Monday, March 14, 2011

The 2011 Let's Play Hockey Expo & Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament

As you may have noticed we had no new post yesterday, as on both Friday and Saturday your intrepid reporter spent the entire day at the 2011 Let's Play Hockey Expo and Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament in St. Paul, Minnesota.

LPH Expo
The Let's Play Hockey Expo

The Expo is billed as the Nation's Premier Consumer Trade Show, and with many exhibitors competing for the attention attention of 40,000 hockey fans, there are many great deals and freebies to be had, and today we are going to share our haul.

Friday the show began at 10 AM and we spent several hours looking for the best bargains and some early giveaways before the popular ones were all gone. Our haul that morning included the following pictured below. Clockwise, a Reebok premier Minnesota Wild jersey for $45, a Minnesota Wild "helmet" fleece hat for $5, from K1 jerseys, a youth size University of Minnesota-Duluth jersey for $10, a "State of Hockey" t-shirt free from Total Hockey won with a lucky scratch-off card, a half price coupon for admission to the United States Hockey Hall of Fame in Eveleth, Minnesota, a banner featuring the logos of all the clubs in the Kontinental Hockey League around the Gagarin Cup from our friends at Lutch Jerseys (pronounced "lootch") who came all the way from Russia for the Expo, and a Minnesota North Stars cap, also for $5 from the same seller as the Wild helmet hat.

2011 Hockey Expo haul
Our Friday haul

Around lunchtime, he had a craving for a Divanni's Pizza and some hockey action, so we moved next door to the Xcel Energy Center to watch the Class A semifinals for the schools with enrollments under roughly 1,200 students. With our ticket and pizza now procured, we moved into the lower bowl of the seating area, which for Class A is general admission, and were treated a cracking game between two northern schools Hermantown (24-3-2), from just outside of Duluth, and Hibbing/Chisholm (18-9-2).

We joined the game with Hibbing leading 1-0 after one. Hermantown lit their fans on fire with 4 goals in the first 7 minutes of the second only to have Adam Johnson single handedly drag Hibbing back into the game with a pair of goals in the final minute of the period to make it 4-3 with 20 minutes remaining.

Johnson completed his hat trick at 2:34 of the third on the power play to tie the game at 4-4 and complete the Hibbing comeback. Hermantown went back on top at 10:50 with a Andrew Mattson rebound goal. Finally, with their goaltender pulled, Hibbing tried desperately to tie the game and force overtime, only to have Jared Kohlquist loft a shot toward the empty Hibbing goal. Johnson, the Hibbing defender leapt to block the shot, only to have it tick off the end of his fingertips and continue down the ice.

Johnson landed, turned and gave the chase of his life after the sliding, yet slowing puck. Johnson and the puck arrived at the goal line at the same time, and he swiped his stick as he dove in a valiant effort to knock the puck sideways before it crossed the line. Agonizingly, he made contact with the puck just after it was over the line to seal the victory for Hermantown, who would advance to the finals the next day.

We stayed for most of the second game, in which St. Thomas Academy overpowered Thief River Falls 5-0 and left to take in more of the of Expo before calling it a day.

Saturday, following an exciting morning of Pinewood Derby racing, we and our Cub Scout returned to the Hockey Expo to take in the proceedings from the viewpoint of a seven year old. Donned in the "State of Hockey" t-shirt won the previous day, his goal was to try out as many stick handling, puck shooting, lucky wheel spinning interactive opportunities as possible.

Many exhibitors obliged, with displays of puck rebound devices, goal net target practice inserts, stick handing drill contraptions, hardest shot radar guns and puck shooting accuracy contests, as well as lucky spinning wheels and hockey stick "putting" contests for prizes.

Saturday's haul for our seven year old included free commemorative patches from the Minnesota Wild won on their lucky spinning wheel, an autographed 8x10 from former Minnesota Gopher and NHLer Paul Broten, a Nikolai Khabibulin McFarlane Sports Pick action figure purchased from the trading card portion of the show, a very nice shot of the two of us in front of a "green screen" with a goal superimposed behind us for free from Total Hockey, a free Easton backpack from their large display area, a free training ball from EZPuck.com, free pencils from USA Hockey, a Goldy Gopher tattoo and a Target Stores bandana for free from the 2011 NCAA Frozen Four booth, a backpack won by our 7 year old at the Shock Doctor booth in a shooting accuracy contest and a free puck from HockeyTrain.com.

2011 Hockey Expo haul
Saturday's swag from the Expo

Following the closing of the Expo at 6 PM, we learned of tickets still being available for the Class AA championship final at 7 PM between the Duluth East Greyhounds (24-5-0) and the Eden Prairie Eagles (23-5-2), and still not having had enough hockey, bought ourselves a pair of seats higher up than planes fly, but darn it, we were in the building for the championship game as part of an announced crowd of 15,078.

Eden Prairie's students cleverly took up three sections in the upper deck to our right, one dressed all in black, the middle one all wearing red and the near section all decked out in white shirts! We even spotted gorillia, banana and chicken suits!

After a scoreless first period, Duluth East struck first at 3:31 of the second period on a perfectly run power play when Trevor Olson buried a perfect cross-ice pass from Jake Randolph into a wide open net that Andrew Ford could do nothing to stop.

Eden Prairie evened the score at 1:43 of the third period when Mark Rath lifted one over JoJo Jeanetta in the Greyhounds goal who was laying prone on the ice after stopping a previous in close attempt.

As the fans continued to chant for their teams and at each other, the intensity continued to rise. with 7:29 remaining in the game, Olson fired a shot at Ford in the Eden Prairie goal. It hit him up high and went off his blocker and bounced up into the air. Floating and tumbling, the puck continued in a lazy arc farther upwards - and backwards. Ford, as well as two of the Eagles all made desperate swipes or reaches for the puck which eventually cleared the goal line and came down inside the net, along with two of the diving Eden Prairie defenders, for the second Duluth East lead of the game.

With just under three minutes remaining in the game, David Rath evened the score when he tucked a rebound of a point shot past Jeanetta to once again tie the game and keep Eden Prairie's hopes alive and make the black, red and white sections, as well as the chicken, the gorilla and the banana go, well, bananas.

The remainder of the period passed scoreless, sending the game into overtime with 22 shots for Eden Prairie to 20 for Duluth East. The periods in high school hockey are 17:00 minutes long and the rules call for a three minute break and followed by a 8:00 overtime. It was the second championship game to go to overtime that day, as St. Thomas Academy prevailed 5-4 in overtime after falling behind 3-0 to Hibbling in the first 7 minutes of their Class A championship game earlier in the day.

The officials did a commendable job, letting the players play and the first overtime concluded with the Eagles holding a 3-2 lead in shots. The teams went to the locker room as the ice was resurfaced before the second overtime, a full 17:00 period.

The Greyhounds easily outshot the Eagles 6-2, but the Eden Prairie defense kept the Duluth East forwards out wide, as nearly every shot was a long way out and easily seen by Ford in goal for the Eagles.

The third overtime, scheduled for 8:00 of time, began with a whiff on a puck by a Eden Prairie defender and a lunging backhand by Duluth East that went just wide. Jeanetta had to deal with another of the unusual number of bouncing dump-ins sent his way during the game, all of which he handled well, any one of which could have gone horribly wrong. Meanwhile, Ford stoned a wraparound attempt by Duluth East, one of the few times he had to deal with a close in shot during what had now become the longest final in state tournament history.

Finally with 3:28 to play, the Greyhounds dumped the puck in deep, where Nick Seeler, who played an excellent game on defense for the Eagles, corralled the puck and sent it up to Des Shavlik at the left blueline. Shavlik made a great cross-ice pass up to Curt Rau who caught up to the puck at the red line and skated it into the Duluth East zone along the right boards. Once over the line he put everything he had into a low, hard shot a Jeanetta.

Jeanetta got a large piece of the puck while just outside of his crease, but the puck somehow got through him, and after deflecting off the inside of his left leg, came out behind him and slowly slithered across the top of the blue paint. Andrew Kerr, seeing the puck sitting loose in the Greyhounds crease took two quick strides and took a swipe at the puck to clear it, but only ticked it with the heel of his stick, leaving it moving to the left but only just outside of the crease.

Kyle Rau arrived on the scene for the Eagles in full flight, and made a desperate, lunging backhand swipe at the puck. In the blink of an eye, he made solid contact with the puck, only to have it rebound off the pipe, back into the crease and off of the unlucky Kerr's skate blade and into the net for the championship winning goal at 3:17 of the third overtime to give Eden Prairie their second State Championship in three years. The goal sent the team and their fans into euphoria that only high schoolers are capable of while the Duluth East players showed the misery and disappointment only high schoolers are capable of.

But what about today's featured jersey you ask? Yes, we have not forgotten about that aspect of Third String Goalie.

Today's featured jersey is a 2011-12 Ak Bars Kazan Alexei Morozov jersey purchased directly from Lutch at the Hockey Expo. This amazing jersey is a change in approach for Lutch, as for the first time, not only are the KHL logo on the neck and the beautifully executed main crest fully embroidered sewn on patches, as their authentics have had before, but the Kazan name on the shoulder, the sleeve and back numbers and the name are all fully sewn on two layers of twill and the "snow leopard" shoulder patch is also fully embroidered into the jersey!

We've long been fans of dye-sublimated jerseys from Tackla, as far back as the late 1980's, and Lutch jerseys, which date back nearly as far in our collection. Their bright colors wash and wear beautifully and are not subject to cracking and peeling like heat sealed or silk screened graphics, but this new level of quality out of Russia rivals anything produced for NHL clubs, if not surpasses it.

For more on Morozov, who was flag bearer for Russia and captain of the Russia National Team at the most recent Winter Olympicsin Vancouver, please see our recent article on him here.

Ak Bars Kazan 11-12 F
Ak Bars Kazan 11-12 B

Bonus Jersey: Today's bonus jersey is a 2007-08 Russia National Team Alexander Ovechkin jersey. This style jersey with the multiple sponsorship patches would have been worn in competitions outside of the World Championships and Olympics when Nike supplies the national team, such as the Super Series of games between the junior teams of Russia and Canada, or the Channel One Cup (formerly known as the Izvestia Cup as it was known from 1969 to 1996) held each December as part of the Euro Hockey Tour.

While we are not certain Ovechkin actually wore this particular style due to his NHL commitments, with Lutch not wanting to bring the jerseys back to Russia with them at the conclusion of the show, the price was simply too good to pass up.

While the previous style of jersey featured all sewn on twill names and numbers, this jersey is a prime example of the more familiar all dye-sublimated jerseys we have grown accustomed to from Lutch. Note in particular the blue pointed spikes which fade from dark blue to light blue across their length, something impossible to do with twill.

Russia 07-08 F
Russia 07-08 B

Here is the 2011 Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament All Hockey Hair Team!


Next is a highlight video showing the color, excitement, enthusiastic fans, crazy costumes, dramatic plays and goal celebrations of the entire 2011 tournament, concluding with the memorable final goal in the third overtime of the Class AA championship final.


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