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Minneapolis Southwest celebrates 50 years since state tourney title with reunion

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune , 03/02/20, 8:00AM CST


Friends, family, classmates and the hockey community are welcome to attend the gathering at 7 p.m. on March 7 at The Local restaurant located in the West End in St. Louis Park.

Minneapolis Southwest goaltender Brad Shelstad received a standing ovation for close to 2 minutes during a state champiohship victory celebration at Southwest High School on March 8, 1970. Star Tribune file photo

In 1970, Southwest became the first (and still only) public school from Minneapolis to win a boys’ hockey state championship. Half a century later, players are gathering to celebrate their accomplishment.

Known back then as the Indians, Southwest conquered one of the most compelling tournaments ever played to preserve its undefeated season. Paul Miller tallied a hat trick to bring Southwest back from a three-goal deficit and win its quarterfinal game in overtime. And goaltender Brad Shelstad blanked rival Edina for a 1-0 championship game victory in overtime. Bob Lundeen’s shot deflected off Bill Shaw to stun the defending champion Hornets.

Those stories and more are sure to be relived beginning at 7 p.m. on March 7 at The Local restaurant located in the West End at 1607 Park Place Boulevard in St. Louis Park. Friends, family, classmates and the hockey community are welcome.

In honor of the occasion, a few team members put together the story of their magical season …

“In the fall of 1969 the Minneapolis high school hockey coaches were polled to determine the outlook for the upcoming season. They predicted that Southwest would finish third in the conference, behind Washburn and Roosevelt. This was a bit surprising to some followers of the defending Region 5 (Minneapolis schools) entrant into the state tournament. Apparently the loss of no less than eight prominent seniors from the previous season giving way to a group of largely untested returnees and newcomers justifiably gave the coaches reason to doubt that a City Championship and a repeat trip to the tourney was in the cards for the Indians (as they were known at that time). The top two ranked teams had strong returning rosters, and it seemed unlikely that Southwest would have the ability to get past them. They were wrong.

Although what would become the top forward line of Paul Miller, Dan Caspersen, and Bob Williams had seen limited ice time the previous season, they regularly went head-to-head with two of the top lines in the city every day in practice the year before. Not to be overlooked were the countless hours of unstructured battles that took place on their own player-maintained outdoor rink. Sunday afternoons provided perhaps more intense competition and skill development than many of their scheduled opponents could provide.

The team had one returning regular on the blue line, Bob Lundeen, and in goal, Brad Shelstad. With the exception of Doug Robbins and Jim Moore, the remaining underclassmen on the roster were new to the varsity team. Their ability to step in and to play at a high level was no doubt overlooked by many as the '69-'70 hockey season got underway.  To the surprise of most casual onlookers, the Indians marched through the conference schedule unscathed with the exception of a 2-2 tie with a strong Washburn Millers team in early February. This would end up being the only game result that was not listed in the win column. Winning the Minneapolis Conference Championship allowed the opportunity to play St. Paul Harding for the Twin City Championship, which the Indians won by a narrow 2-1 margin.

Non-conference games were vital to teams like Southwest as a means of preparing themselves for the level of play that would be required for success in the post-season.  Consecutive days in late December brought important wins over Bemidji and South St. Paul, both on the opponent's home ice. There was one glaring void in the non-conference schedule. Southwest was not scheduled to play Edina in the regular season. Highlights of the previous two seasons were the annual mid-January tilts with the crosstown rival Hornets. Those games were played before a packed Braemar Arena, with Southwest winning both, including a 3-1 result in '69 over the eventual state champion. The widely believed rumor was that the Edina coaching staff opted to schedule a different team, given the questionable ability expected from Southwest. That decision offended and motivated the Indians and ended up providing some bulletin board material at the state championship.

The Region 5 playoffs included only the 11 Minneapolis schools. Win three and advance to the state tournament. The Indians beat South and West before meeting Washburn in the final. The earlier tie was avenged with a decisive 3-1 win over the preseason favorite Millers. Then it was on to state.

In an effort to prepare his team for post-season play, Coach Dave Peterson wisely scheduled several scrimmages with prominent teams in the area during the regular season. The number of games were limited, so they were "unofficial games." One of those was against North St. Paul, the Indians’ quarterfinal opponent in the opening game of the tournament. No one keeps the score of a scrimmage, except everyone, but the play was mostly even. When the teams met at The Metropolitan Sports Center, Southwest promptly fell behind 3-0 after two periods. Miraculously, the line of Miller, Caspersen, and Williams roared back in the third, scoring in the first minute, the eighth minute and with just over a minute remaining in regulation time with an empty net in their end. The momentum spilled over into the overtime, when Paul Miller scored 38 seconds in, "snatching victory from the jaws of defeat". The Indians took advantage of the reprieve from the consolation bracket with a 3-1 win over a strong Hibbing team in the first semifinal on Friday and got goals from both Miller's line plus the Richards, Page and Robbins line. The stage was nearly set for a Saturday night classic. In the other semifinal, Edina ended St. Paul Johnson's hopes when the Hornets finally scored to end the marathon three overtime game 2-1.

Unlike the current system of seeding entrants in an effort to manipulate the makeup of the tournament bracket, in 1970 teams were placed by means of a rotating formula. It just so happened that the only two teams without a loss on their record, Southwest and Edina, were randomly placed on opposite halves of the bracket.

Was it fate? The irony of a match-up of these next door neighbors, not at Braemar arena on a Monday night in January, but instead, on a Saturday night in March in front of the entire state, for all the marbles, was impossible to ignore. It was reported that over 1 million Minnesotans watched the game that Saturday night. The game was on in most bars and homes and over 15,000 fans at "The Met." Only one of the teams would remain undefeated, but which one? It easily could have been either. The two teams fought through three scoreless periods. Play was even up and down the ice, with scoring chances at both ends. Southwest survived a last second flurry by the Hornets to send the game into a next-goal-wins scenario. The Indians’ defense of Moore, Lundeen, Falls, Taft, Eliason and Shelstad was unbeatable.

The mutual dream of a group of childhood friends burst into reality the instant that the red light behind the Edina goal lit up. When a Bob Lundeen slap shot from the left point caromed off of Bill Shaw's chest and into the net, the Southwest Indians had answered the early season skepticism with a state championship! How fitting it was that the Shaw, Mitchell and Idzorek line, with Sundby in reserve, would be that night's offense. Everyone contributed during this tournament, including Fredrickson, as Shelstad's backup, helping him to keep focused and ready.

To this day, Southwest High School remains the only Minneapolis team to be crowned State Champs!

The Indians placed three players on the All-Tournament team. Forwards Paul Miller and Doug Robbins, along with defenseman Bob Lundeen were named for that honor. The 1970 State Tournament was also notable for the highly unusual fact that more than half of the eleven games were decided in overtime.

For many, the real highlight occurred the following day at the jam-packed High School Gymnasium. After being escorted for miles by a caravan of cheering supporters, the coaches and players entered the gym, State Championship Trophy in hand, to an ovation that lasted for several minutes. Speeches by coaches and players, mixed in with cheers and chants commemorated what would become the legacy of the 1970 Southwest High School hockey team.

It should be noted that this underrated squad produced no less than five NCAA Division I college players, four of whom went on to play with National Championship teams, while another was a member of a National Junior Championship team under a young Herb Brooks. Also, two individuals were on a U.S. Olympic Squad. Coach Dave Peterson would continue a 27-year career at Southwest High School while making 14 trips to state. He followed his high school coaching years as a mainstay with USA Hockey, culminating with back-to-back stints as head coach of the U.S. Olympic Team in 1988 and 1992!”

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