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.
With so many upsets coming in rapid succession on Super Sectional Semifinal Saturday (the greatest day of the year for many high school hockey fans), this year’s playoffs are on the verge of complete chaos – if we aren’t there already.
Four of the five top-ranked teams in Class 2A all went down, the biggest of the shockers, of course, being Cretin-Derham Hall’s 4-3 overtime victory over No. 1-ranked, No. 1-seeded and previously undefeated Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
No. 3 Minnetonka, No. 4 Holy Family Catholic and No. 5 Blaine also all lost in Class 2A semifinal games Saturday. St. Cloud Apollo, the No. 3-ranked team in Class 1A, also had its season come to an unexpectedly early end.
“I’ve heard of and seen some sectional final craziness but never in the section semifinals,” said St. Thomas Academy co-head coach Tom Vanelli. “Not like that. Oh, my gosh.”
No. 4-seeded Cretin-Derham Hall entered its semifinal game with a 15-11-0 record and, supposedly, a snowball-in-Yuma’s chance of surviving the matchup with the Red Knights at a packed Bloomington Ice Garden.
Cretin-Derham Hall’s Jack Jaunich finished off his hat trick, and the Red Knights, 4:38 into overtime, leaving Raiders’ co-head coach Jim O’Neill awash in nostalgia.
“After the game it was like when we allowed eight shots and beat Grand Rapids 7-0 in the (2011) state championship,” said O’Neill, who has been either a head coach or assistant in the Cretin-Derham Hall program for 36 years. “After that game it was like, ‘What did we just do?’ It was kind of that same feeling (Saturday night), ‘Did we really do that?’ ”
It should be noted that Benilde-St. Margaret's was, for all but one shift, playing without the services of top scorer and Mr. Hockey award finalist Cade Gleekel. The senior forward suffered a broken collarbone against Wayzata late in the regular season and played just one third-period shift Saturday against Cretin-Derham Hall.
"We threw him out there for inspiration as much as anything," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said. "And sure as heck, we scored."
Pauly was hesitant to play Gleekel at all because, although doctors said if Gleekel took a hit to the shoulder he couldn't hurt it worse, "It would be pretty darn painful," Pauly said.
The last time the Raiders made statewide headlines was in 2009, when they beat Apple Valley 2-1 for the Class 2A, Section 3 championship. Cretin-Derham Hall beat Duluth East 5-2 in the state quarterfinals that season, then lost to Moorhead 2-1 in the semifinals. The Raiders hadn’t reached a section championship since, and they didn’t figure to do so this season after being shuffled to Section 6 with traditional superpowers Benilde-St. Margaret’s, Edina and Wayzata.
“When we saw that (the new section alignments) it was definitely a shock,” said O’Neill, who praised co-head coach Charlie Basco and assistant Chris Hickey for devising the game plan against the Red Knights. “But after that you just have to go play. The kids had to up their game, and they have done that.”
Saturday’s series of unlikely outcomes was reminiscent of the 2012 state Class 2A quarterfinals, when all four of the tournament’s top seeds (Maple Grove, Eagan, Duluth East and Edina) were upended.
Next up for Cretin-Derham Hall is Lake Conference powerhouse Wayzata in the Section 6 title game at 6 p.m. on Wednesday at Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis.
“We watched them play Saturday, and that’s one heck of a good team,” O’Neill said about the Trojans. “They beat Edina four times this season. You don’t have to say anything more than that."