through Hermantown. The Hawks have dropped three games against quality AA teams, but they remain undefeated against Class A opposition, and they’re still scoring in bunches despite their relative youth. But Class A goes beyond those top few this year; New Prague and Mankato West are neck-and-neck in a race for Section 1A, and while they haven’t played any of the top teams, scores against common opponents suggest they’ll be able to compete. Breck recently lost to Totino-Grace, one of two 4A frontrunners along with Mahtomedi; and even 3A, normally a sure quarterfinal win for their opponent, has an intriguing team in undefeated Luverne. The Cardinals are untested against the state’s elite, but unlike most of the teams to come out of their section in recent memory, they do have a few legitimate top-end players, and will be worth a second look down the stretch.

The end result is relative parity. We don’t have any runaway favorites this season that will be remembered among the state’s all-time greats, but that isn’t any great loss: instead, we two wide-open fields where no one is safe. This should make for a thrilling run over the next few weeks.

Minnesota hockey fans were given a real treat on Sunday as well, when the news came out that longtime ESPN and ABC front man Gary Thorne will call play-by-play at this year’s AA Tourney. Thorne is widely regarded as one of the two elite hockey commentators of the past twenty years (along with the delightful Doc Emrick), and called some of the NHL’s greatest moments in the 1990s and early 2000s. Since NBC took over rights to the NHL playoffs about a decade ago, Thorne’s hockey duties have been limited to the NCAA Frozen Four and a bunch of video games. (While living in DC, I also got to enjoy his regular calls of Baltimore Orioles games on the Maryland Area Sports Network; he is among the easiest commentators to listen to for any sport.) Thorne couples his famous calls with a warm, lighthearted personality that would seem a good fit for a high school tournament.

Thorne’s arrival is a coup for the Tourney. It’s had its share of memorable voices over the years, from icons like Howard Cosell to Minnesota favorite son Wally Shaver in the 1990s. The lead men in recent years have been capable, but none of them quite had the flair for the dramatic of the greatest commentators, nor could they match the gravitas of their color partner, the timeless Lou Nanne. The prospect of a Thorne-Nanne combination is almost enough to make me want to stay home and watch, though I’m sure that urge will go away when it’s time to head down to St. Paul. I’ll have to settle for a recording, and perhaps a few words in the press elevator. His presence is one of those many little things that add up to make the Tourney into the cultural keystone that it is.

Duluth Citizens in Action Forum

26 Jan

Yesterday, I had the pleasure of spending the day at the Citizens in Action 2014 forum in Duluth, an event put on by the League of Women Voters and a host of supporting organizations. I went on a whim, having received a flyer earlier this week; these sorts of events can be hit-or-miss, depending on the quality of the organizing effort, invited guests, and degree of political neutrality. In the end, it was a day well-spent: the planning committee did a thorough job and reeled in many local politicians, and while a majority of the attendees were certainly on the left side of the political spectrum (no surprise in Duluth), there was some variety, and a pleasant lack of harping on causes. The food was good, too.

The keynote speaker was Minnesota State Representative Rena Moran, who in her second term serving a St. Paul district in the State House. Rep. Moran’s story was a compelling one: in July of 2000, the single mother of seven decided she needed to leave Chicago and move to a state with good schools and a strong community for her children. So she told them to leave most of their possessions behind, piled them all into a van, and drove to Minneapolis. Her family spent a few months in a shelter, but before long she was on her feet, and eventually found a home in St. Paul’s historically black Rondo neighborhood. It all snowballed from there, as Moran became involved in local affairs. As a representative, she highlighted her legislative successes during her first term, when the Republicans held the majority in the House and she needed to build relationships across the aisle to get anything done, and told of bringing her colleagues with her to show them reality inside inner-city neighborhoods. Rep. Moran stayed for the entire conference, joining panels and sharing her experiences.

After that we broke into groups, and I attended a panel discussion entitled “Young Adults in Action.” The panel included Rep. Moran, two Duluth Denfeld students involved in the Native Youth Alliance of Minnesota; two 20-something members of the board of the Clayton-Jackson-McGhie Memorial, which aims to remember and continue dialogue about the 1920 Duluth lynching of three black men; and two Duluth East students and members of the group Students for the Future, which organized to give students a voice in Duluth schools during Red Plan restructuring talks some five years ago and lives on today. (Full disclosure: I was out of high school when the group was founded, but know a number of its original members, and played a minor consulting role in its formation.) A couple of moderators guided them through a series of questions, and while the forum could have benefitted from a somewhat looser format, it delivered the goods.

Two candidates for the soon-to-be-vacant Minnesota House 7A seat on the east side of Duluth were in the room, and one of them asked the panel perhaps the most pressing question: just how do we get people involved? With young people, getting them through the door often seems to be half the battle. It’s an especially big problem nowadays, when college and high school students are bombarded with daily information on countless groups they can join; it can be easy to miss the best options, and many are reluctant to take a leap and join something unless they have a group of friends with them. A single cause or candidate might inspire some excitement, but it can be hard to inculcate a sense of civic responsibility in those who weren’t raised in that sort of environment to begin with. And, as one of the Denfeld students explained, sometimes they quite simply don’t have enough time to take on anything else.

What is undeniable, however, are the potential benefits for those involved. The two East students, when asked what they’d gained from their experience, succinctly said two things that, while not unknown, took me four years of college to fully internalize. (I paraphrase. Student One: “I wanted to study international relations, but now I’ve realized how easy it is to have an immediate and lasting impact just by working in my community.” Student Two: “I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, but I know I can do other things in life but still be very involved in politics.”)

After lunch, we were sent to rooms in small groups to meet with local politicians, who rotated through to meet us in groups of two or three. There were sixteen on hand, including two state representatives, two county commissioners, the St. Louis County Attorney, and a whole bunch of the city council and school board members whose names often grace this blog. We got brief but productive opportunities to share our stories and most pressing concerns, and the officials took diligent notes and replied as time allowed. There was a pleasant diversity of topics brought forward by the other citizens in attendance. Being a big picture person, I settled for telling my own story and some shameless blog plugging, and was pleasantly surprised by the response. (Thanks, readers!)

I’m afraid I did run off when we got to the singing at the end, but for the most part, it was a quality event. In the grand scheme of things, it probably didn’t change much—the people who came are mostly the sorts who would have made their voices heard in some way anyway—but face-to-face contact never hurts, and getting people together to talk about political engagement can be rejuvenating. And while I make a big deal out of the stories of people who are not usually vocal in politics being overlooked, not everyone can be constantly engaged, and it’s up to those who can to be aware of them and pick up the slack. A healthy community needs its activists and campaigners, but it also needs its caretakers and critics; those who can step out of the hectic world of politics from time to time. Reality tells us there are plenty who simply don’t have the interest, whatever their reason. As long as they aren’t forgotten, it all works out in the end.

Drug Testing Debate and Unity All Around: Duluth School Board Notes, 1/21/14

22 Jan

The ISD 709 held its first monthly meeting on Tuesday night, and the Board members all looked pleasantly dapper and fresh as they opened the new term. (No silly tiffs about illegal campaign t-shirts when everyone goes formal!) Chair Miernicki began by welcoming everyone and introducing the two student Members of the Board, Paul Manning of East and Kobi Tremble of Denfeld. (Manning, in addition to having a rather awesome name plate introducing him as ‘P. Manning,’ spoke more in this meeting than his two student predecessors on the Board combined across every meeting I attended last year.) The Board congratulated Mr. Ken Williams, who had recently won a national award for his work in District transportation, and celebrated US Sen. Al Franken’s visit with the East Robotics Team on Monday.

Of the five community speakers, three were members of AFSCME Local 66, and demanded answers over why the District cut out two days—the MLK Day holiday and Tuesday’s staff training day—for paraprofessionals. They complained of the late notice of the cuts and about decreases in training, and worried the District budget was being balanced on the backs of its lowest-paid workers. They presented the Board with a petition demanding further action. Two other speakers confronted familiar District budget complaints, with one taking some time to chide the Board for oppressing him with its uncivil eye rolls.

After Superintendent Gronseth plugged the “Think Kids” informational meetings on the District budget, the Board delved into a lengthy Education Committee report. Member Harala delivered it, and did a superb job of actually explaining the items on the report in a concise and helpful manner. (I’ve complained about the opaqueness of these items in the past, so this really was a laudable development.) In turn, the informational items presented to the Board prompted plenty of good discussion.

The first was a progress report on the new Unity High School design, which is a blended program that uses online curriculum. Everyone was happy to hear positive reviews and see its numbers on the rise, and Member Welty asked a number of questions that gave the program some context. He was especially curious about the idea, floated by Asst. Supt. Crawford, that the District could eventually enroll students online from outside the Duluth area, thereby boosting District enrollment. Member Johnston praised Unity, and also highlighted its role in a substantial decline in out-of-school suspensions in the District. Member Seliga-Punyko asked about its staffing, which led to explanations of the individualized teaching methods used to meet each student’s level.

The next discussion was perhaps the most anticipated of the evening, as the Board took up a committee report on a possible design for random drug tests in Duluth schools. There was some confusion over whether the District actually was on this, likely exacerbated by media coverage that included ACLU plans to fight the measure. Supt. Gronseth tried to explain that it was just a “conversation about chemical health issues” and “not a formal proposal.” Chair Miernicki added that they had simply sat down with the Superior District—which does have a random testing program in place—and had a conversation.

Member Westholm thought the idea was “worth looking into,” though he had reservations over cost, implementation, and legal challenges, saying there is “nothing worse than an unenforceable policy.” Member Johnston echoed these qualified concerns, and commented on the murky conclusions of studies done on the issue; “we do have to talk about drugs,” he said, “but I’m not sure this is the best way to do it.” Member Harala added that the District should compare itself to other districts with unique drug prevention methods beyond Superior, citing Deer River as a good example, and worried that the program might single out certain populations. Member Johnston later repeated this concern, and said he felt this approach likely missed the most at-risk students, who are often not involved in extracurricular activities. (The Supreme Court only allows testing on students who are involved in such activities or have otherwise consented to tests.) Student Member Manning demanded to know where student input might come in on the proposal.

While the critiques were all carefully measured and not unequivocally opposed, Supt. Gronseth did push back on a few of the points, saying people “shouldn’t make assumptions” about people with chemical health issues, and that any look at the research “had to be objective.” He said further action would only come about after a lengthy review that would include considerable community input. Member Seliga-Punyko also expressed some support for testing, saying it would give students a way out of peer pressure and help them to say ‘no.’ Member Loeffler-Kemp jumped in to insist that mental health concerns had to play a role in this discussion as well. Though the testing proposal is still on the table, it appears it will have to jump through a substantial number of hoops to get anywhere. (I’ll save my own comments on random tests for a later date, if this does eventually get off the ground.)

Next up was a discussion of course offerings, in which District Curriculum Coordinator Kevin Abrahamson fielded questions. (His title was the subject of jokes all night long after he was introduced as the “Curriculator.”) Student Member Manning had some questions about a music-related course, and Member Seliga-Punyko made her frustration with the middle school six-period day very clear, saying it forced students to choose between music and foreign languages, which had lasting impacts as students went into high school. Member Welty had a few small questions as well, and after that, the Education Committee report passed unanimously.

The very brief Human Resources report quickly followed suit, and the Board moved on to the Business Committee, where Members Welty and Johnston pulled several items for discussion. The longest discussion involved projected enrollments; while there was the predictable back-and-forth between Member Johnston and Supt. Gronseth and Chair Miernicki on declining enrollment, it had none of the Red Plan-related overtones it normally has, and this time around Member Johnston dug a bit deeper and added some useful nuance to the debate. There was some complaining by Members Seliga-Punyko and Welty about the state’s revised weighting of students by grade, though Business Services Director Bill Hansen pointed out some of its benefits. Member Harala asked for a presentation on the effects of treatment programs such as Woodland Hills on District enrollment numbers, and was promised one.

The Members rounded out the Business Committee report with some minor discussions on declining state grants (related largely to AmeriCorps funding), school board compensation, loading dock issues, cracking chairs at Denfeld, and an unclear discussion on retirement funds that was worth watching but out of the District’s hands. It then moved to a vote, and for the first time in two and a half years, Member Johnston supported a Business Committee report. It passed unanimously.

In the closing comments, Members Harala and Loeffler-Kemp both talked up MLK Day events in which students had participated, and Member Johnston asked that the Board discuss the plight of the paraprofessionals in a committee meeting. Most of the discussion was about Minnesota School Boards Association conference that all seven had attended the previous week (a drastic improvement in attendance since his previous stint on the Board, said Member Welty). While the meeting wasn’t perfect (too few people of color and too many lawyer talks, complained Member Johnston and Chair Miernicki), they all had some positive takeaways. Member Johnston especially liked the discussions on alternatives to suspensions that break the pipeline to prison, and an intriguing one on “character education” as an alternate measure of success, and also (unsurprisingly) one on respecting the opinion of the minority view on the Board. The Board, he explained, needed to be “unified, not uniform.”

On Tuesday night, the Board met that ideal with flying colors. Every single person on the Board contributed something of substance, a feat that the previous Board never came close to matching in the meetings I attended. I’ve flamed Member Johnston on this blog many times over the past few months, but tonight he was not a bitter Member beholden to a Manichean worldview, but a thoughtful critic who raised careful, legitimate critiques in good faith. I can get behind anyone who does that, whatever his past. The newly seated Member Harala also consistently impressed me with her questions and insights, and it was refreshing to hear from a Student Member who was willing to push others on the Board. Member Miernicki makes for an affable Chair, and once he and Member Welty figure out the microphone system, the meetings should run smoothly. It was about as encouraging a first meeting as possible.

Notes on a Wintry Weekend in Duluth

19 Jan

While Duluthians are quick to laugh at the weather plights of the rest of the country (psh, ten below is nothing), enduring a Duluth winter for so many months can be an ordeal. There are weekly battles with icy roads and blankets of snow and constant rescheduling due to weather. Endless conversations about the weather can also grow tiresome. These winters remind me of why I was so driven to study international affairs when I left for college: I find myself running to find books about adventures in the Brazilian Amazon or along the Silk Road to amuse myself. Anything to live vicariously and escape to a warmer climate, if only for a few hours while huddling beneath one’s blankets.

Of course, there are ways to embrace the weather, too. I’ve been skiing often, and there’s plenty of hockey to entertain every night. Last night’s Vancouver-Calgary brawl two seconds into the game was the sort of incident that makes hockey fans both laugh in delight and cringe as we think about how those not caught up in the hockey world will judge this sport. It’s funny that we northern Minnesotans and Canadians, among the most docile people on the planet, have so embraced the one sport that tolerates fighting for the sake of fighting. But we all need our outlets, I suppose, and once the broken teeth have been picked up off the ice, no sport can match hockey’s persistent flow of action and improbable grace.

Winter in Duluth also has its moments of sheer, unquestioned beauty. Take this past week, when low temperatures made the Lake Superior ice caves near Cornucopia, Wisconsin, accessible by foot for the first time in a few years. My camera literally froze, leaving me to take pictures with a blurry cell phone camera, but here are some of the fruits of a long slog through the snow along the South Shore:







It was worth the cold hike, and despite the crowds, some of those icy halls between the rocks were awe-inspiring. It made me want to go back there…in summer, and in a kayak.

Still, things go on. Here’s a rundown of some significant events over the past week:

Boyle Cruises to County Board Duluth City Councilor Patrick Boyle defeated his former colleague Jim Stauber by a 65-35 margin in a special election to fill a vacant seat on the St. Louis County Board. Boyle’s big win over the well-known Stauber showed off the power of the Duluth DFL, and keeps the Board’s liberal bloc within one vote of the conservatives. It also means the Council will have to appoint a new representative to serve the 2nd District over the next two years. That won’t lead to a substantial change in the composition of the Council, but it will be interesting to see who comes forward to replace him. Stay tuned for news on that front.

PolyMet Hearing A packed house was on hand for the first of three informational meetings on the Environmental Impact Statement issued to assess possible copper and nickel mining on Minnesota’s Iron Range. It’s a contentious debate; mining jobs could make all of the difference in the world for the depressed northeastern Minnesota towns, where mining has been the lifeblood of so many communities for so many years. On the other hand, the specter of long-term environmental damage looms, most notably in water treatment that may be necessary for centuries. There will be more hearings, and they are only a small part of what will likely be a long, drawn-out process. For updates straight from the Range, I recommend the blog of Hibbing writer Aaron Brown, who gives a well-balanced overview of the debate here (complete with requisite Northern Minnesota Trampled by Turtles music video).

Maurices Headquarters Design The design for the planned Maurices Headquarters on the 400 block of West Superior Street came out. If I may play amateur architecture critic, I’ll say this: it blends well with that portion of downtown; there are hints of the modernist Radisson, Medical Arts, and Ordean Buildings in there, plus elements of the brutalist Holiday Center further to the east. It looks crisp and clean, and it’s an improvement on the dull former Channel 3 studio on that block. In the end, though, I find it rather sterile. It is very boxy and angular, all concrete and glass, with no hint of detail or nuance. Still, I won’t let my gripes with contemporary architecture weigh down the project too much: it’s a great addition to the downtown Duluth economy.

And, of Course, Hockey Yesterday was Hockey Day in Minnesota, and the day didn’t disappoint. Elk River hosted a pair of outdoor high school games, one including a local team in Cloquet; the Lumberjacks and the host Elks both won their games. The Gophers won, Elk River native Nate Prosser scored the game-winner for the Wild in overtime, and up here in Duluth, a record crowd watched the UMD Bulldogs pick up a shootout win over the University of Denver. In other local high school news, Duluth East tied Maple Grove to round out a very forgettable week, while Duluth Marshall, fresh off a big win over Class A frontrunner Breck, fell to a mediocre Roseville team. The young Hounds will look to right the ship after slipping out of the top ten when they visit section rival Forest Lake this week, while the inconsistent Hilltoppers will play Class A power Warroad on Friday. Both teams have potential, but need to catch some momentum as they head down the stretch run toward the playoffs, which are a month away.

Stay warm…

Duluth East and Apple Valley Revisited

16 Jan

The Duluth East boys’ hockey team heads to Apple Valley tonight. On paper, it isn’t a thrilling match-up; the Eagles have fallen on hard times in recent years, while the Hounds are among the better teams in the state. East won their meeting 10-1 last season. But even so, this game will always bring back memories of the game many high school hockey fans think was the greatest ever played. I re-watched that game a few months ago, and took some notes as the game went along. Here is a recap of the night of March 8 (and the morning of March 9!), 1996, at the St. Paul Civic Center.

-Duluth East comes into the AA State Tournament semifinal game as the top-ranked team in the state. Twelve players on the Hounds’ 20-man playoff roster will go on to play some D-I hockey, and another six will play hockey after high school in juniors, in Canada, or at a D-III school; both of those figures may be records. The defending state champs are led by 1996 Minnesota Mr. Hockey Dave Spehar, the leading scorer in state history and hero of the previous year’s tournament. They return two full lines and their top two defensive pairs from the previous season. They’d demolished Blaine 7-1 in the quarterfinals.

-Apple Valley, however, is no slouch, and is widely thought to be the one team that can stop East. They’re ranked third in the state (2nd-ranked Hill-Murray, the only team to beat East during the regular season, had been upset by White Bear Lake in sections), and lost only one game against a difficult schedule. They boast six future D-I players of their own, and another likely could have played had he not chosen baseball instead. They may not be quite as deep as the Hounds, but with the likes of Brad DeFauw and Erik Westrum on hand, they can match their top-end talent, and they have a small but talented goalie named Karl Goehring.

-One of those East D-I players, junior forward Matt Mathias, did not play. He’d suffered an injury in the quarterfinal, and had to watch on a TV in the Civic Center hallway. The UPN-9 crew interviews him twice during the game; once early on, and once in the 4th OT.  Senior Matt LaTour is pressed into duty in his stead.

-In the open, Wally Shaver and Lou Nanne talk about the need for AV to have a strong start to the game, as they’d been somewhat slow in their section final and quarterfinal; if they don’t, East might blow them out of the water, as they have with every other team they’ve played in the playoffs to date. The Eagles deliver, checking the smaller East forwards aggressively and outshooting the Hounds in a scoreless first period.

-The Eagles also look good killing off an East penalty, even though the Hounds, according to Wally, had an 85% PP over the second half of the season. Their defensive discipline in the early going, which forced East to expend a lot of effort simply to get out of regulation with a tie, may have been the most important piece of the puzzle.

-Duluth East coach Mike Randolph shakes some things up in the first intermission, and East comes out looking better in the second, with Dave Spehar starting to float and the Hounds looking to stretch the ice.

-Spehar came into the game sitting on four consecutive Tourney hat tricks, but the lone hat trick in this game goes to Apple Valley’s Erik Westrum. The crafty forward gives the East defense fits all night long. He scores his first goal of the night just past the five minute mark of the second, temporarily stemming the East momentum.

-13 seconds later, East’s Pat Gunderson responds with a blast from the point, and the game is tied at 1. The game opens up considerably from that point on, with both teams racing up and down the ice and trading chances.

-After Nick Gretz scores the second AV goal, a fan throws an octopus on the Civic Center ice. The Eagles take a 2-1 lead into the second intermission, despite a strong period by East on the shot counter.

-Spehar has two near-misses on breakaways, but each time, the defenseman gets just enough of him to disrupt him. Andy Wheeler has a couple of near-misses as well, one of which is the save of the game from Karl Goehring.

-Spehar takes an ill-advised penalty a minute into the third period (one of only two in the entire game, one on each team). Not to worry, says his longtime linemate, Chris Locker: he steals the puck and scores a shorthanded goal to tie the game at two.

-Less than two minutes later, Westrum has a response, and puts his team up 3-2. Three minutes later, Spehar finally strikes for the Hounds, circling the AV net in search of a passing lane before firing a low shot through traffic.

-After the first period, commentators Wally Shaver and Lou Nanne are calling it an excellent game; by the middle of the third, they’re calling it a truly great one. Little do they know…

-Both teams go back and forth, trading chances left and right, and with just over six minutes to go, Westrum completes his hat trick.

-East presses forward in desperate search of the tying goal, with Randolph using his timeout and a “goalie change” to get his top line as much rest as he can muster.

-That dedication pays off. The AV defense is drawn to Spehar behind the net, and he feeds Locker out in front to tie the game with 38.8 seconds left on the clock. It’s tough to gauge crowd noise from a DVD, but I’d hazard to guess that was among the loudest moments in Tourney history.

-In the 1st OT, Randolph puts the game in his top line’s hands and sends them out to win it. The result is firewagon hockey that is still exhilarating to watch, even 15+ years later. Both teams fly up and down the ice, trading chances. Apple Valley rolls two lines.

-Over the first two overtimes, AV’s best player is Brad DeFauw; he gets three excellent chances, one of which hits the pipe early in the 2nd OT.

-In the 2nd OT, Randolph decides to try to win a war of attrition and starts rolling three lines, with very short shifts. Larry Hendrickson sticks with two for AV. Randolph continues to float Spehar, daring AV to push forward and create an odd-man situation in the offensive zone; AV never takes the bait, and keeps its defensemen back around their own blue line.

-East has a strong start to the 2nd OT, while AV looks sharper toward the middle of the period; East again starts to take control toward the end, when Dylan Mills tees up a shot.

-LaTour deflects Mills’ shot, and it goes over Goehring’s shoulder and somewhere up in the vicinity of the crossbar. In real time, Wally seems to think it went in, while Lou thinks it hits the crossbar; replays seem to suggest the former, but there’s room for doubt. Most tellingly, there is no sound of puck hitting crossbar. A photo in the next day’s Duluth paper will confirm this: the puck was in the net. But the referees have no replay to rely on, and play goes on as the East fans boo.

-There is a distinct shift in gameplay at the start of the 3rd, as both teams grow cagey. East controls more of the play and has some decent chances, but Chris Sikich of AV does have the best chance of the period.

-At the start of the 4th, it looks as if AV is starting to take control. East gets the momentum back mid-period with a great shift from its top line, with Spehar once again making his presence felt everywhere, and Wheeler just missing.

-Late in the 4th, Goehring breaks the single game saves record in the Tourney. AV answers back to East’s surge and has two good chances near the end of the period that Hounds goalie Kyle Kolquist saves.

-By the 4th OT, it seems clear that the man with the most energy on the ice is AV defenseman Aaron Dwyer; Wally and Lou make a note of this fact.

-Between the 4th and 5th OTs, everyone looks spent; Kolquist is flat on his back with his head resting up against the boards, while Sikich is lolling on his side beneath his bench, modeling his stellar flow. Randolph dumps water over the head of a slumped Spehar. The crowd, which is still tightly packed into the Civic Center as it nears 1:30 AM, does the wave. Many have been standing throughout the OTs.

-East has a good surge toward the start of the 5th OT, but their momentum grinds to a halt when DeFauw flattens Spehar with a huge check. Spehar skates gingerly to the bench, and will not get a chance to return to the ice.

-On the next shift, Dwyer blindly fires a shot on net. Kolquist is screened and reacts too late, and the Eagles are on their way to the state championship game.

-In the aftermath, players from both teams embrace, and after the East coaching staff gets Kolquist to his feet, cameras capture he and Goehring talking to one another.

-East will win the 3rd place game 9-2 a few hours later, with Spehar notching one last Tourney hat trick. Apple Valley wins the state title 3-2 over Edina.

-The game had been just the second ever meeting between the two teams, but immediately thereafter, they began to schedule each other regularly. Ever since, East holds a 13-4 edge in the regular season series.

-Some of the stars of that game are still intimately tied to their programs. Mills and Kolquist are now two of Randolph’s assistants at East, while Sikich was named AV’s head coach at the start of this current season.

-Randolph, reflecting on that game and the 2011 triple-overtime loss to Eden Prairie in the state title game, in an interview this past summer:

It takes time to get over. It’s part of the nature of the beast. But then you reflect back, time heals, and you realize how fortunate you were to be part of that. Those were two of the best games at the State Tournament ever; as I told the kids, there was no loser in that game. To be part of it is special. I get over it about mid-summer. (laughs). But you always think about, ‘what if’?

Homeless Rights, Duluth in the NYT, and a Lot of Fighting Over a Shed: Duluth City Council Notes, 1/13/14

14 Jan

A packed house was on hand for the first Duluth City Council meeting of the 2014 session, and Councilors Zack Filipovich and Barb Russ took their seats for the first time. The Council kicked off by electing its new officers, and as Councilor Krug was the only one up for President, she was elected unanimously. The two candidates for Vice President gave brief and rather pointless speeches on their qualifications, with Councilor Fosle saying he had seniority and could run things as well as anyone else, and Councilor Larson listing off a heap of committees and such on which she has served. The Councilor voted 8-1 in favor of Councilor Larson, leaving Councilor Fosle laughing wryly.

Councilor Boyle then recapped several of the Board’s accomplishments in 2013 before swapping seats with his successor. President Krug slowly got into the groove of reading through the various things she is required to read and opening and closing two public hearings. (There have been at least ten public hearings since I started doing this, and there has never been a public speaker at one of them.)

The first big issue of the night was a resolution recognizing a petition asking the city to establish a bill of rights for homeless persons. There were four citizen speakers, including three people who had once been homeless and the executive director of CHUM in Duluth, Ms. Lee Stuart. They spoke to the struggles of homelessness and thanked the many organizations that got behind their effort, asking them to stand as they read the names. (Most of the people in the room stood.) Ms. Stuart explained that, even though most of the points on the bill of rights were already included in law and Duluth has tended to treat its homeless people fairly well, this was a call for deeper conversation and would focus attention on big issues.

The Councilors then took turns expressing their support for the bill of rights. Councilor Gardner echoed many of Ms. Stuart’s words and talked about the importance of organization for a constituency that often believes they have been left behind. Councilor Hanson expressed optimism about turning a corner, while Councilor Filipovich explained how the whole community benefits economically when people have roofs over their heads. Councilors Russ and Boyle emphasized related issues, such as the housing stock of the city, health care, and living wage jobs. The resolution passed unanimously, much to the delight of the crowd, and the Human Rights Commission will now set about making Duluth the first city in the country to have a bill of rights for homeless persons.

There was a mild flare-up over a point of order at this point, as Councilor Fosle asked President Krug if she intended to allow clapping and cheering in the Council Chamber when past Presidents had not. President Krug said she was in control of the room and cut off Councilor Fosle when he tried to respond, saying this would best be dealt with after the meeting. Councilor Hanson abstained from a vote on a contract to an oil company that advertises on his blog, but the rest of the consent agenda passed unanimously.

The resolution on the city’s intended bonding measures passed 8-1, with Councilor Fosle in opposition, and Councilor Filipovich was named to fill the outgoing Councilor Stauber’s seat on the Public Utilities Commission. Councilor Gardner then asked for an amendment to a resolution allocating federal community development grant money, shifting some from a housing program to a 3-year job education program for single mothers. Interim County Commissioner Angie Miller came forward to tout the job training program and emphasize its strong support network. Councilors Julsrud and Filipovich expressed their support, but Councilor Fosle got some good indignation out of the rest of the Council when he said that moving money out of the housing program would “throw three families out in the cold.” Councilors Gardner and Russ rushed to explain that this was not the case, and that there were other funding sources. President Krug, on the other hand, upheld her commitment to processes and said she didn’t think the Council should upend its vetting process for single projects. The amendment passed 6-2, and the whole resolution passed 7-1, with Councilor Fosle as the lone ‘no’ vote. (Councilor Larson recused herself from the vote due to her consulting work with some of the organizations involved.)

In one of those paradoxes of local politics, the most contentious issue of the night was an incredibly minor one. A Piedmont couple came before the Council to appeal a Planning Commission decision to deny them a variance that would have allowed them to build a storage shed on their property closer to a stream than is normally allowed by DNR standards. A neighbor came forward to speak against the variance. He complained about the size of the shed (at 12 by 20, it was practically a garage), and dismissed claims that the stream had dried up. He said he had long lobbied to keep houses away from the wetlands around the stream, and said the house had flooded during the June 2012 deluge. The couple countered this last claim, saying it was sewer-related and not caused by the stream, and thanked the city for paying for a sump pump that had resolved their flooding problems.

Councilor Julsrud spoke in support of the couple, saying there was no way this little creek that dried up in summer (of which there are many in Duluth) was actually a trout stream, and that the environmental expert on the Planning Commission had approved of the variance. Councilor Fosle had other ideas, rightly pointing out that the resolution needed to explain the hardship faced by the couple. Councilor Gardner furnished him with one, saying it was a practical difficulty for the couple; everyone else in the neighborhood could build such a shed if they so desired, but they could not. Councilor Fosle found this wanting, saying the couple should have known what they had when they bought the property, and said that the DNR’s standards existed for good reasons. The trout came up again, and Councilors Boyle and Fosle went back and forth on the quality of the couple’s runoff abatement efforts, with Councilor Fosle telling Boyle to “remember this” so that the neighbor could call him when all the runoff ends up in his yard. Councilor Larson came out against the variance, as did President Krug, who once again defended the process and worried about slippery slopes.

Councilor Fosle then decided to make the meeting even more exciting by saying that “everyone should follow rules no matter their affiliation to other people who have been elected,” thus implying that the change was a political favor for the couple, who apparently are related to a local politician. (I have no idea who this is.) Councilor Gardner lashed back, saying “I don’t normally like to respond to the things you say because I don’t want to draw attention to them,” but that she had no choice but to defend herself from a charge of association with someone who was not at all in her political circle. Councilor Hanson took “deep offense” at the charge, said he did not want to spend the next four years “being chastised” by Councilor Fosle, and added that “integrity is everything in my life.” (I here resist the very strong urge to make a comment about his hockey journalism. Onward.) Councilor Fosle sniffed that he hadn’t attacked anyone personally, and asked Councilor Hanson if he’d bothered to talk to the complaining neighbor, who did live in his district.

Councilor Gardner explained that the Council had the authority to overrule the Planning Commission, saying they were not restrained by the procedural dictates it must follow. Councilor Filipovich said the runoff prevention methods had been vetted by city staff, and Councilor Larson did what she could to celebrate everyone having different opinions and told the couple “enjoy your shed!” even though she was voting against it, since she saw how the votes would go. The variance passed, 6-3, with Councilors Fosle, Larson, and Krug in opposition.

The Council unanimously approved its priorities for state legislature lobbying this session, which include restoration projects of the NorShor Theater and Wade Stadium and a river water usage plant for Spirit Mountain. In the closing comments, Councilor Julsrud shared good news about new efficiencies in parking enforcement, Councilor Fosle and President Krug came to a vague resolution of their earlier spat about applause in the Council Chamber, and Councilor Larson tried to get everyone to schedule their summer recess.


Lastly, if you are a Duluthian who lives under a rock/has the good sense not to waste much of your time on social media and missed it, Duluth was on the front page of the New York Times on Monday. (And it wasn’t one of those articles that appear every year in which the national media covers winter weather in Duluth in shock and fright, while all of the interviewed Duluthians shrug and say “meh.”) The article plays off the tried-and-true journalism trope of taking two similar places (Duluth and Superior, Wisconsin) and showing how divergent state politics affects people on both sides of the St. Louis River. I don’t think there’s anything terribly insightful here for anyone with a basic knowledge of general political tendencies. (Breaking news: business owners prefer low taxes! Gay people want to live in states where their marriages have legal standing! Democrats like unions more than Republicans!) It also makes only passing mention of local politics and the particularities of the two cities, which I would have given more weight if I’d been asked to do this sort of piece. Sure, these cities could make interesting test cases—but for all of the cultural similarities, there are also large differences that would make a side-by-side comparison difficult. But it does an effective job of showing some of the effects of the different paths Minnesota and Wisconsin have followed over the past couple of election cycles, and there are some fun little shoutouts that locals will recognize. It will be interesting to chart any changes in economic and personal well-being indicators between the two states, though reality will inevitably be more nuanced than the partisans on either side will ever admit. If they further develop this series and do some follow-ups, it could wind up being a good study.

Yes, We Have an Election in Mid-January

12 Jan

If you live on the east side of Duluth, you may have seen a few lawn signs peeking out of snowbanks, even though the November elections are long since over. No, these people are not being lazy in removing their signs; we have an election coming up! The passing of 2nd District Commissioner Steve O’Neil threw the St. Louis County Board into limbo, and the timeline for an election to fill his seat has left us with a special election on January 14.

There was a primary back in November, which narrowed the field down to two candidates. They are familiar faces to anyone who knows Duluth politics: current Second District City Councilor Patrick Boyle and recently retired At-Large Councilor Jim Stauber. Boyle won the primary by a decent margin, while Stauber barely scraped by Scott Keenan for the second spot, but given the odd timing of the election and the likely challenges in turning out voters in mid-January, nothing is a given here.

Because of those odd dynamics and the well-established reputations of each of the candidates, this has become as clear a right-versus-left race as one can have in a local, nonpartisan election. With turnout likely to stay low, both sides appear to have focused their attention on turning out the base, each relying on their established ties in the community.

Boyle is a reliably liberal Councilor who was just elected to his second term, and is the O’Neil family’s favored candidate to win the seat once held by the longtime liberal champion. His campaign emphasizes his close ties with many local politicians, and claims he will work with them to improve roads and bring more quality jobs to the area.

Stauber, on the other hand, is a proud conservative, and has made it his priority to hold the line on taxes. His campaign also emphasizes his long years of service to Duluth, and his intimate knowledge of local government. As a Councilor, Stauber was often a rather lonely voice crying for fiscal restraint and was a frequent teller of cautionary tales; while history did sometimes prove him right, he was often powerless to shape the Council’s agenda in any serious way. As a County Commissioner, it would be a different story: the Board extends far beyond Duluth and into more conservative, rural areas of St. Louis County, and Stauber would actually be in the majority if elected.

Indeed, Boyle’s campaign has sought to play off of voters’ worries about growing conservative influence in St. Louis County, and given the well-known proclivities of a majority of east side voters, that is a sensible play. As a liberal on this side of this city, he should be able to win if he can turn out his base. Stauber, however, has been able to buck that trend throughout his successful political career, and enjoys a solid base of support as well. Both are well-qualified for the job; in the end, this race will boil down to connections and political leanings. It should be a good race.

Here are links to the candidates’ websites:

Boyle | Stauber

Here is a map of the St. Louis County districts. (Scroll down to get a close-up of Duluth.)

If you live in the 2nd District, here’s the city’s guide to finding your polling place. Get out and vote!

Hounds Throw Down the Gauntlet

10 Jan

On Thursday night, I made the road trip 80 miles west of Duluth to Grand Rapids for a hockey game. The town of 10,000 people has a rather mixed identity: it is part vacationland, part paper mill town, and part gateway to the Iron Range. What isn’t in doubt, of course, is its status as one of Minnesota’s most storied hockey communities.

The Grand Rapids High School Thunderhawks (Indians in less P.C. times) won three titles in six years back in the 70s and 80s, and have produced as many college and NHL players as any school in the state. Recent decades haven’t been nearly as successful, but the program has risen again in the past few years, with two second place finishes in the mid-00s, two narrow section title game losses to Duluth East in the past three years, and a promising youth program feeding in. Thursday’s game had the potential to break Rapids’ long string of frustration against the Hounds, a team they’ve only beaten twice in their past twenty meetings. They entered the game on a six-game winning streak, and a win could have just about locked up the top seed in Section 7AA, something the Thunderhawks have yet to earn in the two-class era. They boast a Mr. Hockey frontrunner in Avery Peterson, one of the state’s best goalies in Hunter Shepard, and a bumper crop of sophomores. A capacity crowd packed its way into the historic IRA Civic Center, ready to blow the wood-trussed roof off the building if Rapids were to win.

Duluth East, however, decided to crash the party, and they did it in style. The Hounds smothered Rapids with superb neutral zone play and a relentless forecheck, grabbing an early goal by Nathaniel Benson for a 1-0 lead. Despite East’s controlling play, Shepard and the inexperienced Rapids defense was doing just enough to keep it close for a while. Rapids took a major penalty late in the period, however, and it was 3-0 by the intermission. “Why so quiet?” the East students taunted a silent Civic Center.

 A few power plays gave the Thunderhawks a little more life in the second period, but East goalie Gunnar Howg saved the shots he needed to save, and another bad Rapids penalty set up an East power play goal late in the period. The Hounds went into cruise control in the third, not allowing a shot until over 12 minutes had passed, and adding a fifth goal with .5 seconds to go for some icing on the cake for the Cakeaters of the North.

The game was a total triumph of Mike Randolph hockey. His young Hounds executed his gameplan as well as any Hounds team ever has. They used their depth to their advantage, and the third line of Alex Spencer, Maysen Rust, and Nathaniel Benson—a potential concern I’d cited earlier in the week—was a wrecking crew all night long. The best player on the ice was not Peterson, but East defenseman Phil Beaulieu, who seemed unbothered by his huge amount of ice time, slaloming past countless defenders and shutting down every Rapids rush that came his way. He made some new friends as well, stopping for a photo op with Grand Rapids mites between periods. It was that sort of night for the Hounds.

Tactically, Rapids was a mess, as they tried to skate straight into the heart of the East defense and generated nothing in the way of odd-man rushes. If not for six power plays, they might not have mustered ten shots on goal. It was hard to find any sort of positives for the Thunderhawks; their one recourse, perhaps, is history, as East beat Rapids 5-1 in the regular season meeting in 2007, the year they picked up their sole playoff victory over the Hounds. This team can’t possibly be as bad as it looked on Thursday night, and while there are a bunch of things that would have to go right in a playoff rematch—better discipline, better breakouts, a willingness to do some dirty work on offense, a big night out of Shepard—it’s certainly imaginable that they could get it done.

East, on the other hand, has to make sure this mid-January win isn’t the peak, but only another sign of improvement from a squad that has already grown up a lot since November. They went to the box too often for comfort, and more 5-on-5 scoring wouldn’t hurt, either; they can’t count on major penalties, especially in the playoffs, when referees are more likely to swallow their whistles. But the win certainly put the rest of the state on notice, and we still don’t know how high their ceiling is. They now have a fighting chance at the top seed in 7AA, though every game will matter as they try to atone for their early season loss to Elk River. No matter how the season ends, the big win in enemy territory will go down as one of the highlights.