Edina is making its seventh consecutive appearance at the state tournament, the longest current streak in either class. Star Tribune photo
Born in Canada, Edina boys’ hockey coach Curt Giles first learned of the state high school tournament from Minnesota-Duluth roommates and Roseau natives Bruce Olson and Donny Hedlund. “They kept talking about it but I’m from Canada thinking, ‘Hockey down here can’t be that great,’ ” Giles said. Giles later came, saw and conceded. “To be part of it is something you can’t explain,” Giles said. “It’s pure Minnesota hockey.”
The Hornets are making their seventh consecutive trip to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center and will join west metro schools Breck and Wayzata. Class 1A begins Wednesday and Class 2A starts Thursday. Here is a look at the west metro participants.
The Hornets, which held the state’s No. 1 ranking earlier this season, earned the No. 3 seed and plays Lakeville North (11-16-1) at 1 p.m. Thursday.
Edina faced adversity all season, from playing the state’s toughest schedule to losing four regulars with injuries for a stretch in January to killing a Burnsville penalty in the final two minutes of the Section 2 championship game.
“We’ve had to work hard through most of these games against really good hockey teams,” Giles said. “That’s the way our team has been built this year. They’ve found a way to work through things.”
Balance has been key. All three of the forward lines contributed a goal against Burnsville, including Dan Hinueber’s third goal of the season.
“Everybody seems to chip in a little bit here and there to make a big difference,” Giles said.
Second-year coach Pat O’Leary found himself surprised by the ebb and flow of the season.
“I didn’t think we were going to win 14 out of 15 games in the middle of the season and get bumped up to No. 1,” O’Leary said. “But we kept getting better.”
Losing five times in a seven-game stretch didn’t deter O’Leary’s long-term focus.
“We took a couple lumps the last month,” he said. “A lot of people have been asking me about that but I just keep telling them we’re trying to make some adjustments.”
The tinkering paid off in the playoffs. Wayzata rolled through Section 6, the state’s most difficult, by a combined score of 18-5. While graduation had left the Trojans short on experience, those who remained found their footing.
“The seniors are good leaders,” O’Leary said. “We have a lot of kids that played big roles on big teams growing up. These kids have been places and won some big games.”
Two-time defending Class 1A champion St. Thomas Academy is the overwhelming favorite to make it a third consecutive third title this week. So a pair of one-goal losses to the Cadets gives Breck coach Les Larson some confidence about his team’s chances at state.
The No. 2 seed Mustangs open with Marshall (14-10-1) and Larson made his point clear to players in terms of focus.
“I told them, ‘If you lose that first game you drop off the face of the Earth,’ ” said Larson, who coached Breck to small-school state titles in 2009 and 2010.
Staying power starts at the blue line. The Mustangs have their full complement of defenseman (six) for the first time all season.
In addition, Larson likes his teams’ intangibles.
“This is probably the best group we’ve had in terms of chemistry,” Larson said. “We haven’t folded all year.”