State Tournament Look Back: 2010

29 Mar

Here’s this year’s entry in my series of 10-year look-backs at State Tournaments past. This year, we revisit 2010, a year of triumph for Edina and Breck.

Class AA

2010 was not one of those seasons with ranking intrigue at the top: from start to finish, Minnetonka was the team to beat. The Skippers’ leaders were three D-I committed defensemen, Andrew Prochno, Justin Holl, and Troy Hesketh, and while they didn’t have overwhelming scoring depth, Max Gardiner was a front-line star up front, and they had an interesting supporting cast of young forwards such as Max Coatta, Erik Baskin, and Sam Rothstein. They entered the Tourney 25-1-2, and dispatched of defending champ Eden Prairie 7-2 in the 6AA final. The one team that beaten them during the regular season was Edina, fresh off the disappointment of falling short the season before with a loaded senior class. The new-look Hornets didn’t have the senior star power of the Skippers, but their depth was unmatched in recent high school hockey. They rolled four lines, were hot coming the Tourney, and boasted a core of talented juniors including Steven Fogarty, Michael Sit, Max Everson, and Ben Ostlie.

Those two Lake Conference foes may have been the favorites, but the amount of talent in the AA field has to rank among the highest ever: all but one of the teams had five or more D-I players on the roster. An impressive amount of the talent was young, too, as 24 of the 44 future D-I players were sophomores or younger. The upper-class talent set the top four seeds apart in this group, but several young upset threats loomed, and one found its mark and picked off a top team.

Edina drew the one team that did not have an assemblage of D-I talent, Roseau, in the first quarterfinal. It was a matchup of two of the state’s most decorated programs, and a game that hadn’t happened two years earlier when they’d seemed to be on a collision course. The stakes in 2010 were different, however; while the Rams grabbed an early 2-1 lead and stuck around for a period and a half, the Hornets eventually roared to life and won 7-3. The Rams, to their credit, won a consolation round game the next day and finished 6th.

In the second quarterfinal, third-seeded Blaine took on an upstart Apple Valley team. The Bengals’ tradition of power forwards reached its apex in 2010 in Nick Bjugstad, that season’s Mr. Hockey who would go in the first round of the draft. The Bengals had a gaudy senior class and some added young talent in the first two of the four Brodzinski brothers, Jonny and Michael. Their opponent, while much younger, was not a pushover. Two future Gophers, A.J. Michaelson and Hudson Fasching, led the Eagles, who lacked the depth of the higher-ranked teams in the field but had some impressive talent on the back end as well, most notably in goal, where they had a future National Training and Development Program as a backup. But the star of the second quarterfinal was not a future D-I star but Apple Valley junior tender Aaron Gretz, whose 30-save shutout stole the show in the Eagles’ 2-0 upset win.

Minnetonka looked as advertised in its quarterfinal and dispatched of a Lakeville North team that, in retrospect, looks pretty talented: future first round pick Brady Skjei led the Panthers, and they had a second future NHLer in goal in Charlie Lindgren, plus three other D-I defensemen. That talent didn’t really manifest itself, though, and the Panthers had an 8-win regular season but waltzed to State as a 3-seed who upset a Lakeville South team that had twice beaten them in the regular season. Minnetonka, however, was an entirely different challenge, and the Skippers poured 48 shots on goal and won 6-1.

The final quarterfinal of the day also looked to be the best, and lived up to its billing. Hill-Murray, which had surprised and gone to State with a very young team the season before, and now that group was back with the balance to win it all. It was a testament to the quality of the field that these two-loss Pioneers were the 4-seed. While the Tourney had yet to add a 5th seeded team, there was no doubt Duluth East would have claimed that spot if they could have; the young Hounds were led by future NHLer Andy Welinski four D-I sophomores who would form the core of their run toward the top of the rankings over the next two seasons. Led by their sophomores, East jumped out to a 2-0 lead; the game roared to life with three goals in the final minute of the first, first as Hill tied the game and then as East went back ahead courtesy of Dom Toninato. The lead was short-lived, as Hill erupted for two more goals in the first minute of the second, and while East carried a bit more of the play, the game settled in a bit from there. Hill withstood the Hounds before Jack Walsh put away the 5-3 win in the 3rd. East would march methodically through the consolation bracket and take home fifth.

Upstart Apple Valley looked to make lightning strike twice on Friday night, and while Gretz was once again on top of his game and made 35 saves, it wasn’t to be. Single tallies from Blake Chapman and Charlie Taft were enough for Edina, which smothered the Eagles and won 2-0. The second semifinal, meanwhile, was one of the all-time great Tourney games.

The clash between Hill-Murray and Minnetonka was an old-fashioned defensive battle, a heavyweight fight in which there was little room to operate. Hill’s hard-hitting D under assistant Pat Schafhauser, the heroes of Hill’s surprise title run two seasons before, looked like they might just pull it off again. They held high-flying Tonka to just nine shots on goal in regulation, but the teams went to overtime tied 1-1. The referees didn’t call a single penalty in the game, which rolled through a first overtime, and then a second, and then a third. After being outshot in regulation, Minnetonka found some footing; chances (such as they were) became much more even in overtime. Finally, at 12:19 AM, after 86 minutes of hockey, Baskin snuck a backhanded wraparound past Tim Shaughnessy to give the Skippers the win. Outside the X, St. Paul had become a snow globe, and Minnetonka kids ran through the streets screaming through the early morning. It was the sort of night that makes the Tourney mystique.

They Lake Conference collision in the final had all the makings of a great game, but from a hockey standpoint, it didn’t really deliver. Minnetonka, perhaps gassed from their marathon the night before, surrendered two goals in the first three minutes. From there, Edina kept at it as so many great Edina teams had in the past, with their relentless depth coming at the Skippers in waves. After two periods, it was 4-0 Hornets, and while a two-goal Skipper surge in the early stages of the third brought the arena to life for a spell, Edina settled back in from there. The Hornets won 4-2 to claim their seventh title (tenth counting Edina East’s wins) and first since 1997, ending the program’s longest championship drought since its first in 1969.

For Curt Giles, it was sweet revenge: a year after falling short as a favorite, it was Edina’s turn to leave a top-ranked team wondering what could have been. With a young core, the Hornets were primed for a title defense in 2010-2011, while the Skippers would have to navigate through a loaded 6AA once again. Third-place finisher Hill-Murray and fifth-place finisher Duluth East had reasons to look forward to the future, while Apple Valley and Lakeville North would see their young cores suffer early departures and never quite threaten to go further. In the first year of the modern Lake Conference, its powers had made their presence felt: after a decade of the 2000s lacking in dynastic teams, the road to the title in high school hockey would run through the West Metro in the 2010s.

Class A

Class A had a clear favorite in defending champion Breck, whose only losses on the season had come to St. Thomas Academy and Shattuck-St. Mary’s. The Mustangs hadn’t played many other top teams, though, and a chase pack of Mahtomedi, Hermantown, and Warroad all looked capable of putting things together. The result was one of the more open Class A fields of the era that set up some excitement in the final two rounds.

The Zephyrs, seeded second and fresh off a second consecutive section tournament upset of loaded St. Thomas Academy, rolled past Alexandria 7-1 in their opener. Third-seeded Hermantown, then representing Section 5A, drew the most interesting of the unseeded teams, Virginia, in the quarterfinals. It was a fairly even game, but Adam Krause scored a third period game-winner for the Hawks. Top-seeded Breck marauded 11-1 over New Ulm in the third quarterfinal, while Brock Nelson-led Warroad dispatched of Rochester Lourdes in similar fashion, winning 9-0.

After an uneventful first day, the semifinals delivered. The first, between Hermantown and Mahtomedi, was a seesawing affair that was about as entertaining as a hockey game can get. The teams traded goals back and forth: 1-1, 2-2, 3-3, before Mahtomedi got two in a row to go up 5-3; after Hermantown pulled within one, Brandon Zurn scored his fourth goal of the Tourney to put the Zephyrs up 6-4 with just over eight minutes left. But no lead was safe in this game, and Charlie Conmick rose to the occasion for Hermantown, scoring twice in the span of a minute. Replay overturned a Mahtomedi goal at the buzzer, and the game went to overtime tied 6-6, but this wasn’t the sort of game that was going to last long. Just 1:12 into the bonus frame, Jared Thomas won it for the Hawks.

The second semifinal was a rematch of the title game the season before, as Breck and Warroad collided again. Nelson showed why he’d be a first-round pick a few months later with a pair of goals, but the Mustangs sandwiched four of their own between them, their superior depth wearing down the Warriors for a second straight season while the top line of Mike Morin, Riley Borer, and Tyson Fulton taking care of the offense. In the final, Hermantown took an early 1-0 lead and outshot Breck throughout, but the defending champs proved resilient and tied it 1-1 in the second. With 1:40 remaining, a Hermantown clearing attempt went off Morin’s shin and in the net, and the Mustangs had themselves their repeat while the Hawks had the first of what would become a regular dose of Saturday heartbreak at the Tourney.

It was something of a watershed season in Class A. While it offered an entertaining final four and a repeat champion, it also marked the start of a shift toward a handful of teams that would dominate Class A for the first half of the 2010s. Hermantown started in on its impressive but dubious run of six consecutive runner-up finishes, and Warroad’s triple-overtime win in the third place game was the end of their run as the preeminent power in Class A: after 12 Tourneys in 17 years and four titles, the Warriors would need to wait another decade before returning to St. Paul. Until things began to open back up again in 2017, Class A would now belong to four programs: Breck, Hermantown, St. Thomas Academy, and, eventually, East Grand Forks.

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