A History of Minnesota High School Hockey Section Tournaments

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.


2 thoughts on “A History of Minnesota High School Hockey Section Tournaments

  1. How can someone find out the results for all section/region results by year? There are some good hockey teams over the years that never qualified for the state tournament. One that comes to mind is St. Paul Park/Park of Cottage Grove. In the 60’s, 70’s and 80’s Park lost in the region finals many years to the likes of SSP, Hill-Murray etc.

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