Its Tourny Time!!! Growing up, that meant only one thing in our house, it was the High School Hockey Tournament. The Holy Grail of high school sports in Minnesota. If your team made it to the tourny, skipping school to watch was not only ok, it was required. Now truthfully, there is more basketball played in Minnesota than hockey, but the passion for hockey in this state is unmatched, its a religion, like football in Pennsylvania, and basketball in Indiana. Sports Illustrated has done pieces on it, ESPN has done stories on it, and just recently it was on ESPN’s Top Ten list.
In our house it was no different. The first hockey tournament I can remember was years ago. A buddy’s older brother was playing on the high school team, they had made the tourny, and it was on TV. My brothers and friends and I all watched at the warming house at Lake Harriet on a little black and white TV and it was the coolest thing I had ever seen! Our school, Southwest High School, or as the TV always said, Minneapolis Southwest, was becoming a hockey power. As a grade schooler, this was so cool, like being in the presence of greatness. Being around Paulie’s older brother, that original neighborhood kid who made the team, was like being around a movie star.
The next year was the year the tourny went into the stratosphere. Big rich city school Edina playing little tiny Warroad. Even though Edina was our neighbors right across France Ave, they were the hated “cake eaters”, and we were all pulling for Warroad and their leader Henry Boucha. After what we all thought was a cheap shot on Boucha (really wasn’t, but hey, we hated Edina so it had to be a cheap shot!), Edina would go on to win the title and forever be hated by everyone in the state.
The next year was nirvana. Southwest and Edina had both gone undefeated (Southwest with two ties, Edina with one) and YES, they would play each other in the championship game. On TV, and in color, it was captivating like nothing I have ever seen (until the Miracle on Ice). Scoreless after 3 periods, Southwest finally dethrones the champs in OT and I remember jumping around with my brothers like it was the greatest thing of all time. And it was.
The opening game of the next season was Edina vs Southwest at Braemar arena. My dad (who thought all his boys were crazy for playing hockey, he was a basketball guy) took my brother and I to the game. It was standing room only, and one of the greatest games I have ever seen. Edina finally prevailed 2-1, but it was a great game and a harbinger of things to come. Both Edina and SW would make to the tourny that year and for many years after that. SW made it every year save 1, my junior year for the next 17 years. The galling thing about the year they didn’t make it, that was probably the best team they ever had. SW made it back the next year only to be crushed in the title game by Grand Rapids (1980 Olympian Bill Baker, and current Gopher coach Don Lucia were on that team).
After my college days, moving to California, having a family, moving back to Minnesota, hockey wasn’t such a strong passion for me. I loved the sport, but I hadn’t been on skates in 10 years. Then my son was old enough to skate and we signed him up for hockey. He hated it. Ugh, no fun. I told him he had to finish the season, then next year if he didn’t want to play that was fine. When the season ended I figured that was it, no more hockey for us.
Then the Tourny came on, and my son and I watched. Bloomington Jefferson was in the tourny and their best player was a guy named Chris Tucker. My son was awed by what he watched during that tournament, he decided he wanted to be like Chris Tucker. And another lifelong love affair with hockey was born. He played for the next 12 years and he still loves the game.
Time is unrelenting in its passage and things change. I’ve lived in Edina now for over 20 years and both my kids graduated from Edina. Southwest is still there, but no longer a hockey power, in fact it doesn’t even field a team anymore. Edina has won 9 titles, more than anyone else in the state. Cake Eaters they may be, but they can play!
I’ve been watching the tourny now for 42 years, and yes, all the sappy things you read about, hear about, are true. March Madness for sure, there is nothing like the Minnesota State Hockey Tournament.