I had myself a very Minnesota weekend.
The Boys’ State High School Hockey Tournament hit St. Paul like it does every March. The games on Wednesday were a bit lopsided in the scoring. Lots of blowouts and blanks. But things changed in the Class AA games in the Thursday evening sessions. Nail biters. Upsets.
Minnesota high school hockey.
That brings us to Friday. A beautiful day in the Twin Cities. Jackets were light. Spirits were high. The Let’s Play Hockey Expo brought smiles to the faces of teens, kids, coaches, and parents. Hockey players killed time before, in between, or after their tournament games. High school boys bummed around in their sweats and school branded jackets. And mites ran around with mini sticks and massive grins.
I was there. At the Expo in the afternoon. I may or may not have seen you there. Right after the Expo, I headed down to MOA for dinner and only dinner. I chose the restaurant based not on the menu or chef; rather, I chose the place because a. the line was short b. they had televisions and were showing the State Tourney – Moorhead vs. Hill-Murray semifinal game. And c. the waiter told me he’d change at least one of the TVs from some basketball game to the Gopher hockey game. Glad he followed through on his promise. The Gophs won. Beat Alaska Anchorage. One step closer.
It was a big Friday night. A great Friday night in Minnesota.
But Friday was just the start to the weekend.
Saturday welcomed us with atypical March Minnesota weather. A light jacket was unnecessary. Yet, people bummed around the Expo all day wearing their team’s hoodies and jackets. And Jack Jablonski gear. A reminder to us all that we’re in this together. This game and this state of hockey. Kids and parents bumped into friends and exchanged greetings and hugs in every aisle. 10 year olds and teens texted and talked as they walked, trying to locate their friends and family. Wild players were around the River Centre signing autographs. Booths buzzed with activity (minus the Shattuck booth-not a big hit at the State High School Tourney. Conflict of interest, ya know). Players checked out the latest and greatest gear. TotalHockey bags floated around filled with posters, t-shirts, and brochures for clinics and camps.
Meanwhile, in the X, the Vanelli brothers and their St. Thomas Academy Cadets won the Class A Boys’ State Title against Hermantown. The scores were announced during the Expo to the delights or disappointment of Expo attenders.
Then, around 3pm, I hit the road for another rink. On my way out of the Expo, via the Skyway, I saw a sight that can only be seen in The State of Hockey.
The lines for tickets to Saturday’s Championship game – long. Excited fans, parents, and students waited patiently for tickets to what turned out to be an incredible show.
I’m getting ahead of myself though. I left the Expo and took a detour because of information I received on the radio. Information that told me that 94w was closed – lanes were shutdown for construction. So, I told my phone to detour me. And detour it did. And then, in the end, it dumped me right back on 94 where I found out that there was no need for my ridiculous detour in the first place.
But I made it. On time. To see the Gopher Women’s game. The Gophers hosted the Sioux women and beat them 5-1. It should have been about 8-1 but the ladies couldn’t buy a goal-open net and all. Still. The Gopher women are ready to tackle next weekend in Duluth for the Semifinals. Be sure to congratulate those fine women and cheer them on next weekend.
I left Ridder just as Gopher fans were pulling into the parking lots and walking in the doors of Mariucci for the Men’s game against Alaska Anchorage. I rushed home, via more detours, accidental again. And I made it in time to watch the Gopher men struggle to capitalize on PP chances in the second. But then dominate in the third to close the deal. How bout that Haula? He’s on fire at the right time as the Gophers get ready to head to St. Paul via 94.
They’ll be at the X. Home away from home – home of Minnesota hockey. Wild and all. They’ll be at the Final Five. Hopefully winning in the same building that the Benilde-St. Margaret’s Red Knights won their first Class AA title in. Grant Besse scored all five of the Benilde goals. FIVE! What a kid! And what a story. From their tragedy in December with Jack Jablonski’s career-ending injury, Ken Pauly’s Red Knights fought hard to honor their teammate and show everyone that they were stronger and would not be denied. Not when they believe in miracles.
But lest you think Hill-Murray doesn’t get it, that they don’t know tragedy, read up on Duke Pieper and you’ll see that the Pioneers know all too well what it looks and feels like to lose a great player and teammate and how to fight through the tough times. Together. As a team.
That’s what makes the State Hockey Tournament so great. Aside from the phenomenal hockey you’ll witness, it truly is a showcase of all things Minnesotan. And it shows our strength. Pride. And determination. Our rallying efforts around kids we love and teams we celebrate.
All the pros and out of towners who say there is nothing like it. That in all there years of living here in the US or Canada, they’ve never seen people this excited for high school hockey. I mean, when 19, 880 people fill an NHL rink to watch 15-18 year old boys play – you know it’s good. And you know those pros, Canadian and all, mean every single word.
Don’t take my word for it. Or Brett Hull’s. Plan your spring break trip to MN next March. You’re welcome to see what all the fuss is about at the State Tourney and hockey expo. And I guarantee you’ll catch some great hockey and hear human interest stories that will pique your interest.
We welcome you to our very Minnesotan State Hockey Tournament anytime you can come to our Gopher nation.
MN Meditations is on Instagram @mnmeditations