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.
The rise of Class 1A programs such as Monticello has led to more compelling games in the state Class 1A tournament quarterfinals. Photo by Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune
Two years, two quarterfinal rounds of mostly compelling, competitive Class 1A play.
A welcome trend? Or a mirage?
With hockey fans around St. Paul and the state raising eyebrows and hoisting thumbs-up over the recent improved quality of opening-round Class 1A play, we, like them, are brimming with hope that the days of the first-day snoozefests have come to an end.
“There’s certainly parity,” Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl said Wednesday after his No. 2-seeded and No. 2-state ranked Zephyrs rallied from a one-goal third-period deficit to beat unseeded and unranked Mankato East 4-2.
Just a few short years ago, Poeschl would have been laughed out of the room had he mentioned parity and the Class 1A field in the same breath. Since 2007, when the top four (and now five) teams have been seeded, the quarterfinals slowly evolved into greater and greater mismatches. In 2009 the aggregate score of the four first-round games was 21-5. And it got worse from there.
The pinnacle of the lunacy may have been reached in 2012, when the quarterfinals results read like this:
St. Thomas Academy 7, Little Falls 0
Breck 7, Duluth Marshall 0
Hermantown 7, Rochester Lourdes 2
Thief River Falls 5, New Ulm 1
Who could forget St. Thomas Academy’s 12-0 thrashing of St. Cloud Apollo in 2013? Or the the 2016 quarters, wehn Breck beat Mankato West 8-0, Hermantown beat Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 11-3 and Thief River Falls beat Princeton 6-1.
With last year’s stunning reversal of all those Woeful Wednesdays, followed by this year’s three-out-of-four run of competitive games, it’s hard not to believe hockey, as a whole, is improving all around the state.
“The whole state is really developing some really good hockey at the single-A level,” Hermantown coach Pat Andrews said after Wednesday’s thriller with Monticello in a rematch of last year’s double-overtime title game.
“Monticello is a hell of a team,” said Andrews, whose Hawks have appeared in the last eight title games, winning a second straight championship last year. “They’ve shown that two years in a row now against us. I understand that we are the No. 1 team in the state so everyone is coming after us, but it does a disservice to these other teams a little bit to treat these games like they are supposed to be so lopsided.
“They sure make us earn it, I’ll tell you that.”