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Twas the night before The Tourney and a blogger was stirring

By Loren Nelson, Sport Ngin, 03/03/15, 11:15PM CST


David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.

It’s Tourney Eve, and what better time to welcome you to the new little home here on the Hub carved out for Mr. La Vaque and myself. We’re hoping to use this space to provide all sorts of insight and opinion, to entertain, to inform, to have some fun and maybe even to break some news from time to time. 

For my part, I’m just hoping to be the Chris Locker to Mr. La Vaque’s Dave Spehar. And if you don’t get that reference, well … no problem, remember, we are here to educate. For starters, check out La Vaque’s fantastic article recounting Spehar’s most improbable hat trick of hat tricks achieved 20 years ago at the tourney. 

I presume the story will also appear in tomorrow’s editions of the Star Tribune. The very definition of a must read.

Had the chance to talk to all eight Class 1A coaches over the past couple days as I was assembling capsule previews for Wednesday’s quarterfinals games, so there is plenty of leftover fodder to pour into this space. 

We’ll go in the order of Wednesday’s quarterfinal round games, which means you are going to have to wait for the big breaking news (sort of) out of Breck. How’s that for a tease?

New Ulm coach Erik Setterholm chose his words carefully, but he made it clear he wasn’t thrilled about the Eagles’ inclusion in the Big South Conference this season. As I mentioned in the Class 1A previews, New Ulm won its six games against new conference foes Worthington, Windom and Fairmont by a combined score of 62-3. Add in the double blowouts against Redwood Valley, Waseca and Fairmont, and the new aggregate score becomes an ugly 105-4.

“I was against it tenfold because I was in the process of building a pretty good schedule,” Setterholm said.

Look for Setterholm to try to find an ally in Luverne coach Derrick Brown with the hope they can work together push the idea of only playing the weaker conference opponents once. That tactic is commonplace throughout the state in boys’ hockey, where in many conferences there can be a huge disparity of talent from team to team. 

“The Big problem in the whole deal I was the only one vocal about it,” Setterholm said. “Since this was the first year, (conference officials) didn’t warm up to any of my suggestions.”

Weak schedule aside, the Eagles, with 12 seniors, are one of the most veteran teams in the Class 1A field. And many of those seniors are standouts in other sports. That experience should at least help calm the nerves when they step on the big stage.

Mahtomedi, in contrast, played probably the toughest schedule in the Class 1A field. And only lost twice. The Zephyrs one two of their four games against Class 2A tourney entrants St. Thomas Academy and Hill-Murray, which is impressive enough before tacking on their wins against the likes of Class 2A schools Cretin-Derham Hall, Grand Rapids and Stillwater. 

Can’t wait to see Zephyrs junior forward Jack Becker in action. He has caught the attention of several Division I programs (Michigan Tech has made an offer and Harvard an invite – Ivy League schools can’t offer scholarships). Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl expects more scholarship offers to pour in after the tournament.

Poeschl said the Zephyrs are reaping the benefits of the Ben Marshall Years, a two-year run to the tournament in 2009-10 led by wunderkind defenseman Ben Marshall (now playing for Minnesota) that included stunning section playoff upsets over St. Thomas Academy. 

“All of my juniors and seniors this year, all they talk about is when they saw Ben Marshall go to the state tournament,” Poeschl said. “They were seventh graders and that’s what they set their sights on. I remind them often that there are fifth, sixth and seventh graders out there watching them now.”

As for that big Breck news? Can’t sleep, so more blog posts coming tonight. 

Stay tuned.

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