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Tourney missing the usual array of villains

By Loren Nelson, 03/02/16, 11:00AM CST


Eden Prairie could become the new team fans so love to hate

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.

Edina, the affluent southwest suburb that embraces its “Cake Eater” moniker, has appeared in 26 state tournaments. Make that 32 if you count the five appearances as Edina East and one as Edina West. The Hornets have a record nine state championships. They are the team everyone loves to hate.

For the first time in nine seasons, Edina did not qualify for the tourney. All those boos and “Daddy’s Money!” chants will have to be directed at someone else.

Hill-Murray, the private school that draws star players from all over the east metro and beyond, has appeared in 27 state tournaments. The Pioneers have won three state titles. For just the third time in 11 seasons, Hill-Murray did not qualify for the tourney. In fact, in another recent-era rarity, no private schools reached the big-school tournament this season.

Villains are as essential to the state tournament as pep bands, beach balls and face paint. So who will be this year’s team that everyone loves to hate? Eden Prairie coach Lee Smith thinks he knows.

“In our game, I have a feeling there will be 16,000 people rooting for Anoka and two for us,” said Smith, who guided the Eagles to state championships in 2009 and 2011. The Eagles, the somewhat controversial top seed ahead of feel-good Stillwater, open quarterfinal play against the Tornadoes, perhaps the most unlikely qualifier, on Thursday.

The Class 1A field, by contrast, isn’t lacking for black hats. Hermantown, once the scrappy team everyone loved to love, has lost must of that luster after years and years of dominance in section play – not to mention runner-up finishes in the last six state tournaments. There’s a growing clamor for the Hawks to move up to Class 2A, as former dominant Class 1A programs St. Thomas Academy, Benilde-St. Margaret’s and others have done.

Breck is another Class 1A tournament mainstay fans love to hate. If the seeds hold true (Hermantown is the top seed and Breck is the No. 2 seed), otherwise neutral fans will face a difficult decision.

“If we get that far, we might even have people cheering for us,” said Breck coach Les Larson, who has guided the Mustangs to state tournament appearances in seven of his eight years as head coach. 

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