The tournament began back in 1945 in St. Paul. After a stop at the home of the Minnesota North Stars, the Met Center, for eight years in the 1970's, the tournament returned to St. Paul at the new St. Paul Civic Center, known for it's clear boards, which you can see below in one of today's videos. For nearly 50 years the tournament was played as an eight team, single class tournament, which lent itself to classic David versus Goliath matchups, as the smaller schools from the northern part of the state traveled down to the big city to take on some of the largest schools attendance-wise in the state.
Those private schools are considered to have the advantage of being able to recruit the best players to attend their schools rather than take what comes their way in the case of the traditional public schools who draw students from their local geographic region. This "class war" is an age old argument between the public and private schools and is only magnified with the arrival of a smaller school from the north, such as when tiny Roseau makes an appearance in St. Paul, and is one of the driving forces behind the ongoing popularity of the tournament, as every great drama must have its villain.
#13 patches in support of Jack Jablonski
In today's first game, #2 St. Thomas Academy (23-4-1), a private school from the Twin Cities takes on Lakeville South (18-9-1) from the southern edge of the metro area. The survivor of that game will face the winner of #3 Moorhead (22-3-3), another school from the northwest part of the state across the Red River from Fargo, North Dakota, and Hill-Murray (19-5-4), a private school from St. Paul and virtually annual state tournament participant.
The upper half of the Class AA bracket that plays in the evening session begins with a rematch of last year's championship game, defending state champions Wayzata (10-17-1) from the west metro area facing the #1 rated Eden Prarie (21-4-2) squad, led by arguably the best player in the state and future University of Minnesota Golden Gopher Casey Mittelstadt, whose decision to return for his senior season of high school hockey and shoot for a state title for his school with his friends rather than leave school to play junior hockey was written up in no less than the New York Times! Despite Wayzata being the only team in the tournament with a losing record, they are battle tested, having played in the toughest conference in the state and had a hellish non-conference schedule to prepare them for today's game. The final game of the day sees the only classic Iron Range school #5 Grand Rapids (20-7-1) from northern Minnesota 3 hours drive from St. Paul facing #4 Maple Grove (22-6) from the northwest Twin Cities suburbs, with the winner facing the team that advances out of the Wayzata vs. Eden Prairie clash.
Eden Prairie has to like the way things have gone so far, as #2 Edina, #3 Stillwater, #4 Holy Family, #5 Centennial, #7 Elk River and #8 Lakeville North, as ranked by the Let's Play Hockey newspaper, all fell in the section playoffs and they then drew the only team with a losing record in the tournament and their #1 ranking allows them to avoid the #2 and #3 tournament seeds until a possible meeting in the championship final.
And just how important has the hockey hair become to the tournament? Last year sports broadcasting powerhouse ESPN sent former Los Angeles Kings head coach and their lead hockey analyst Barry Melrose to do a feature story, not on the hockey games, but the hockey hair, popularized by the All Hockey Hair Team videos posted annually on You Tube since 2011. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Minneflowta.
2003 state champions Anoka have been home to one NHLer, Steve Alley, who played 105 games for the Birmingham Bulls of the WHA in 1977-78 and 1978-79 and 15 games for the Hartford Whalers divided between 1979-80 and 1980-81.
Let's see if we can possibly capture the event, spirit and emotion of the tournament with today's video selections, beginning with a look at last year's excitement.