The Minnesota Boy's High School Hockey Tournament, starting Wednesday, is something of a big deal here in the State of Hockey. Texas has football, the Northeast has lacrosse, and North Dakota has... well, lots of open space. Minnesota has hockey, though, and when it comes to hockey, high school hockey is an even bigger deal than the (semi-) professional Minnesota Wild or the five division one NCAA programs spread across the state.
Hockey fans across the state will be absent from work. Those who cannot escape the bonds of labor will no doubt have the live internet stream of the event running all day on their computers. In fact, there's no doubt that a few motivated graduate student somewhere could probably do their doctoral studies on the drop in productivity within the borders of Minnesota during "The Tourney." Nothing like it exists in the state ... and few things like it exist across the country.
This year's event promises not to disappoint and, with so many story lines to follow, a hockey fan could melt into a pile of vulcanized, rubbery goo.
For those unfamiliar, the tournament is divided into two classes, with the small schools and big schools playing their respective sized schools -- despite the fact that some of the small school in northern Minnesota could give the "big" schools a run for their money.
Class AA - The Big Schools
The story of the tournament will be the Benilde-St. Margaret Red Knights. Their teammate, Jack Jablonski became a household name nationwide when he was injured earlier this season and left paralyzed. The Red Knights will be a rare sentimental favorite to come from the ranks of the state's private schools, a group normally demonized by the public school masses. The Red Knights face powerhouse No. 4 Edina in the first round, too, so there will be little doubt who most of the state will be pulling for.
Other matchups in the first round (bracket here) will pit top-seeded Duluth East against Lakeville South, No. 2 Maple Grove against Hill Murray, and No. 3 Eagan against Moorehead. Many of the unseeded teams have better than normal chances against their opponents, and there very well could be some upsets. Jesse De St. Hubert at Hockey Wilderness calls it "parity." No one at the tourney will call it that. If you have that fancy ranking, you best be prepared to defend it..
Class A - The Small Schools
The Class A tourney is almost always way more fun to watch than the AA side of things. The small schools bring busloads of fans from their respective towns around the state, and they are passionate and loud in their support. The big three to watch in the 'A' tournament are Hermantown, Saint Thomas Academy and The Breck School. This is where the flare-ups happen in the private vs. public debate, by the way, as STA and Breck are favorites nearly every season.
The match ups in the A tournament ('A' bracket here) are top-seeed Hermantown vs Rocheser Lourdes, No. 2 STA vs Little Falls, No. 3 Breck vs Duluth Marshall and fourth-seeded Thief River Falls vs New Ulm. There will be favorites picked, as with any tournament, but the sentimental favorite here has to be New Ulm. A town of just under 13,000, New Ulm is known more for their brewery than their their hockey program. They are at the tourney for the second year in a row, however, and could have quite a few people at the Xecel Energy Center on their side.
If You're Going
Get down to St. Paul early, especially on championship Saturday, as the parking ramps will fill up. This is a major event in Minnesota, and if you want to be part of it, you have to immerse yourself in it. Even if you have no team in the race, you should still head down -- The sights and sounds are enough for any red blooded hockey fan to enjoy. If nothing else, it is nice to see these kids play for nothing but the pure pleasure of playing the game.
And remember, Neal Broten won NCAA titles, Olympic gold, and a Stanley Cup ... and called his time at the State Tournament the best win of his life. This is a big deal to these kids, and it is a big deal to most of the state. If you haven't experienced it, you need to. This is something no Minnesotan can go to their grave without seeing.
For more on the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament, check out Hockey Wilderness. They'll be updating throughout the week and should provide the best coverage anywhere on the internet (though we'll have daily recaps here as well).