Would they play? Or wouldn’t they? Those questions lingered for Wayzata players well into the evening before their scheduled 11 a.m. Wednesday quarterfinal against defending Class 2A champion Hill-Murray.
“We were ready to play until 11:08 this morning, or at least until we were told we weren’t [playing],” Trojans coach Pat O’Leary said.
Once Hill-Murray confirmed it was officially out of the tournament Tuesday night because of COVID-19 exposure, O’Leary began planning a no-frills practice for Wednesday morning at the Plymouth Ice Center.
“We really tried to make it as much of a game situation as we could,” O’Leary said. “We worked them hard.”
O’Leary said he expected the Trojans (13-5-2), who received a bye into Friday’s semifinals, to spend the rest of Wednesday like hundreds of thousands of hockey fans around the state — watching the tournament on TV.
“We’ll enjoy it from our couches,” he said, “wishing that we were there.”
One ‘Last Lap’
Meanwhile on Wednesday, about 30 miles and emotional light years away at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood, Hill-Murray players gathered for a bittersweet final practice.
They broke into green and white scrimmage teams, with juniors Nate Hardy and Luke Hause serving as captains.
The mood was light. Senior forward Jared Jensen donned goalie pads and impressed with a textbook save.
“Coach, you made the wrong decision to have me at forward,” Jensen shouted in jest to coach Bill Lechner.
The one-hour practice started at 11 a.m., the same time the Pioneers were set to begin their title defense against Wayzata at Xcel Energy Center.
After the scrimmage came The Last Lap, an annual tradition. Parents who had watched the scrimmage left their sons to be together. The eight seniors took a lap, one at a time, at their desired pace. They talked to teammates and coaches spread out to allow for individual moments of sharing.
“It was pretty emotional,” Lechner said. “There were hugs. It helped, I think. But I know our seniors didn’t want to leave.”
DAVID LA VAQUE
“Marathon on Ice”
The 2021 state tournament marks 25 years since perhaps the finest tournament game played — the 1996 semifinal between Apple Valley and Duluth East.
Two star-studded teams battled through five overtimes lasting a record 93 minutes and 12 seconds. Apple Valley secured its 5-4 upset of the defending state champion Greyhounds at 1:39 a.m.
Aaron Briner, a 1996 Monticello graduate and Minnesota sports fan turned film producer and editor, watched the game on television. He chose it for his most ambitious film project, a documentary called “Marathon on Ice.”
The hourlong film goes inside the state’s hockey culture, each program, and their historic tournament showdown through new interviews with players, coaches and broadcasters.
“Lou Nanne said it’s the best tournament game he’s seen,” Briner said. “Nobody was conservative in overtime and the goalies kept getting better.”
Briner said the release date, while uncertain, will be soon. A trailer is available at avenue18productions.com.
DAVID LA VAQUE
1. Aidan Willis, Lakeville South, sophomore forward: Outhustled, outshot and trailing by a goal to Moorhead, the unbeaten Cougars needed a spark. They got three goals in a span of 3:11 in the third period, and Willis scored two of them. He now has four goals this season.
2. Cody Ticen, Lakeville South, senior goalie: One half of the Cougars’ stellar net minding tandem, Ticen took his turn in the season-long rotation with Ethan Dahlmeir and excelled. He finished with 33 saves and kept his team within a goal despite a plethora of solid Moorhead scoring chances.
3. Carter Batchelder, Eden Prairie, senior forward: Ignited the Eagles’ five-goal third period with a rebound goal and added an empty-netter to clinch the victory and boost his season goal total to 30.
BY THE NUMBERS
0, part one
Losses for Lakeville South this season. Ironically, the Cougars (19-0-2) seek to become the first undefeated Class 2A state tournament champions since crosstown rival Lakeville North went 31-0 in 2015.
0, part two
Number of times in the previous 76 hockey state tournaments that one of the seven (and later 14) winners’ bracket games weren’t played. That changed this year as the Hill-Murray/Wayzata quarterfinal scheduled for Wednesday was canceled after a COVID-19 exposure forced the Pioneers to forfeit.
Consecutive quarterfinal victories for Eden Prairie dating to a 3-2 triumph over Lakeville in 2003.
“I am incredibly proud of them to get to this point in the season and then put one of the best teams in the state on their heels.” — Moorhead coach Jon Ammerman, who said his team didn’t get much respect, even in its own city, when the season began.
DAVID LA VAQUE, LOREN NELSON