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.