skip navigation

BHS: State Tourney Reflections

By Karl Schuettler, 03/23/23, 9:00AM CDT


Karl (East) gives his take on what this year's state tourney had to offer our senses

Karl's Tourney Time Essay

Jonny Grove ends it for the Zephyrs!

Settle into the four-day rhythms: brunch, session, dinner, session, bed. It is a marathon, I tell the rookies to the ritual. Class it up some nights, bar food other nights, some days deep in the party, others seeking an escape, Saturday afternoon at Grand Seven. Even us Tourney veterans can fall off our pace toward the end, drained by the relentless march from session to session. Just don’t tell us to stop: we can’t miss one minute of it.

In Class A it was a rare year of the improbable. For a full season, everything had been building to a rematch between Hermantown and Warroad, the Hawks and the Warriors flattening all other Class A competition, including a certain team from the east metro. But the State Tournament is a different stage, and over the past four years, Jeff Poeschl’s Mahtomedi Zephyrs have become the hardest out in the field. They do it not on the backs of overwhelming talent, though the likes of Ben Dardis and Charlie Drage have had their moments; they do it in the style of a AA power, with depth and steady waves and smart defense, patiently building as their two rivals threw their top lines out there again and again in search of big goals. They waited, smelled blood, struck, and outlasted the great favorites, and claimed a second championship.

Hagen Burrows made the all-tournament team for the Skippers

This is not the Class A hockey we knew 10 or 20 years ago. After the Hermantown-Luverne opener, every single game in the championship bracket had some intrigue into the third period. A single Ben Hanowski or Johnny Pohl is no longer the formula, and a one-line outfit will struggle beyond Wednesday. The stars are still worth the price of admission, as Jayson Shaugabay showed in his third period surge against Cathedral and in the attention he drew on the winner against Orono, or as Carson Pilgrim exploded up the ice for the goal of the tournament against Mahtomedi. But over the course of fifty-one-plus minutes, even—or perhaps especially—in an era of individual cellys and relentless pursuit of the next development step, the team mantra wins out. The Zephyrs of Mahtomedi have perfected that formula.

The scariest coaching duo the X has seen: Hill-Murray's Bill Lechner (left) and Pat Schafhauser (right).

The AA field this season, meanwhile, was a carnival of familiar faces. There was no real Cinderella, though Cretin’s dedication to Cormick Scanlan gave me a sentimental bandwagon ever since coach Matt Funk came on our podcast to wet our eyes with his tragic tale. This Tourney instead amounted to mortal combat between the state’s deepest programs, all fighting it out in wars of attrition. On Thursday, they delivered the goods. Cretin toppled a tight Maple Grove team, while Moorhead came roaring back to trouble the normally firm Edina defense and pushed the favored Hornets to the brink. The greatest thrills came in primetime, when a Hill-Murray team that barely mustered a winning record this season came ever so close to stunning Tourney favorite Minnetonka. Even Lakeville South, down a wounded Tate Pritchard, did enough to keep Andover working hard late into the third period. Not one of these teams was merely content to be here: they were all business, on a mission to strengthen proud pedigrees or secure elusive titles amid all their talent.

The Big 3: Casey, Conway and Thoreson came up a hair short on Friday night

Friday night, so often the highlight of the Tourney, didn’t have quite the same energy this time around. Edina methodically took care of Cretin, and Andover’s title defense ran out of gas against the Minnetonka, another example of a team riding a single line that couldn’t carry the world on its back for three straight games. The Lake Conference affair in the final featured two heavyweights slowly circling each other, one landing two blows and the other not quite rallying enough to flip the script in the end. The Hornets offered a solid D, a flashy top line of beastly Jackson Nevers and Tourney darling Bobby Cowan and feisty Ryan Flaherty, the sparkplug who won me over; with Minnetonka, it was hard to pick even list out the members of the cast, so deep and solid a unit were they. If these Skippers lacked the flair of their champions five years ago, they did not want for controlling force, and that was what it took to win in AA this season: overwhelming depth and steadiness to grind it out against similarly tough opponents.

Even with the returning entrants, the results of this Tourney had another lesson: repeating is hard. Hermantown had the pieces to do it, and Andover’s late season surge had all the ingredients, but both settled for third. Talent is forever a separator, but when the big games arrive, it is still the intangibles, the barely perceptible differences, that tip the scales between ecstasy and despair. Health, momentum, shift length, line matching, small tweaks in the scheme: they all appeared here and there over the weekend, to say nothing of that even deeper, unmeasurable layer of desire and belief and trust. For all our effort to dissect sports down to their smallest detail, to apply analytics or rank with exactitude, they remain so alluring because there is so much beyond our knowledge. Games like these are at their best when they play off of something beyond the rational mind, and Minnesota high school hockey does that, time and again.

This, of course, is the Tourney’s specialty. An account of this weekend that fixates on the games has missed half the show. It is still a cultural touchstone, something its participants will cherish forever that no one who took the AAA or juniors routes will ever have. It still has the power to turn out massive student sections, to fill the upper deck with random kids from across the state, to resurrect a bunch of old-timers who show up with their own kids and grandkids and tribal loyalties to delight in whoever comes out to play. There are the sights and sounds around the concourse, the bustling booths at the Expo, the tales shared at bars and in hotel rooms and on bus rides down to St. Paul. The Tourney is a statement of identity, a marker of Minnesotan pride, a rare bit of earned cockiness in a state that so often plays down its signs of status. May we wear that badge with pride, and break it out again when another March rolls around.

Edina's Bobby Cowan was the Hornet with the most offensive sting

Recent MN YHH News

  • 2023 USEL Playoff Primer

  • By Peter Odney 06/01/2023, 3:00pm CDT
  • The 2009's and 2010's battle for USEL supremacy while the 2008's make their 2023 league debut.
  • Read More