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.
Centennial coach Ted Cheesebrough sports his custom Hockey Day Minnesota jacket during the state Class 2A semifinals. Photo by AARON LAVINSKY, firstname.lastname@example.org
Most high school athletic programs are shoestring operations. Budgets are negligible. Support staff is mostly nonexistant.
Providing stats, news, notes and juicy insider tidbits for television broadcasters and other media members doesn’t fall into the wheelhouse of most state tournament entrants.
Consider Centennial a notable exception. Everything you could possibly want to know about the Cougars -- including an affinity for Motley Crue, the birthplace of one stylish leather/fur jacket, and the origin of the nickname “Grease Monkeys” for one of the team’s forward lines -- can be found in what assistant coach Ted Cheesebrough calls his “media pack.”
A corporate lawyer by day and coach by afternoon and night, Cheesebrough might very well have been a public relations whiz or marketing mogul in a past (or future) life. You don’t just get a sense for what Centennial is all about after reading Cheesebrough’s dissertation on this year’s players and coaches and their myriad activities, you feel like you’ve spent a season or two in the Cougars’ locker room.
Without further adieu, here’s Cheesebrough’s media pack, unfiltered:
Of the four Centennial varsity coaches, three played for Centennial many years ago (Menne ’90, Johnson ’92, Cheesebrough ’92 -- the three behind the bench), while the fourth varsity coach, Gary Tolkinen, coached all of them as Centennial high school players, as he is in his 31st year behind the Centennial bench. So there is a very loyal and homegrown feel among the Centennial staff. (And, as Ritch mentioned, Centennial assistant coach Scott Kranz (CHS, ’90) is also a former Centennial player and captain.)
Coach Menne was the captain (and leading scorer) of the Centennial varsity hockey team in 1989-90. Coach Cheesebrough was the captain (and leading scorer) of the Centennial varsity hockey team in 1991-92. Ritch and Ted grew up on the same street in Lino Lakes (Hokah Drive) and used to play street hockey together while growing up with a dozen other neighborhood kids.
The Centennial coaching staff attended USA Hockey’s top coaching clinic in 2014 in Las Vegas. Naturally, Assistant Coach Ted Cheesebrough convinced the other Cougar coaches to go to the Britney Spears concert at Planet Hollywood.
When Motley Crue came to the Xcel Energy Center for their farewell tour, all of the Centennial Coaches and their wives attended together as a massive group.
Centennial is the best-traveled team in Minnesota High School hockey. Last summer, we travelled to New York City, where we: went undefeated in four games, stayed at a hotel in Times Square, visited the 9/11 Memorial and Museum, took a boat tour around Manhattan, saw a Yankee game, went to the sold-out Kendrick Lamar concert at Barclays Center in Brooklyn, visited the Museum of Modern Art, hooped it up/played street ball in NYC, and swam at the ocean out on Long Island. Every junior and senior on our roster went on this trip and you could probably get great sound bites from some of them. (We could provide great images from this trip if necessary.)
The previous summer (2016), we travelled to Colorado, where we: went undefeated in four games (including defeating the Colorado state champions), were hosted by (and skated with) two members of the Colorado Avalanche staff (who joined us for our practice on their ice), toured the University of Denver and visited with their coaching staff, went white water rafting, fly fishing, and horseback riding in the Rocky Mountains. (Again, almost every player on our current varsity team was on this trip, and we could provide great images/soundbites if necessary.)
The 2016 and 2017 trips were the third and fourth such trips that we’ve organized. We first went to Denver/Boulder in 2014, and then NYC in 2015. The trips were such a smash, that we repeated each of them in ’16 and ’17. In these four out-of-state trips over the past summers, Centennial has gone a combined 15-0.
Assistant Coach Ted Cheesebrough has competed in the Red Bull Crashed Ice competition, and still serves as a coach and participant in Red Bull Crashed Ice every year. Now, SIX former Centennial Cougar Hockey players currently race on the Red Bull Crashed Ice circuit!
Here’s a story that WCCO did on us last year:
And here’s a story that WCCO did on Ted’s racing in 2013:
Coach Tolkinen’s son, Zach Tolkinen (also a Centennial hockey alumnus), is in his 4th year playing professional hockey, Zach plays for the Wheeling Nailers in the ECHL (the Pittsburgh Penguins’ East Coast League farm team). Zach played his college hockey at Quinnipiac University and played in the NCAA national title game in 2013.
Ritch has even deeper Centennial roots. His grandpa was the school janitor at Centennial High School when it opened in 1958. Ritch’s aunt, Lavonne Menne, was the Homecoming Queen at Centennial in the 1960’s, and Ritch, himself, was the Homecoming King in 1989. As Ritch mentioned, his middle son, Jack, is a senior on this year’s team. Ritch’s oldest son, Richie played for us and graduated in 2015. And Ritch’s youngest son, Sam, is currently in 7th grade and is on the Centennial AA PeeWees.
By day, the four Cougar coaches represent a nice cross-section of the working world. Ritch Menne is a salesman, Chris Johnson is an engineer, Gary Tolkinen is a middle school teacher, and Ted Cheesebrough is a lawyer.
A. Here, we will pull back the curtain and give you a few behind-the-scenes items with our team:
1. One video opportunity will present itself for you during our pre-game. After Coach Menne’s final pre-game comments, our team does a roll call for that night’s starting line-up – the entire team responds and it ties into the dog tags that the guys wear which show each player’s name/number on one side and our “If one of us goes to war, we all go to war” mantra.
2. Pictures of those dog tags are attached. The coaches wear the dog tags, too, and the coaches who are Centennial alumni (and all of whom were Centennial “Chiefs”) have their initials and year on theirs.
3. We divide the entire year into Mini-Seasons, we set goals for those Mini-Seasons, and then we review each Mini-Season and how we did with our goals, and flush that Mini-Season after it’s over, and move onto the next one. So we have those team meetings approximately every 3 weeks during the year
So far this year, we’ve had the following:
Season 1: “Show of Strength” -- we went 4-0 against: Roseau, Armstrong/Cooper, Coon Rapids, and Elk River
Season 2: “Hunt or Be Hunted” – we went 2-2-2 against: Blaine, Osseo, Duluth East, Hill-Murray, Edina, and Burnsville
Season 3: “New Year, New Commitment” – we went 3-1-1 against: Brainerd, Maple Grove, Andover, Anoka, and Elk River.
Season 4: “RELOAD” – we went 3-3 vs Blaine, Moorhead, Maple Grove, Edina, Andover, and Anoka
Season 5: “FINISH” – we went 4-0 vs Irondale, Champlin, Totino-Grace, and Spring Lake Park
Season 6: “March On” – (Section Playoffs) we went 3-0 vs Coon Rapids, Anoka, and Maple Grove
And this weekend is Season 7: “March. Together. Forever.” vs St. Thomas, Tonka/Hill, East/Edina/LVN/STMA
We have nine goals during each season: (1) Be Positive, (2) Score First, (3) Don’t Allow any Goals in the First or Last 2 Minutes of a Period, (4) Get at least 30 Shots on Goal, (5) Allow no greater than 20 Shots on Goal Against, (6) Block 10 shots per game (or 1/3 of our opponent’s shot total), (7) Get 40 hits/contacts per game, (8) have our combined special team’ percentages be at least 105%, and (9) deliver the Coup de Grace when we have our opponent down. (The boys talk about the Coup de Grace -- delivering that killing below -- frequently.)
B. Finally, I’ll be rocking my custom leather/fur Hockey Day Minnesota coaching jacket – which was custom-made in Dubai and which arrived safely from the United Arab Emirates in January to make its debut in our outdoor game vs Moorhead! The coat was designed partially in homage to “Reg Dunlop” (Paul Newman), Player Coach of the Charlestown Chiefs in “Slapshot.”
And here are some of our players’ nicknames and some nicknames for a couple of our forward lines:
1 – Travis Allen – “Ballz”
2 – Andrew Stuart – “Pup”
7 – Will Francis – “Franchise”
10 – Jack Menne – “Huncho Jack”
11 – Lucas McGregor – “The Irish Assassin”
12 – Luke Arends – “Yoli”
14 – Hayden Brickner – “Hitman”
19 – Caleb Nelson – “The Hamburglar”
28 – Josh Hermes – “God of Thieves” (as his last name is that of the Greek God, Hermes)
33 – Bryce Crowley – “Saint Crowley”
Names of forward lines:
The McGregor-Menne-Wagner line is the “Global Warming Line” because they are burning up the Ozone (that is, the Offensive Zone).
The Kanner-Brickner-Stuart line are the “Grease Monkeys” because two of the three are in the same Small Engines/Shop class at Centennial High School.
The Hermes-Pierson-Nelson line is the “Wild” – because their practice jerseys are Green and Red.
Name of a seldom-occurring D pairing:
Occasionally, when games get a little rough and we wish to have a more physical presence on the blue line, we send out #5 Weiss and #7 Francis, together – and when Weiss & Francis go as a defensive pairing, they are collectively called “Destructo.”