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.
Roy Nystrom starts doing the math in his head, and, like any number associated with his coaching career, comes up with a mind-boggling calculation.
“We’ve been bumping heads for 43 years,” the Albert Lea coach said about the decades of matchups against Lorne Grosso-led Rochester Mayo teams. “That’s 86 times right there. I’m sure we’ve played each other five or six or event 10 times in the playoffs over the years.
“We’ve played each other close to 100 times, I bet.”
That doesn’t even count the one and sometimes two scrimmages the teams have scheduled with each other every year for decades.
Tonight marks the last time the two coaching legends and close friends – they were linemates and roommates at the University of Minnesota – meet. Grosso, the state’s winningest coach with 702 victories, is retiring at the end of the season.
I’ll be heading down to Albert Lea tonight with photographer Mark Hvidsten for the 7:30 p.m. matchup between the visiting Spartans and host Tigers, longtime Big 9 Conference rivals who, in their glory years, often played for the conference championship in the final game of the season.
“We kind of got our athletic directors to play the last game of the season against each other,” Nystrom said. “We did that for several years, and we had some real barnburner games.”
There’s no question both coaches will have their teams sufficiently pumped up for this final showdown. Grosso and Nystrom, who has 688 career victories, aren’t shy about telling their players about the history between the two men.
“I think we both try to inspire our kids by talking about the other person,” Grosso said. “I’ll say I played with him, he was my roommate. Now we are going to go out and beat him.”
La Vaque asked Nystrom if he had any special presentation planned for his old friend. Nystrom quipped: “I hope I present him a loss.”
Yes, these longtime buddies like nothing more than beating each other.
As always, they’ll sit together and swap stories during the JV game. They talk about their families, update each other on former Gophers teammates and reminisce about those many “barnburner” games their teams have played against each other.
“Every time we play it is never a dirty game, there is never rough stuff,” Grosso said. “The intensity is really high, it is just like a playoff game.”
We expect more of the same tonight. Be sure to follow along with our live coverage right here on the Hub.
Tag(s): Two-Man Advantage