Collisions such as this one between Blaine's Alex Copa, left, and Centennial's Ryner Gorowsky are commplace when the teams meet. Photo by Loren Nelson
Packed parking lots, raucous student sections, players streaming in and out of the penalty box.
Oh, and the hits. Big hits. Lots of ’em. Board rattlers. Bone crunchers.
Sometimes, it hurts just to watch.
Welcome to Centennial versus Blaine.
This is one of the state’s great modern-day rivalries.
To say these teams don’t like each other is like noting that ice is cold. Not necessary.
But it’s fun to hear anyway.
“It’s a lot of guys who don’t like each other very much, at least on the ice,” Centennial coach Ritch Menne said. “They have been playing against each other all the way up.
“We’re right next door to one another, we constantly cross paths as the rink.”
The two high schools are separated by nine miles and gentle bend in Interstate 35W. The respective youth hockey associations are joined at the hip, and the players do battle countless times, year after year after year, before reaching high school.
“Every game, we come to play against Centennial,” Blaine junior wing Tyler Frischmon said. “When they come to our house or we go to theirs, it’s just a great game every time.”
Centennial's Will Juergens, left, and Blaine's Brandon Notermann meet along the boards. Photo by Loren Nelson
Frischmon was giving his take on the rivalry after Blaine beat Centennial 8-3 on Saturday, Feb. 2, at a raucous Fogerty Arena in Blaine. The lopsided outcome was stunning, given that the teams had played into overtime before Blaine won the first meeting 2-1 on Dec. 8.
There’s a chance the teams can meet again in the Section 5AA playoffs. Blaine (15-4-1) is likely to get the No. 1 seed. Centennial (15-4-2) is on track to be seeded second.
“Obviously we would like to win both games, but you know what, if we have to lose this game to win the second one, we’ll swap those,” Menne said about a potential playoff matchup. “We’ve got some work to do. Right now Blaine is the better team.”
Menne is in his second season guiding the Cougars, who were ranked No. 9 in the state. He took over for the retired Erik Aus, who happens to be Blaine coach Dave Aus’ cousin. The Aus connection made for great storylines, but the rivalry remains as highly charged as ever after Erik’s departure.
“It’s always big hits and a lot of attitude, I guess, going into it,” Blaine junior forward Joey Lau said.
Because these teams often stand in each other’s way, the rivalry is reminiscent of the single-class days when northern Minnesota powerhouses Warroad and Roseau battled to represent Section 8. With Roseau now in Class 2A and Warroad in 1A, they no longer meet in the playoffs and some of the steam has been taken out of that rivalry.
Not so with Blaine and Centennial, each of which have won state Class 2A titles in the 2000s (Blaine in 2000, Centennial in 2004). While No. 8-ranked Blaine has had a stranglehold on Section 5AA in recent years – the Bengals had won six straight section crowns before being shellshocked by Maple Grove 15-1 in last year’s section final – playoff matchups between the bitter rivals only ratchets up the intensity.
That’s saying a lot, considering there were double-digit huge hits and 20 penalties called in Saturday’s game. Standard numbers when these teams meet.
“We wanted to win it obviously, but we are more concerned about the section championship against these guys, hopefully,” Lau said. “I mean, it was a big win, but we are more worried about later in the season.”
As for the off-the-charts physical play, that doesn’t worry the players at all. They love it.
“It’s great to know there’s going to be some hitting,” said Blaine forward Tyler Cline, who scored three goals against the Cougars. “It’s part of the game.
“Love to see it, too.”
Blaine's Jack Micek, right, and Centennial's Collin Hughes tangle along the boards. Photo by Loren Nelson
Tyler Cline scored three straight goals during parts of the second and third periods as No. 8-ranked Blaine rolled to a stunningly lopsided 8-3 triumph over No. 9 Centennial in matchup of Northwest Suburban Conference and Section 5AA arch rivals on Saturday, Feb. 2, at Fogerty Arena in Blaine.
Cline’s first two goals came less than 2 minutes apart in the second period and gave Blaine (15-4-1) a 6-2 advantage heading into the third. He scored again 3 minutes, 12 seconds into the final period, and a trickle of hats was tossed onto the ice as a tribute to Cline's sniping.
A huge crowd that included two large and boisterous student sections was treated to great back-and-forth action in the opening minutes as the teams traded the first four goals.
Then Blaine took over behind the play of Cline, Jesse Norling and Joey Lau, each of whom scored at least once in either the second or third periods.
Hans Gorowsky scored two goals for Centennial (15-4-2), which lost to Blaine in overtime in the teams' previous meeting this season.
1. Tyler Cline, Blaine
Bing, bang, boom! The goals just kept coming, in rapid-fire succession, for the Bengals' nitro-fueled junior. Cline finished with three goals, and he tacked on an assist for good measure.