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Three-Time State Champion Is Focused On Four, Not Five
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/28/2014 7:06:18 PM

History is on the horizon for Cameron Sykora, an 11th-grade wrestler from Border West, but he isn’t looking off into the distance. As he said Friday after winning his first two matches at the state tournament, “One title at a time, one match at a time.”

Wrestling in the 120-pound division of Class 1A, Sykora won twice Friday to advance to Saturday morning’s semifinal round. He won by technical fall in both matches, defeating Aitkin sophomore Tyler Bare in the opening round and then Ryan Killeen, a sophomore from Spectrum of Elk River. In the semifinals, Sykora will meet Osakis sophomore Brendon Coyer.

Sykora already owns three state titles and could become only the fifth wrestler in state history to win five championships. The others are Matt Nagel of Frazee (1997-2001), Eric Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (1999-2003), Zach Sanders of Wabasha-Kellogg (2003-07) and Destin McCauley of Apple Valley (2006-08, 2010-11).

When I asked Cameron how often people mention five titles to him, he smiled and said, “A lot. I just don’t try to think about it too much. Anyone can get beat on any given day. Anything can happen, especially here.”

As an eighth-grader Sykora won a state title at 103 pounds, as a ninth-grader he won a title at 106 and last year he won at at 113. Border West is a cooperative team that includes wrestlers from Herman-Norcross, Wheaton and Clinton-Graceville-Beardsley. Sykora attends Wheaton, but Xcel Energy Center has become a home away from home.

“I love wrestling here,” he said. “It’s probably the best venue to wrestle in and I feel like I just wrestle better here, with all the lights and all the people. It doesn’t get any better than that.”

--Apple Valley sophomore Mark Hall remains on track to become the first wrestler to win six state titles. He took home gold medals as a seventh-, eighth- and ninth-grader and is competing in Class 3A at 170 pounds this weekend. He breezed through the first two rounds with falls Friday and will meet Hastings senior Dan Marquette in the semifinals.

--In Class 2A, Kasson-Mantorville senior heavyweight Sam Stoll won both of his matches Friday with falls, meaning he has pinned 60 consecutive opponents. The National Federation of State High School Associations record book lists the record for consecutive falls as 54.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--The state wrestling tournament is always a place where friendships are renewed. One example: I ran into Bob Dettmer on Friday in the Xcel Center lobby. He is a former teacher and head wrestling coach at Forest Lake who has been a member of the Minnesota House of Representative since 2006. Since retiring as Forest Lake’s head coach, Bob has worked as a wrestling official. And this season, while continuing to referee matches, he returned to the Forest Lake team as an assistant coach.

--On Twitter, I sometimes offer free tickets to tournaments, often by holding contests that result in people winning freebies. One of Friday’s winners was Farmington High School senior Godfrey Mpetey, pictured here. (And I often make the winners pose for a photo, which I then Tweet.)

--Nice job by a quartet of students from Kerkhoven-Murdock-Sunburg, who sang the national anthem before Friday’s second session of state wrestling.

--Things I saw at the wrestling tournament Friday: A wrestler wearing a John Deere t-shirt over his singlet … A cheerleader wearing a camo jacket … Baby pins (signifying wrestling pins) attached to letter jackets and backpacks.

--Preliminaries in the boys state swimming and diving championships were held Friday at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center, with Class 1A in the afternoon and 2A in the evening. State titles will be decided Saturday.

--The boys state hockey tournament fields are almost set. The final three section title games were held Friday evening …

4A/ Totino-Grace 5, Mahtomedi 4 (OT)
5AA/ Centennial 2, Blaine 1
4AA/ Stillwater 2, Hill-Murray 1

Here are the teams that will compete next week in the boys state hockey tournament …

CLASS 1A
1A/ New Prague
2A/ Orono
3A/ Luverne
4A/ Totino-Grace
5A/ Chisago Lakes
6A/ St. Cloud Cathedral
7A/ Hermantown
8A/ East Grand Forks

CLASS 2A
1AA/ Lakeville North
2AA/ Edina
3AA/ Eagan
4AA/ Stillwater
5AA/ Centennial
6AA/ Eden Prairie
7AA/ Duluth East
8AA/ Roseau

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 347
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,492
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



State Wrestling Tournament: There’s Nothing Quite Like it
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/27/2014 3:32:40 PM

I like to describe the state wrestling tournament as equal parts state fair, family reunion and Super Bowl. The event always draws a gigantic and enthusiastic crowd, and that’s certainly the case this week at Xcel Energy Center. From the first whistle of Thursday’s opening matches, the big barn in downtown St. Paul was raucous and rocking.

With eight mats filling the floor of the arena, there is no shortage of excitement. Thursday was devoted to team competition, with Apple Valley in Class 3A winning its ninth consecutive state championship, Simley winning in 2A and Chatfield claiming the 1A state championship.

The action will turn to the individuals beginning Friday morning, culminating with state championship matches on Saturday night.

Some sights and sounds from day one of the state tournament …

--Running into Grand Meadow police chief Jim Richardson, who is known in the wrestling world as The Unit. Jim is a large, chiseled man who is an assistant coach for the Grand Meadow/LeRoy-Ostrander/Kingsland team. His son Wyatt, a junior 195-pounder, has qualified for state. Or as Jim referred to Wyatt, “Little Unit.”

--Fans from Atwater-Cosmos-Grove City sing-songily chanting “A! C! G! C!”

--A giant cluster of blue clothing in the middle of the lower level on one side of the arena … turns out it was fans from both Foley and Pequot Lakes/Pine River-Backus.

--In the most exciting finish of the day, Scott West led Foley 24-23 in the Class 2A team semifinals with only the heavyweights remaining. After the match was scoreless into the third period, Scott West’s Josiah Schatz won by fall to boost the Panthers into the state championship match. Bedlam ensued.

--A homemade sign in the Kasson-Mantorville stands, carrying one word: “SAM.” Except the “S” was in the form of a Superman “S” … signifying Super Sam Stoll, the KoMets senior heavyweight who is undefeated and has pinned 58 opponents in a row dating back more than a year.

--The voices of public-address announcers Frank Whitcomb, Steve Heslop and Paul Leifeld seamlessly keeping everyone informed of match scores, team scores and what will happen next.

--Hearing an already screaming crowd crank it up a few notches when the referee slaps the mat.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE

--The boys state swimming and diving championship began Thursday with diving preliminaries in both Class 1A and 2A at the University of Minnesota Aquatic Center. Swimming prelims will be held Friday and championships will be decided Saturday.

--The fields for next week’s boys state hockey tournament are starting to take shape. In section finals Wednesday, Hermantown in Class 1A and Edina, Eden Prairie and Roseau clinched spots at state in 2A.

Nine more section finals were held Thursday night …

1A/ New Prague 3, Mankato West 2
2A/ Orono 2, Breck 1
3A/ Luverne 6, New Ulm 1
5A/ Chisago Lakes 5, Princeton 4
6A/ St. Cloud Cathedral 2, Alexandria 1
8A/ East Grand Forks 3, Warroad 2 (2 OT)
1AA/ Lakeville North 6, Farmington 0
3AA/ Eagan 4, St. Thomas Academy 2
7AA/ Duluth East 3, Elk River 2 (OT)

The state hockey fields will be set after Friday’s section finals …

4A/ Mahtomedi vs. Totino-Grace
4AA/ Stillwater vs. Hill-Murray
5AA/ Centennial vs. Blaine

And on the basketball court at Greenway High School in Coleraine, Chisholm and Cherry met in the boys Class 2A Section 7 playoffs. Chisholm coach Bob McDonald is in his 59th and final season, and his Bluestreaks pulled out a nail-biter against Cherry, winning 55-54 on a buzzer-beater.

What a day!

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 347
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,452
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



High Honor For Chisholm’s Bob McDonald: National Hall Of Fame
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/25/2014 4:10:37 PM

Bob McDonald has accomplished more and received more accolades than possibly any coach in Minnesota history. And the Chisholm High School boys basketball coach – who will retire after this season with a state-record 1,000-plus victories in 59 seasons – learned this week that he will receive the highest high school athletic honor in the country.

McDonald will be inducted into the National High School Hall of Fame.

McDonald received a phone call from the National Federation of State High School Associations office in Indianapolis, informing him of the honor. The induction ceremony will be held July 2 in Boston as part of the NFHS annual convention at the Boston Marriott Copley Place, where high school governing bodies from all 50 states will gather. The MSHSL nominated McDonald for the Hall of Fame; he was unaware of the nomination until this week.

“It is a great honor,” McDonald said. “I will be there. I’m not much for travel and not much for fame, either. I’ll have to rev up my wife and see if she’ll go with me.”

McDonald, a native of Chisholm, began his coaching career at McGregor in 1955. He moved to Barnum in 1959 and returned to Chisholm to become head coach in 1961. His career record is 1,011-427, making him one of only 13 high school boys basketball coaches in the country with more than 1,000 victories.

In 53 years as coach of the Bluestreaks, his teams have had only six losing seasons. He has taken 11 teams to the state tournament and won state championships in 1973, 1975 and 1991. All six of his children became basketball coaches. Currently, Mike is the boys coach at Cambridge-Isanti, Tom is the boys coach at Ely, Joel is the boys coach at Hibbing and Paul is the men’s coach at Vermilion Community College in Ely as well as an MSHSL basketball official.

New members of the Hall of Fame are inducted in a formal ceremony that caps the annual NFHS convention. Other members of the Class of 2014 are expected to be announced by the NFHS next week. A dozen members are inducted each year.

Male inductees wear tuxedos for the Hall of Fame ceremony, to which McDonald said with a laugh, “I don’t know if I can take that, coming from the sticks.”

He will become the 12th Minnesotan inducted into the Hall of Fame. The others are:

Billy Bye, Thief River Falls/Anoka, multiple sports (2009)
Barb Seng, Henry Sibley/White Bear Lake/MSHSL, fine arts (2008)
Terry Steinbach, New Ulm, baseball/hockey (2007)
Dorothy McIntyre, Eden Prairie/MSHSL, pioneer/administrator (2003)
Kevin McHale, Hibbing, basketball (2000)
Paul Giel, Winona, multiple sports (1998)
Willard Ikola, Edina, hockey (1992)
Jerry Seeman, official (1992)
Bronko Nagurski, International Falls, football (1989)
Janet Karvonen, New York Mills, basketball (1987)
John Mayasich, Eveleth, hockey (1986)

Other members of the Hall of Fame include Jesse Owens, Larry Bird, John Wooden, Red Grange, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer, Paul Hornung, Bart Starr, Jackie Robinson, Steve Prefontaine, Joe Theismann, Fred Hoiberg and many others.

McDonald was inducted into the Minnesota Basketball Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 1990 and the MSHSL Hall of Fame in 2013.

The Chisholm basketball team finished the regular season with a record of 17-8 and will open postseason play Thursday night against Cherry in Coleraine.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,412
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Memorable Moments On One Of The Busiest Days Of The Year
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/22/2014 9:56:21 PM

Saturday was one of those days that goes by quickly, almost in the blink of an eye. There was so much happening in MSHSL activities around the state that keeping up with everything was all but impossible.

Personal example: I attempted to multitask on Saturday evening, watching the Class 2A girls hockey championship game between Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Hill-Murray from the Xcel Energy Center press box while wearing headphones and listening to a boys basketball game between Ely and Chisholm via the online stream of WELY radio in Ely. Oh, and I was also following the state gymnastics meet -- as well as a raft of other events -- via Twitter.

Here’s some of what took place Saturday: The girls state hockey tournament culminated with championship games … state gymnastics titles were decided at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion … state entrants in wrestling and boys swimming and diving were decided at section championships … section tournaments in boys hockey were underway … and the boys basketball regular season came to a conclusion. Whew.

The boys basketball game in Chisholm was a very special event. Chisholm’s Bob McDonald, 80, coached his final home game and final regular-season game. McDonald will retire after this season, his 59th as a head coach.

Saturday’s game was a family affair, because Ely is coached by McDonald’s son Tom. And there was a lot on the line in the form of postseason section seeding. Ely came out on top 70-55, which means the Timberwolves (25-1) will be the top seed in the Class 1A Section 7 north subsection; Chisholm (17-8) will be the No. 2 seed, meaning the McDonalds could meet once more.

Bob McDonald’s career record is 1,011-434. He is the only coach in Minnesota history to win 1,000 games.

Here’s a look at some of Saturday’s other championship highlights …

1A GIRLS HOCKEY: BLAKE MAKES HISTORY

Blake not only won its second consecutive 1A state title with a 3-2 victory over East Grand Forks, but the Bears also became the first team in the 20-year history of the girls state hockey tournament to capture five first-place trophies.

The Bears (23-7-1), who also won in 2003, 2007, 2009 and last year, had been tied with South St. Paul, which won it all in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006.

“It’s very, very special,” Blake coach Shawn Reid said. “It’s an incredible feeling. This team is different than last year’s team, and they’re both really special experiences for me.”

East Grand Forks (25-3-1) scored the game’s first two goals, with sisters Haley and Alexa Mack combining on both. Haley got the first one with an assist from Alexa, and they reversed that formula on the Green Wave’s second goal, with the second assist going to Riley Koberinski.

Carly Bullock, Sylvie Wallin and Alex Lovaas took over offensively for Blake in the final two periods. Bullock scored on a Lovaas assist midway through the second period and Wallin made it a 2-2 game early in the third with assists from Lovaas and Bullock. The game-winner was scored by Wallin with assists by Lovaas and Bullock at the 6:04 mark of the third.

“There’s a lot of skill on the team, a lot of team speed, lot of heart, and also a tradition of excellence,” Reid said. “At Blake we have high expectations in the classroom and high expectations in athletics.”

East Grand Forks was the top-seeded team in the tournament; this was the Green Wave’s first trip to state. The East Grand Forks boys hockey team has been to state eight times, most recently last year. The Green Wave boys have played in one state championship game, losing to Benilde-St. Margaret’s 4-2 in Class 1A in 1999.

2A GIRLS HOCKEY: HILL-MURRAY IS CHAMP

Hill-Murray captured its first girls hockey state title with a 5-3 victory over Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Jess Bonfe scored the first two goals for the Pioneers (26-3-1) and Jac Kaasa and Lindsey Featherstone completed the scoring. Kelly Pannek had a hat trick for Benilde-St. Margaret’s (26-3-1)

GIRLS HOCKEY CONSOLATION GAMES

1A third place/ Red Wing 5, St. Paul United 2: Nicole Schammel scored twice for the Wingers, who finished third at state for the second year in a row. Schammel finished her state tournament career with 20 goals, one behind the all-time record of 21 held by Krissy Wendell of Park Center in 2000. Alev Baysoy scored twice for St. Paul United.

1A fifth place/ Proctor-Hermantown 4, Alexandria 1: Sophie McGovern scored two goals for the Mirage, including one of her team’s three goals in the third period. Reilly Fawcett had a goal and assist for Proctor-Hermantown.

2A third place/ Lakeville North 5, Eden Prairie 1: Maddie McGlade scored two goals as the Panthers defeated the Eagles. Dani Sadek had a goal and two assists for North.

2A fifth place/ Andover 1, Mounds View 0: A power-play goal by Mikayla Goodin with 1:42 to play lifted the Huskies past the Mustangs.

HOCKEY ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAMS

Class 1A/ Sophie McGovern, Proctor-Hermantown; Emily Stegora, Nicole Schammel, Red Wing; Catherine Johnson, St. Paul United; Carly Bullock, Lilia Everson, Sylvie Wallin, Blake; Alexa Mack, Haley Mack, Karly Nelson, Madi Galstad, Mak Langei, East Grand Forks.

Class 2A/ Maddie Rooney, Mikayla Goodin, Andover; Dani Sadek, Maddie McGlade, Taylor Flaherty, Lakeville North; Bella Sutton, Mounds View; Caitlin Reilly, Kelly Pannek, Benilde-St. Margaret’s; Brittney Anderson, Jess Bonfe, Leah Patrick, Rebecca Zarembinski, Hill-Murray.

STATE GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

--Austin senior Sela Fadness won her second consecutive Class 1A all-around in competition at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Melrose senior Jailyn Brinkman was second and Melrose junior Lydia Butkowski was third. Fadness won the vault, beam and floor exercise, while Brinkman won the uneven bars.

--In Class 2A, Northfield junior Bailey DuPay repeated as the all-around champion. Finishing second was Winona Cotter seventh-grader Halle Remlinger, third was Roseville junior Isis Muller. DuPay won the uneven bars, balance beam and floor exercise. Brainerd senior Beth Etterman was the vault champion.

--Photos by www.mnprepphoto.com ... more photos on the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,412
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn




East Grand Forks: First Time At State And Loving Every Minute
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/21/2014 6:03:54 PM

Some of the greatest scenes during this week’s girls state hockey tournament have unfolded behind the scenes, where the only onlookers are members of the media. After each game, the head coaches and selected players are brought into the interview room, where they sit at a table in front of the reporters and answer questions.

When the East Grand Forks contingent enters the room, it’s a large contingent. That’s because not only does coach Jim Scanlan and a couple of players sit at the table, most of the rest of the players sit among the media.

The Green Wave – making its first trip to state – is having a grand old time in the Class 1A field. Carrying the No. 1 seed, the Wave beat Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 8-1 in the quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center and in Friday’s semifinals they rallied to defeat St. Paul United 3-2.

As Scanlan and sisters Haley and Alexa Mack talked about the game, the other players smiled, giggled and even broke into applause at one point. Part of the equation is that it is East Grand Forks’ first time at the tournament, and that always bring wide eyes. And yes, winning certainly makes things more fun. And the Green Wave is having tons of fun.

The win over St. Paul United might have looked unlikely after United took a 2-1 lead going into the third period on two goals by Alev Baysoy. Alexa Mack had scored for the Wave in the first period, Mak Langei tied it 2-2 on a power-play goal in the third period and Alexa Mack scored on another power play to provide the winning margin.

East Grand Forks tested United goaltender Catherine Johnson, putting 34 shots on net to 16 for United. That was part of the strategy for the Wave: attack, pound the puck and make good things happen.

“We knew somebody on our team would step up and make a play,” said Haley Mack. “We were just hoping to get pucks to the net and someone would pop one in.”

Scanlan described an emotional postgame locker room.

“I told the girls they never cease to amaze me,” he said. “It was pretty emotional. This team has believed all year long, they never quit, and I told them I was proud of them. They’re three periods away from a state title.”

East Grand Forks will meet defending champion Blake in Saturday’s noon championship game. The Bears also had to withstand a challenge in the semifinals before defeating Red Wing 5-4 in double overtime.

ENVISIONING SUCCESS

Blake had held a 4-2 lead over Red Wing before the Wingers came roaring back to make it a 4-4 game. One overtime had ended and the Bears were catching their breath before returning to the ice. Carly Bullock, a sophomore sensation who leads Blake in scoring, had scored her team’s fourth goal. She described the scene in the locker room at Xcel Energy Center:

“We wanted it real bad and we all were getting pretty tired. We talked about how good it would feel to score and go to the championship. Our energy was high even though everyone was really tired. It was great.”

It became even greater for the defending champions when Bullock scored 38 seconds into the second overtime. Bedlam on the ice. A pile of Blake players.

"This was definitely one of the most memorable games,” said Bullock, who has scored 49 goals this season. “Obviously winning state last year was one of the best, but this was such a close game; double overtime and we wanted it so bad. It’s obviously one of the biggest games, probably of my high school career."

The Bears will attempt to win back-to-back state titles for the first time in program history; they also won championships in 2002, 2007 and 2009 as well as last year. This is Blake’s seventh state tournament appearance and their four championships, tied with South St. Paul for the most in Class 1A. Blake has never lost in a state title game.

Red Wing, meanwhile, remains a team that has yet to play for a state championship. The Wingers have become one of the top programs in Class 1A, but their record against Blake is 0-5.

“We want our program to be in that conversation, among the top teams in Class A year in and year out,” said coach Scott Haley. “I think we’re there, but we just can’t get over that final hurdle.”

Nicole Schammel had two goals and one assist Thursday, including the goal that tied the game 4-4 in the third period. She has scored 18 goals in four state tournaments; the record is 21 by Krissy Wendell of Park Center. Red Wing will finish its season in Saturday’s third-place game against St. Paul United.

--When the Wingers’ Emily Stegora scored to make it Blake 4, Red Wing 3 late in the second period, the Red Wing fans broke out in song, singing Happy Birthday to Emily.

CLASS 2A: HILL-MURRAY, BENILDE-ST. MARGARET’S ADVANCE

--Hill-Murray 1, Eden Prairie 0: A goal by Kenzie Prater midway through the first period was all the Pioneers needed to advance. Hill-Murray outshot the Eagles 29-8. A year ago, the Pioneers lost to Minnetonka 3-1 in the championship game.

--Benilde-St. Margaret’s 2, Lakeville North 1: Kelly Pannek had a goal and an assists to help the Red Knights defeat the Panthers. Kasandra Petersen put Benilde ahead 1-0 in the first period and North’s Dani Sadek tied the score later in the first. Pannek’s winning goal came at 3:37 of the second period.

CLASS 2A CONSOLATION BRACKET

--Andover 2, Burnsville 1 (two overtimes): Mikayla Goodwin scored the winning goal for the Huskies one minute into the second overtime at Ridder Arena.

--Mounds View 4, Roseau 3 (two overtimes): A power-play goal by Bailey Thompson at 11:18 of the second overtime moved the Mustangs into Saturday’s fifth-place game against Andover at Ridder Arena.

STATE GYMNASTICS CHAMPIONSHIPS

Melrose captured the Class 1A gymnastics team title Friday at the University of Minnesota Sports Pavilion. Melrose had a score of 149. 575, followed by New Prague (149.050) and Detroit Lakes (148.450).

In the 2A team championships, Roseville captured the title with a score of 151.800. Next were Northfield (150.800) and Wayzata (148.650).

All-around and individual event champions in both classes will be decided Saturday.

FRIDAY’S HOCKEY GAMES AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER

Class 1A Semifinals
Blake 5, Red Wing 4 (two overtimes)
East Grand Forks 3, St. Paul United 2

Class 2A Semifinals
Hill-Murray 1, Eden Prairie 0
Benilde-St. Margaret’s 2, Lakeville North 1

SATURDAY’S GAMES

Class 1A
Fifth-place/ Alexandria vs. Proctor-Hermantown, 10 a.m. at Ridder Arena
Third-place/ Red Wing vs. St. Paul United, 9 a.m. at Xcel Energy Center
Championship/ Blake vs. East Grand Forks, noon at Xcel Energy Center

Class 2A
Fifth-place/ Andover vs. Mounds View, noon at Ridder Arena
Third-place/ Eden Prairie vs. Lakeville North, 4 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center
Championship/ Hill-Murray vs. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, 7 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,372
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



For Hill-Murray, The Best Offense Is A Great Defense
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/20/2014 5:46:35 PM

One of the keys to Hill-Murray’s 4-1 victory over Burnsville in the Class 2A girls hockey state quarterfinals Thursday at Xcel Energy Center was the Pioneers’ smothering defensive effort. Burnsville was held to 11 shots on goal, with five in first period, five in the second and only one in the third.

“That’s definitely a strength of our team,” Hill-Murray coach Bill Schafhauser said. “We rely on that.”

The Pioneers led 2-0 after the first period on a power-play goal by Jess Bonfe and an even-strength goal by Rebecca Zarembinski. Kenzie Prater and Brittney Anderson scored in the second period, as did Burnsville’s Paige Skaja.

Hill-Murray didn’t get its first shot on goal until nearly midway through the first period, but the Pioneers never got rattled.

“I didn’t really notice it very much,” said goaltender Leah Patrick. “Our forwards always come back. We start progressing through the game and I knew they’d get it. They’re all hungry to score and they fight really hard.”

Burnsville’s top line of Lindsey Coleman, Britta Nelson and Skaja have played together for four years and they finished first, second and third in scoring in the South Suburban Conference this season. Coleman had four shots on goal against Hill-Murray while Nelson and Skaja each had two.

The game’s key momentum swing came in the third period. Skaja’s goal made the score Hill-Murray 3, Burnsville 1 and the Blaze had reason for excitement. But Anderson scored 22 seconds later for the Pioneers.

“We kept telling the kids, ‘Let’s get one, let’s chip away,’ ” said Blaze coach Tracy Cassano. “We’ve faced adversity all year, our kids are resilient, they keep fighting. When Paige scored we felt like there was a little momentum swing, our bench went nuts and our fans went nuts. And then boom, they answered back.”

--In the day’s second game, Eden Prairie rallied from a 2-1 deficit to defeat Andover 4-2. Goals by Sierra Langlie and Abbie Turpin put the Huskies in front 2-1 before Eden Prairie scored the game’s final three goals.

The Eagles’ Charly Dahlquist tied it 2-2 late in the second period and put her team ahead 3-2 early in the third. An empty-net goal by Kate Rydland sealed it for the Eagles.

“There were definitely some big momentum shifts,” said Andover coach Melissa Sailor. “It was big after we went ahead 2-1, and then they scored. It would have been really big to go into the third period leading 2-1.”

OTHER CLASS 2A QUARTERFINALS

--Benilde-St. Margaret’s 7, Roseau 0: The top-seeded Red Knights broke loose after a scoreless first period to advance to Friday’s semifinals. Kelly Pannek had three goals and three assists for Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Caitlin Reilly had a goal and three assists.

--Lakeville North 3, Mounds 2 (3 overtimes): In a game that ended shortly before 11 p.m., the winner came when Morgan Manes redirected a shot into the net 59 seconds into the third overtime. North has experience in overtime games at state; last year in the semifinals the Panthers lost to Minnetonka 4-3 in a six-overtime game that ended at 1:02 a.m.

A STATE TOURNEY TRIFECTA

Brad Bergstrom, who is the principal at Austin High School, was one of the linesmen for Wednesday night’s Class 1A quarterfinal game between East Grand Forks and Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato. The game gave Bergstrom a rare trifecta of state hockey experiences.

He is a native of International Falls and played in the 1983 boys state hockey tournament. He was the head coach of the boys hockey team at Fergus Falls from 1997 to 2002 and took the Otters to six consecutive state tournaments. And this week he is working the girls state tourney as an official for the first time.

Bergstrom, who has been a hockey official for 10 years, worked a consolation-bracket game at Ridder Arena on Thursday and will work one game Friday back at Xcel Energy Center.

“Yes, the game of hockey has been very good to me,” he said.

SOUNDS OF THE TOURNAMENT

Canada defeated the U.S. 3-2 in overtime to win the Olympic gold medal in women’s hockey Thursday. Canada overcame a late 2-0 deficit, and when the Canadians scored to tie it 2-2 with 54.6 seconds left in regulation, a resounding “NOOO!” was heard in the corridor behind the team benches at Xcel Energy Center, where players and tournament workers were watching on several TVs.

CLASS 1A CONSOLATION BRACKET

--Alexandria 4, New Ulm 3 (three overtimes): Alexandria ninth-grader McKenzie Revering scored an unassisted goal with 2:40 left in the third overtime; it was her fifth goal of the season.

--Proctor-Hermantown 4, Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 1: Karie Lenard and Jillayne Gilbert each scored two goals for the Mirage. Sarah Kivisto had Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato’s goal.

FRIDAY’S GAMES AT XCEL ENERGY CENTER

Class 1A Semifinals
11 a.m.: Blake vs Red Wing
1 p.m.: East Grand Forks vs. St Paul United

Class 2A Semifinals
6 p.m.: Hill-Murray vs. Eden Prairie
8 p.m.: Benilde-St. Margaret’s vs. Lakeville North

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 323
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,332
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Red Wing’s Schammel Is Among Elite Girls Hockey Company
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/19/2014 4:05:50 PM

Nicole Schammel is a senior hockey player from Red Wing who is in the final stages of a stellar high school career. She holds school records in career goals and points and has signed a letter of intent to play Division I college hockey at Minnesota State Mankato.

Schammel had three goals and three assists in the Winger’s 7-2 victory over New Ulm in Wednesday's Class 1A state quarterfinals at Xcel Energy Center. On the season she has 61 goals, more than any other player in the tournament field.

As her high school hockey career comes to its conclusion this week, she was surprised to learn Wednesday where she ranks among some of the game’s legendary players.

Natalie Darwitz, who played at Eagan from 1997 to 2000 before continuing her career at the University of Minnesota as well as in the Olympics, is the state’s all-time leader with 468 career points. Schammel is No. 2 on that list with 452 points.

On the career goal-scoring list, Darwitz is first with 316, Schammel has 269 and Krissy Wendell (Park Center, 1998-2000) is third at 219. Wendell also played for the Gophers and in the Olympics, so that’s some pretty good company.

“That’s pretty cool,” Schammel said. “Obviously those guys are great. It’s an honor.”

Schammel plays on one of the top lines in the state with senior Emily Stegora and junior Reagan Haley. That trio did all the scoring for the Wingers on Wednesday. Stegora will also play at Minnesota State Mankato and Haley has made a verbal commitment to Minnesota Duluth.

“They might go down as one of the highest-scoring trios in high school league history,” said Red Wing coach Scott Haley. “What’s neat is the synergy between those three.”

That synergy extends beyond the ice. Schammel and Stegora are doubles partners on the Wingers tennis team, and they reached the section semifinals last fall. Haley, Schammel and junior Kayla Oberding are members of the golf team, which placed fourth in the Class 3A state tournament last spring.

“It’s a pretty special group,” Haley said. “We’ve really enjoyed watching these three play.”

YOUTH MOVEMENT

If there is a younger group of girls at Xcel Energy Center during this week’s state tournament than the Blake hockey team, they’re probably selling Girl Scout cookies. Yes, the Bears are the defending Class 1A state champions, but they also have a roster packed with very young players.

Eight players graduated from last year’s Blake team, and nine of the 20 players on the 2014 state tournament roster are in seventh, eighth or ninth grade. The Bears’ class breakdown goes like this: three seniors, three juniors, five sophomores, four freshmen, three eighth-graders, two seventh-graders.

“I’m happy with the poise they’ve exhibited all season,” coach Shawn Reid said after the Bears defeated Alexandria 3-2 in Wednesday’s quarterfinals. “We have some really good poise on this team. The younger players are playing above their maturity level, which is phenomenal to see.”

Blake’s goals Thursday were scored by sophomores Carly Bullock (two goals) and Sylvie Wallin. One of Bullock’s goals was unassisted, and the assists on the other two Bears goals were by junior Lilia Everson and ninth-grader Sarah Levitt.

MULTI-TASKING AT ITS FINEST

Both of Alexandria’s goals against Blake were scored by senior Melissa Drown, who does much more than play hockey. Melissa not only is a captain on the hockey team, she is president of her school’s A Club, president of the Liberty Livewires 4H club, student council vice president, member of the National Honor Society and has a 3.8 GPA while taking advanced and college-level classes.

EVENING ACTION

--In a game between teams making their first appearances at the state tourney, top-seeded East Grand Forks defeated Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 8-1. Haley Mack had four goals for the Green Wave and Alexa Mack had one goal and three assists. Kennedy Sommerfeld had the goal for Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato.

--St. Paul United defeated Proctor/Hermantown 5-2 in the day’s last quarterfinal. Joie Phelps had two goals for St. Paul United, which was outshot 26-21 by the Mirage. St. Paul United is a cooperative team with players from Visitation and St. Paul Academy and Summit School.

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--The best scene in the formal postgame interview room: While East Grand Forks coach Jim Scanlan and players Haley Mack and Coco Piche sat at a table in front of the gathered media, the rest of the Green Wave players sat with the reporters. As the session ended, the players applauded.

--Blake is the defending champion, and two of the key scorers in the Bears’ 2013 state title lineup returned this season .. and they are not yet seniors. Bullock and Karlie Lund (now a junior) were both named to the Class 1A all-tournament team a year ago. Bullock had four goals and two assists in three games at state last time and Lund finished with five goals (including a hat trick in the state semifinals) and five assists.

The Bears are playing without Lund at state, however. Coach Shawn Reid had some fun when talking about her status, jokingly using an approach common in the NHL: “Karlie is questionable with an upper body injury (end of joke). She has a broken collarbone, she’s out.”

--Blake is seeking not only its second consecutive state championship but its fifth overall. The Bears won titles in 2003, 2007, 2009 and 2013.

--New Ulm (which is a cooperative team involving New Ulm, New Ulm Cathedral, Sleepy Eye and Sleepy Eye St. Mary’s) is making its sixth consecutive appearance at state.

--Top-seeded East Grand Forks is playing at state for the first time. The Green Wave met Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato is Wednesday’s 6 p.m. game. Wednesday’s action also was the first at state for Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato, as well as for St. Paul United ( a cooperative team with players from Visitation and St. Paul Academy and Summit School), which met Proctor-Hermantown in the day’s final game.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 315
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,292
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Dance Season Closes With A Terrific State Tournament
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/15/2014 10:32:16 PM

The high school dance season culminated in grand fashion over the weekend, with 36 teams advancing to the state tourney in the Jazz division and 36 more advancing in High Kick. After the first round in each division, six of the 12 teams in each class advanced to the championship round at Target Center.

In Jazz, here are the championship results…

Class 1A
1. Yellow Medicine East, Granite Falls
2. Marshall School, Duluth
3. Aitkin
4. Frazee
5. Rockford
6. Tracy-Milroy-Balaton

Class 2A
1. Benilde-St. Margaret’s, St. Louis Park
2. Totino-Grace, Fridley
3. Sartell-St. Stephen
4. Simley, Inver Grove Heights
5. South St. Paul
6. Mound Westonka

Class 3A
1. Eastview
2. Wayzata
3. Maple Grove
4. Chaska
5. St. Cloud Tech
6. Brainerd

And in High Kick, the results are …

Class 1A
1. Aitkin
2. Yellow Medicine East
3. Frazee
4. Lac qui Parle Valley/Dawson-Boyd
5. Montevideo
6. Pelican Rapids

Class 2A
1. Totino-Grace
2. Sartell-St. Stephen
3. Cannon Falls
4. Austin
5. St. Cloud Cathedral
6. Holy Angels

Class 3A
1. Eastview
2. Chaska
3. Faribault
4. Eden Prairie
5. Wayzata
6. St. Cloud Tech

Congratulations to all the teams that competed at state!

--To see outstanding photo galleries by Minnesota Prep Photo from the state dance tournament, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 307
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 8,252
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



The Winter Ski Season Is Complete As Nordic Champs Crowned
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/13/2014 4:56:15 PM

BIWABIK -- Thursday brought a fresh few inches of snow to Giants Ridge, where the state Nordic ski championships were held. The snow may have slowed some of the athletes but the day went off without a hitch.

The Wayzata girls captured their second consecutive team title with three individuals finishing among the top 10. Placing second was Armstrong, with Stillwater third.

The girls individual champion was Irondale senior Mattie Watts, followed by Burnsville senior Vivian Hett and Wayzata senior Alayna Sonnesyn.

The boys team champion was Forest Lake, followed by St. Louis Park and Duluth East.

Topping the boys individuals was Bloomington Jefferson sophomore Zak Ketterson, followed by Mounds Park Academy senior Nick Gardner and Forest Lake junior Leo Hipp.

All skiers raced a 5k freestyle course in the morning and a 5k classical event in the afternoon.

Congratulations to all the skiers!



Congratulations To The 2014 Alpine Ski State Champions
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/12/2014 4:38:52 PM

BIWABIK -- Wednesday was a spectacular day for the state Alpine skiing championships, offering wonderful conditions for skiers and fans alike.

Louis Nguyen of Chanhassen is a ninth-grader who competed at state for the third time, and he is now a state champion. Nguyen placed sixth at state as a seventh-grader and seventh as an eighth-grader, and on Wednesday he captured the boys individual championship. Finishing second was Keillen O'Brien, a senior from Cretin-Derham Hall. Third was Taylor Lindy, a senior from Centennial.

On the girls side, senior Megan Greiner of Minnetonka won the individual title, followed by teammate and fellow senior Erin Olejnik in second and Hermantown junior Madison Danelski in third.

Minnetonka also won the girls team title, followed by Blake and Minneapolis Southwest. The boys title went to Blake, with Forest Lake second and Orono third.

Nordic skiers will take the spotlight Thursday, with girls and boys state titles decided among individuals as well as teams.



Hello From Giants Ridge And The State Ski Championships
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/12/2014 1:02:12 AM

BIWABIK – The spotlight turns to skiing for two days, as Giants Ridge hosts the state championships of Alpine and Nordic skiing. Alpine racing will be the focus Wednesday and Nordic takes over Thursday.

While en route to Biwabik, I spent Tuesday evening at historic Roels Gymnasium in Chisholm. Gov. Mark Dayton proclaimed Tuesday as “Bob McDonald Day” in Minnesota, and the Chisholm Bluestreaks played host to the Hibbing Bluejackets, who are coached by Bob’s son Joel.

It was a whale of a ballgame, with Chisholm winning 79-69 in three overtimes; it was the first triple-overtime game in Bob McDonald’s nearly six-decade coaching career.

Before the game, Tony Sertich, former state representative and current commissioner of the Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (he also played basketball at Chisholm), presented Bob McDonald with the proclamation signed by Gov. Dayton. The governor was unable to attend because he underwent hip surgery this week.

In addition, Joel McDonald presented his father with a ball commemorating the 100th game Bob McDonald has coached against Hibbing. Bob McDonald has a 48-52 career record vs. Hibbing. In 34 meetings between father and son, Bob has won 19 games to Joel's 15.

Now we turn our attention to the state ski championships. To receive updates and photos in real time, follow me on Twittter; I’m @MSHSLjohn

Later in the week I plan to attend the 66th annual state one-act play festival on Friday at St. Catherine University's O'Shaughnessy Auditorium in St. Paul (the event begins Thursday), and on Saturday I will attend the second day of the state dance team tournament at Target Center.

This week means a lot of miles, but even more smiles!

--To see photos from the Hibbing-Chisholm game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 283
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,689
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Governor Dayton Proclaims “Bob McDonald Day” in Minnesota
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/10/2014 7:24:36 PM

Governor Mark Dayton has proclaimed Tuesday, Feb. 11 as "Bob McDonald Day" in Minnesota, honoring the longtime boys basketball coach at Chisholm High School, who is in his 59th and final season.

Read the announcement from the governor by clicking here.



Waconia Girls Basketball Team Gets Their Points Across
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/10/2014 3:08:28 PM

Before the basketball season started, Waconia High School girls coach Carl Pierson worked out a promotional agreement with a local restaurant. At selected home games, fans would receive a free appetizer in the restaurant at Island View Golf Club if the Wildcats scored 80 points or more.

The plan didn’t exactly go as envisioned, especially for the restaurant providing all the appetizers.

“After the first game or two, we had to move the number up to 90,” Pierson said. “It was obvious we were going to score 80 a lot.”

That is an understatement. The Wildcats are averaging 93 points per game, which is more than any other girls team in Minnesota. Among the 10 girls teams with the most points this season, six are averaging in the 60s, one averages 70 and two (New Richland-Hartland-Ellendale-Geneva and Maranatha Christian) average 80 or more. Waconia is at the top.

Eyebrows were initially raised after the Wildcats’ season opener, when they defeated St. Anthony Village 111-104 in a tournament at Hamline University. Waconia (Pierson and the team are pictured here) has scored 100 points or more five times since then (and given up 100 or more seven times). The most recent example was a 103-100 loss to Hutchinson on Friday night in a Wright County Conference game at Waconia. The first time those teams met this season, Hutchinson won 112-98.

“Our goal was to score 120 tonight, and I think if we shoot halfway decent free throws we get there,” said Hutchinson coach Tim Ellefson. Indeed, the Tigers made only 24 of 56 free throws.

Pierson made a drastic change in philosophy going into the season. Knowing that his team was undersized and would have trouble playing a half-court game against teams with more size, he decided to play a game of speed. The Wildcats run up the court and down the court, and then run on and off the court in two groups of five, with a few other players seeing playing time as needed. Their style usually forces the opposition to play equally fast. The Wildcats’ record this season is 7-11.

Lots of players play lots of minutes, lots of shots are taken – many from behind the three-point line – and players, officials and coaches are exhausted by game’s end.

“We sub so frequently,” Pierson said. “They just have to go as hard as they can for about two minutes and they get a break. My favorite line so far came after we played Buffalo. They beat us 112-104 and after the game (Buffalo coach) Scot Sorenson said, ‘I am exhausted.’ He just looked beat. He expended so much energy in that game.”

Hutchinson’s Ellefson said that during his team’s first meeting with Waconia, the iPad program they use to keep in-game statistics became useless when the score got to 100; the program was not built to handle triple digits.

At halftime of Friday’s game, the teams had combined for 103 points and 38 turnovers. That’s often the result of Waconia’s running, gunning style … high-scoring games with plenty of turnovers, fouls and free throws.

“We tried to put it all together into something that would fit our kids,” Pierson said. “It would work fantastically if we could make shots. We’re averaging 93 points a game but we’re not shooting the ball worth a lick.

“It’s very much an attacking style of offense. We put the ball in the hands of our point guard and say ‘Attack the rim.’ If somebody can kick out and shoot the three, we’ll do it. There’s not much to scout if you’re scouting us. We get shots off pretty quick.”

Junior point guard Anna Schmitt leads the Wildcats with a scoring average of 30 points per game. Also averaging in double figures are sophomore Madelin Dammann (13) and senior Miranda Schultz (12).

“There’s not a lot of standing around, obviously,” said Schmitt (pictured). “It’s fun. You get the team to shoot fast; if they make it or you get a rebound you’re pushing it as fast as you can right up the floor. It’s fun to get open shots all the time and knock them down.”

Pierson said the Wildcats’ style of play would be difficult without Schmitt.

“Anna is so fast and so explosive as a scorer. She’s worth the price of admission alone. She’ll shoot threes off the dribble, she’s unguardable. She’s averaging almost eight assists per game. She’d be averaging 10 or more if we would make some layups.”

Schmitt came into the season with 416 career points, and she has scored nearly 600 so far this season. She should reach the 1,000-point milestone this week.

Asked if his players were having fun, Pierson said, “The bottom line is they still want to win games, too. I think if we were 11-7 and not 7-11 it would be a lot easier to say yes.

“One thing I like about it is we get a lot more kids involved. There really is almost no such thing as a bad shot. Everybody has the green light all the time. It is entertaining for the fans.”

And oftentimes the fans get a free appetizer.

--To see a photo gallery from the Hutchinson-Waconia game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 281
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,407
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



The Voice Of Hockey: Gary Thorne Set For Boys State Tourney
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/7/2014 12:57:43 PM

If you want to listen to someone who is excited about the boys state hockey tournament, listen to the familiar voice of Gary Thorne. The veteran broadcaster, who is well-known for his work with the NHL, Major League Baseball, ESPN, the Olympics and college hockey and football, will handle play-by-play duties on KSTC-Channel 45 for the Class 2A state tourney March 6-8 at Xcel Energy Center.

I talked with Thorne on the phone recently, and his excitement was palpable. He has never attended the MSHSL boys state hockey tournament and he is thrilled to be part of it in 2014.

“It’s one of those events, that if you like hockey it’s certainly up there among the major events in the country,” he said from his Florida home.

Thorne has seen it all. As a radio broadcaster for the New York Mets, he made the call when a ground ball got past Boston first baseman Bill Buckner in the sixth game of the 1986 World Series. Currently he is a broadcaster for the Baltimore Orioles; he also has been the voice of ESPN Radio’s Sunday Night Baseball broadcasts.

His hockey broadcasting career began at the University of Maine, his alma mater.
From 1992 through 2004, Thorne called NHL games for ESPN, ESPN2 and (beginning in 1999) ABC.

During his years in the NHL he came to know many players who grew up in Minnesota. He learned a lot about the state hockey tournament through those relationships.

“They’ve said that next to winning the Stanley Cup, winning the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament is their biggest thrill,” Thorne told me.

Several years ago Thorne met Dennis Silva, the KSTC executive sports producer in charge of MSHSL state tournament television coverage. As they chatted, Thorne told Silva to keep him in mind if Silva ever needed a play-by-play person for the state hockey tournament. When Silva contacted Thorne recently, they had a deal in a short period of time.

“I knew it was the No. 1 high school tournament in the country, with big crowds, a tremendous viewing audience and a great level of talent on the ice,” Thorne said. “I told him, ‘If you need anybody, give me a call.’ ”

Thorne is already doing homework for the tournament by following the top teams in Class 2A.

“I’ve got a rundown on the teams that might be likely to be involved, and their players,” he said. “I’m trying to get a little familiar with everything involved.”

His broadcast partner at the tournament will be Lou Nanne, who will be attending his 50th boys state hockey tourney. Thorne and Nanne have known each other for years.

“I’ve known Lou from his days in the NHL and we’ve crossed paths many times over the years, I believe going back to my days of doing college hockey at Maine. I couldn’t believe it when I heard this will be Lou’s 50th tournament. That’s just unbelievable. What a run.”

Thorne will arrive in the Twin Cities a few days before the tournament begins to have meetings with the rest of the KSTC broadcast team. He can hardly wait.

“Everyone’s told me that the atmosphere is one of the things that makes the tournament so special,” he said. “That it’s just unbelievable, the passion of the fans and the players. It’s engaging to me. I can’t wait. It will be great fun. It’s one of those things that will seem like it’s over before it starts.”

His contract to work at the tournament is for one year. But …

“That’s not to say that it couldn’t happen again.”

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 279
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,331
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



Adapted Floor Hockey: Strategy, Competition And Lots Of Fun
Posted by John Millea (jmillea@mshsl.org) - Updated 2/5/2014 2:19:26 PM

Coach Dan Slinden was thinking about strategy. His team trailed by one goal in the final minutes when he had a quick chat with Jake Yancy, who already had scored once in Tuesday’s game.

Jake was taking a breather on the bench when Slinden asked him, “Can you go back in and score a goal?” Jake replied, “Give me one more whistle, coach.” The message was clear; Jake wanted to catch his breath for a few more seconds before returning to the action and doing everything he could to tie the score.

The plan didn’t work out, but that didn’t take anything away from a great day of competition as the Rochester Raiders defeated the South Suburban Flyers 3-2 in an adapted floor hockey game at Eden Prairie High School.

Floor hockey is one of four adapted sports offered by the MSHSL. The others are bowling, softball and soccer. They offer students with physical or cognitive impairments the opportunity to be members of teams that are engaged in competitive sports.

And the competition Tuesday was at a high level. Players from both teams kept the plastic puck moving all around the floor. Players wear protective gear such as helmets, facemasks and gloves, along with jerseys, short or long pants and athletic shoes. The athletes work extremely hard.

“We practice three times a week,” Rochester coach Jeff Copler said after his team’s victory. “We started practice right after Thanksgiving so we’ve been practicing for a little more than two months now.

“The kids do a great job. They really love coming out and playing hard. You can see the emotion out there.”

Sean Healy, a sophomore at John Marshall High School, scored two goals for the Raiders and Alex Steffl (senior at John Marshall) had one goal and an assist. Patrick Healy (also a John Marshall senior) got the assist on one of his brother Sean’s goals.

For South Suburban, Yancy (a junior at Eden Prairie) and Alexei Dickinson (ninth-grader at Valley View Middle School) scored the goals and Andrew Mortinson (junior at Bloomington Kennedy) assisted on both.

One of the best parts of Tuesday’s game was the cheerleaders from Eden Prairie. They watched and performed in one corner of the court, cheering for both teams. Many of the fans carried signs supporting their teams and athletes. Up-tempo music was played over the gym’s sound system during stoppages in play. It was a wonderful atmosphere.

“Every year we tell (the athletes) what a great opportunity this is to play adapted sports,” Copler said. “We tell them to make sure they appreciate it every day, because it’s the only program of its kind in the nation.”

Late in the game, Slinden was happy when Copler called a timeout. The Raiders had more players than the Flyers, and the short break gave Slinden’s crew a needed rest.

“With not as many numbers as Rochester, I play my timeouts (two per game) and just try to keep people fresh,” Slinden said. “You try to give them time when they need a break. So I was very happy when Rochester called the timeout.

“Every year we compete with Rochester and we’re very evenly matched. They have great coaching; Jeff does a great job, (assistant coach) Cass (Wiersheim) does a great job. It’s just a lot of fun playing them because it gets competitive and it brings the best out of our kids.”

The Raiders make five trips to the Twin Cities during the adapted floor hockey season, and metro teams go to Rochester for games.

“Some nights it gets to be some long road trips, but the kids enjoy it,” Copler said. “We get to stop on the way home and get a bite to eat, compliments of the Quarterback Club of Rochester. So the kids really appreciate having a nice meal on the way home.”

--To see a photo gallery from the Raiders-Flyers game, go to the MSHSL Facebook page.

BY THE NUMBERS
*Schools/teams John has visited: 279
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 7,331
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn



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