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After victory, Hill-Murray coach reaches out to his counterpart

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 03/08/12, 11:11PM CST


Pioneers' Bill Lechner shared lessons drawn from state tournament struggles

Hill-Murray boys' hockey coach Bill Lechner arrived late for the postgame news conference after providing counsel to Maple Grove coach Gary Stefano.

The veteran coaches differ in one key area. This week marked Lechner's ninth trip to the state tournament as Hill-Murray's head coach and the second trip for four of his players.

Conversely, Maple Grove was making its state tournament debut. Stefano's prior state tournament experience came in 1993 as coach of Park Center.

Stefano sought advice from Lechner after his No. 2 seed Crimson team suffered a 5-2 upset loss to Hill-Murray in Thursday's Class 2A state quarterfinal game on rallying the troops for Friday's consolation game.

Lechner has seen both sides. His Pioneers were 0-4 in his first two tournaments as head coach before finishing second in 2002. They won it all in 2008.

"I don't want to sound arrogant, but experience helps to handle stuff," Lechner said.

Lechner preached calm to players in the locker room, a mindset that kept the Pioneers from flinching as Maple Grove took a 1-0 lead early.

"They came out strong right away but like Coach [Lechner] said to us, getting down a goal in the first period at the state tournament is not a big deal," junior captain Zach LaValle said. "There's still a lot of time to come back."

And despite a loss, Maple Grove has much to play for. Lechner advised Stefano to make the consolation championship important to players.

Lechner made it clear he wasn't offering Stefano charity. Rather, he was passing along what he once learned from a former state tournament fixture.

"There is a way to handle everything from hotels to banquets to pregame," Lechner said. "It takes a while to get that knack. I was fortunate enough to learn that as an assistant to Coach [Terry] Skrypek for 10 years."

Coaches typically discount the advantages of having experience, but there are benefits to knowing how to make adjustments and stay poised.

Both teams in Thursday's second quarterfinal, No. 3 seed Eagan and Moorhead, were loaded with experienced seniors. Eagan won 4-0 last year. This time, the Spuds came out 4-0 winners.

"I think our guys just got a little bit physically stronger and a more mature," said coach Dave Morinville, a veteran of eight state tournaments. "I don't think you saw a lot of panic in our guys today."

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