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Record playoff hockey rout raises serious questions of fairness

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The goals just kept going in. At 3-0, the Minnesota Class 1A state hockey playoffs first-round game was practically over. At 5-0, St. Thomas (Minn.) Academy had thoroughly demoralized New Ulm (Minn.) High. By the time the scoreline reached 7-0, fans started to feel awkward about the rout.

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Yet something made that score even worse: It was 7-0, and it was only the end of the first period.

According to the St. Paul Pioneer Press, St. Thomas tied a Minnesota state record by scoring seven goals in a single period in its Wednesday state quarterfinal rout. Then they went on to tear apart New Ulm by a final score of 13-2.

It would be one thing if that score was put up early in the regular season, but this was the state playoffs, in front of a huge crowd at St. Paul's Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL's Minnesota Wild. This was not supposed to be the time for a record-setting rout.

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"The way they came out in the first period, we've never seen anything like that since last year we were here when we played Breck," New Ulm coach Erik Setterholm, pictured at right, told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. "It's a tough week because the emotions are high after winning your section, and the next day you find out you have to play the No. 1 team in the state."

While there were some initial questions of sportsmanship, it's hard to find too much fault with St. Thomas' approach, considering the fact that the game was a state tournament game. Rather, aspersions are being directed at the Minnesota Interscholastic Athletic Association, with some wondering whether it's fair or ethical to allow a private school based in the high catchment twin cities metroplex to compete against tiny public schools from rural areas.

When the outcome of Wedensday's game was justified to Setterholm on the basis of the schools being in the same class, he had a simple response:

"Yes, we're both in Class A,'' Setterholm told the Pioneer Press. "But are we?''

It's a valid question that could very well haunt the rest of the Class 1A state tournament, with St. Thomas joined by three public schools with demographics similar to New Ulm in the division's final four.

Regardless of what other teams and members of the press may feel, St. Thomas' players have made clear that they will keep attacking the net, regardless of score.

"We weren't really thinking about how the other team was going to react," St. Thomas forward A.J. Reid told the Star Tribune. "Maybe just from their schedule, they don't see as tough of teams as we do. But it doesn't matter. You have to come out hard and play hard at the state tournament. That was our main focus."

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