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Verge of greatness

By Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor, 03/07/13, 1:00AM CST


East Grand Forks faces ultimate challenge in Class 1A semifinals in St. Thomas Academy

East Grand Forks beat Rochester Lourdes 3-2 on Wednesday to set up a state Class 1A semifinal showdown with St. Thomas Academy. Photo by Adam Crane

Much is made of Warroad, Roseau and Thief River Falls as hockey crazed communities in Minnesota’s remote northwest corner.

Videographers looking to make the next great documentary are regular customers at the local hotels and diners. Writers from publications such as the New York Times have journeyed north in an attempt to capture the unbridled passion those small towns have for the game.

Warroad, Roseau and Thief River Falls have titles and tradition, they have produced dozens of NHL players, they play in buildings that aren’t so much arenas as they are shrines.

East Grand Forks doesn’t push the needle like its northern neighbors. 

Not yet.

The Green Wave hung on to beat Rochester Lourdes 3-2 in the quarterfinals of the state Class 1A tournament on Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

Next up is Friday’s semifinals, and a win there would permanently etch East Grand Forks into state folklore. Green Wave coach Tyler Palmiscno said his team will be the heavy underdog for the first time this season. 

“Heavy” is an understatement.

East Grand Forks' Tommy Hajicek, left, celebrates his second-period goal Wednesday with Eddie Eades. Photo by Adam Crane

Now would be a good time for Palmiscno to roll the money scene from "Miracle" for his players: “Great moments are born from great opportunity” and all of that.

The Green Wave aren’t playing the Soviet Union circa 1980, but they might just as well be. Two-time defending state Class 1A champion St. Thomas Academy awaits, and the Cadets are coming off a 12-0 bombardment of St. Cloud Apollo.

“We just wanted a shot at them,” Palmiscno said. “In order for us to be successful we have to play our best game. We have to get some bounces. And if we do that, we may have a chance to win.”

East Grand Forks is making its first state tournament appearance since 2002, yet the Green Wave looked like they had done this a thousand times before. 

Palmiscno said he was “a little concerned” about his fuzzy-cheeked team (East Grand Forks has four sophomores and three freshmen on its roster) and how it would hold up under the glare.

“We’ve got a younger team, and they didn’t seem phased by the lights, the theater, the stage,” Palmiscno said. “It’s one of those things if I could explain it, I would write a book. They are loose a lot. They don’t see phased by much.”

East Grand Forks went unbeaten in 15 games to start the season. The Green Wave suffered their first loss on Jan. 17 at Moorhead and were the state’s last team to get its first loss.

More resume fodder came in December when East Grand Forks beat North Dakota schools Bismarck Century, Grand Forks Central and Grand Forks Red River in succession to win the Jason Stadstad Hockey Classic.

The Green Wave would beat their neighbors Central and Red River three times each by the end of the season, securing bragging rights in Grand Forks and the Gambucci Cup in the process. East Grand Forks, easily the smallest of the three Grand Forks-area schools, hadn’t accomplished that feat since 2003-04.

“North Dakota gets a bad reputation, especially the eastern side with the two Grand Forks schools,” said Palmiscno, who played at East Grand Forks before cross the Red River to play his college hockey at North Dakota. “But if you looked at former Division I players from Red River, it would be a big list. And if you looked at Central, it would be a big list. And people don’t recognize that. 

“For us, we’re the red-headed stepchild in that tournament. For us to win (the Gambucci Cup) was a big deal.”

Now the Green Wave are trying to win a state tournament. Mighty St. Thomas Academy stands in their way.

“Good luck, coach.”

“We’re going to need it,” Palmiscno said.

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