Every year, the boys’ hockey state tournament inspires odes to its enduring place in Minnesota culture. It’s about decades of tradition, of course, and the allure of a sport that reaches across generations.
Put those abstract concepts under a microscope, and you can see how they have been built: through an ever-expanding web of epic games, the kind you talk about for months and remember for years. Ones like Saturday’s Class 2A championship, a three-overtime legend that ended with Eden Prairie beating Duluth East 3-2 at Xcel Energy Center. A crowd of 15,078 witnessed it in person, and all will still be talking about it when spring finally comes in June. Thousands more will have seen it on television, wishing they were there.
It’s perfectly corny to say that it’s a shame someone had to lose. It’s also perfectly true. The Eagles and Greyhounds could not have provided a more superlative goodbye to our long winter: two supremely gifted, stouthearted teams that reminded us for three gripping hours why Minnesotans love this game so much.
Every epic needs a hero. This one, fittingly, featured two of them: twins Kyle and Curt Rau, who teamed up to end the first three-overtime game in championship history. Curt launched the shot from the right boards that trickled through the pads of Greyhounds goalie Jojo Jeanetta. Kyle, the dynamic metro player of the year, slid on his belly and evaded a Duluth East defender to poke the loose puck into the net, setting off a simultaneous rush of agony and exhilaration.
Kyle Rau, a Gophers recruit, nearly gave up this season to play junior hockey. At the last minute, he chose to stay, because he could not imagine walking away from one final winter with his lifelong best friends. As Saturday gave way to Sunday, he celebrated their second title together, with a large cut on his chin just adding to the drama.
“I wish I could say [the cut] is from the celebration, but it was the hits,’’ said Rau, who had blood smeared on his face and neck. “They kept coming at me.
“It feels great. I’ll be feeling it in the morning, but I’ll have a scar I’ll always remember.’’
Rau had scored twice in his team’s quarterfinal victory and twice in its semifinal win, and many thought he might rule Saturday’s game as well. Very quickly, it became clear this was going to be a relentless tug-of-war.
Neither team could gain an advantage for any length of time. Duluth East seized it momentarily with the first goal, scored on a beautifully choreographed, unerringly patient power play. Eden Prairie returned fire with Mark Rath’s goal early in the third period, tying the score 1-1 and sparking a period full of brilliant scoring chances and breathless, racehorse hockey.
The student sections were unable to sit down and scarcely able to breathe. The fans screamed at every point-blank shot gobbled up by the goalies — 27 saves for Jeanetta, 29 for the Eagles’ Andrew Ford — and roared as both teams mounted chance after chance with their crisp skating and passing. Nails were chewed, and the fans batting the beach ball around the lower bowl finally put it away, unable to take their eyes off the game.
The three overtimes were a testament to both teams’ desire and durability. The Greyhounds completed a hat trick of sorts; they required one overtime to beat Edina in the semifinals just 24 hours earlier, and it took two for them to defeat White Bear Lake in the quarterfinals.
Three proved to be the tipping point, though not for want of grit — on either side. “I wanted that game to be over with,’’ Curt Rau said. “We were all dying. We’d gone so far together.’’
Saturday, they took the final step, to the top of the podium. In a few days, the temperature is expected to reach 50 degrees, a sign that the time has come to take down the boards on the outdoor rinks and hang the breezers up to dry for good.
The memories of this game will be tucked away, too, in minds and hearts and history books, one more thread in Minnesota’s hockey tapestry.
“In the elements of high school hockey and how great it is,’’ said Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith, “that probably was one of the best games ever.’’
Rachel Blount • firstname.lastname@example.org