Behind the scenes at the boys hockey state tournament

David La Vaque, Jim Paulsen, Heather Rule and Jerry Zgoda will spend the rest of the week tracking down moments and memories at the boys hockey state championships at Xcel Energy Center. Come back often to see what they found.

. . .

11:51 p.m.

Taking attendance

Attendance for the morning session was announced at 5,488, and the evening session number was 6,203. Attendance will grow as the tournament moves along, with Thursday, Friday and Saturday night crowds drawing tens of thousands of fans. Total attendance for last year's four-day tournament was 121,589, which includes the Class 1A and Class 2A championship bracket games, plus all consolation games.



'Push' is no clever name, but it's a clever play

Mahtomedi senior forward Gene Wegleitner took one faceoff all game.

It proved to be biggest play of the game.

In a game tied 2-2 with less than six minutes remaining, Wegleitner pushed the faceoff through the opposing faceoff man and toward the Orono goalie. He stepped toward the puck, corralled it and slid it around the Orono goaltender and into the net, giving Mahtomedi the game-winning goal.

Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl said it was a designed play.

"That's his side. He does that play quite often," Poeschl said. "It was a bread-and-butter play. He was able to make a great individual effort, get the puck to the net and make a nice move to beat the goalie."

In past years, Mahtomedi has become known for the creative names of its set plays. Poeschl was asked if this play had a name.

"Push. Not quite as creative as Lava Cake or some of the others," Poeschl said with a grin.



Defense is Hermantown's identity

Sure, Hermantown scored six goals Wednesday night. But it was the defense — the backbone of the team, as coach Patrick Andrews called it — that was the star of the show for the top-seeded Hawks.

It started in goal with Dane Callaway. He weathered the storm late in the first period on the way to his 15th career shutout. One of the top-four defensemen, junior Henry Peterson, also happened to score two of the team's goals.

But the Hermantown team this year, a program that's no stranger to the state tournament, knew defense was going to be the identity this season, Andrews said.

"Those last couple years, we've kind of been able to rely on our forwards a little bit because of the talent that we've had," said goaltender Dane Callaway. "This year, we just have a lot of new guys. A lot of youngsters on the team. And our D is just holding us down."

The team has a "very selfless culture," Andrews said, because defense is selfless.

"You don't get your name in the paper … playing great team D and getting kids to buy into that, it doesn't show up in the newspaper, and you don't get your name announced," Andrews said. "It's pretty impressive when you get a whole group of 20 guys to buy into that system. And they've done that."

Once they take care of the defensive end, then Hermantown defensive players have the freedom to make plays offensively, too.

"We get the job done in the D zone, we go in the O zone," Peterson said.

Hermantown has had great team defense all season, Andrews said.

"But we haven't been able to get scoring," Andrews said. "And in the last month, we've started to score goals."

Hermantown has outscored opponents 41-5 with three shutouts on its current six-game winning streak.

9:29 p.m.

Animal instincts

Hermantown players bleached their hair blond for the tournament, which isn't unusual for players and teams there this time of year.

Except for junior Graff Mellin, who skated out in pregame introductions Wednesday with a leopard-print hint.

"We kind of knew it was coming," senior captain Will Esterbrooks said. "He sent a picture in our group chat. We were like, 'Do it.' He was like, 'OK, why not?' He's always an outlier with hair."

Andrews liked it the way it was, a vibrant natural red.

"I wish we had a before and after because Graff has sweet hair, unbelievable flow," he said. "He has very red hair."

"Ginger," Esterbrooks said, interrupting.

"Really red natural hair," Andrews said. "He showed up at school and everybody was saying if I'd seen Graff. I thought something funny happened when he dyed it. When I saw it, oh my gosh, Dennis Rodman style. Incredible."


9:27 p.m.

Alexandria's momentum

Alexandria was on its heels the first five minutes of the game against Hermantown before they turned their game around early, coach Josh Meyers said. The Cardinals started playing the body and found themselves in Hermantown's zone.

"Not too many teams play in Hermantown's defensive zone," Meyers said. "So we were able to get some chances. I think the shots [on goal] were 14-12 after the first. So, it was good momentum for us."

Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews noticed a difference after the second TV timeout in the first period. Before that, Hermantown "kind of had our way with them" and put up lopsided shots-on-goal numbers, Andrews said. But Alexandria nearly evened the shot total in the final few minutes of the period.

"You could tell that [Alexandria's] coach got on them a little bit, or whatever was said I don't know, but they just started outworking us," Andrews said.

Alexandria buzzed around the Hermantown net in the final two minutes of the period and found itself down only 1-0 at the first intermission.

"We had a lot of talk in the locker room, obviously," senior defenseman Gage Castle. "It was pretty positive. We ended the first period pretty well, came out pretty slow in the second. Obviously showed. We were pretty confident coming into that second period."

In the second, Meyers said his team's passing got sloppy and "decisionmaking was off a little bit."

"It seems like over time, as the games go on, we get better and better," Andrews said. "And we wear teams down, and they [the Hawks] are great about sticking with the process. It usually comes out the right way when we do. And I think the second period was that."


9:24 p.m.

Metcalf kept it close

Alexandria senior goaltender Brady Metcalf kept the game close for a long time, making some point-blank saves. He made 37 saves in the game; it was the third time this season he's faced more than 40 shots.

"He's been an absolute stud for us this year," Castle said. "Came to our team this year, and I wouldn't say saved our season but definitely helped it quite a bit. Played huge tonight. Definitely kept us in the game. And we definitely didn't help him very much."



Goalie gets physical

Hermantown goaltender Dane Callaway head-butted the goal's crossbar just before Wednesday night's opening tip and … then went on to tie a school record with the 15th shutout of his career.

"I've been doing that every game since my sophomore year," said Callaway, a senior. "Just as a player, like a big hit, getting the nerves out, settling myself in for the game."

Alexandria tried to get physical with him, to get him off his game.

"I love contact, I don't care," he said. "I guess I always am feisty in warmups, trying to get the boys fired up."

Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews called Callaway "a warrior and a competitor" who is better when he plays angry.

"When Dane is mad in warmups, I know we're going to be good," Andrews said. "He gets mad at the boys if they shoot a puck off the back of his leg or something. That's just the way he is. I truly mean it. That's our culture built from that goal line out. He's going to get on these guys when they screw up. They get on him, too."


8:08 p.m.

Mahtomedi tweets tourney memories

The Mahtomedi boys hockey program commemorated its 70th hockey season and 15th state tournament trip this year by sharing photos and memories on its team X account, @ZephyrsBoysPuck.

Here's the list, with memories and photos the account started sharing on March 3:

1. The Zephyrs captured the third-place trophy at the 2015 state tournament.

2. The Zephyrs captured the third-place trophy at the 2019 state tournament.

3. Captain Colin Hagstrom converted a pass from JD Metz at 2:44 of overtime and the Zephyrs won their very first state hockey title in 2020!

4. Sophomore Ben Dardis made 40 saves in the state championship win in 2020.

5. The Zephyrs take their championship to their fans in 2020!

6. Captain Colin Hagstrom was honored as the first-ever Zephyr to win the Herb Brooks Award in 2020.

7. There is only one first and this is it. The 2020 state hockey champions of Mahtomedi!

8. The Zephyrs' superb goaltender Ben Dardis led Mahtomedi to two third-place trophies (2019, 2022) and a state title in 2020.

9. The Zephyrs captured the third-place trophy at the 2022 state tournament!

10. Charlie Drage's hat-trick, passion, front teeth and desire led the Zephyrs to the state championship in 2023!

11. Jonny Grove scores the championship-winning goal in the second overtime and the Zephyrs have their second state hockey title in 2023!

12. The 2023 Class 1A state hockey champions of Mahtomedi!

13. Captain David Wolsfeld was honored as the second-ever Zephyr to win the Herb Brooks Award in 2023.

14. Since 2015 this is the list of Zephyrs named to the all-tournament teams.

15. We play for each other and we play as one! Go Zephyrs!


6:54 p.m.

Nice run for Northfield

It's been a nice run for Northfield sports over the past three weeks.

The Raiders boys hockey team qualified for its second consecutive Class 1A tournament bracket, falling to St. Cloud Cathedral 5-1 in Thursday's quarterfinals.

Two weeks ago, the girls hockey team made an appearance in the Class 2A tournament but lost twice.

"There's good camaraderie between the teams," Northfield boys coach Mike Luckraft said. "We look at it as just Northfield hockey, not boys and girls."

In the week between, Northfield wrestler Caley Graber made a historic run in the wrestling state tournament, becoming the first girl to win a match in the boys bracket. She won three times and finished fifth in Class 3A at 107 pounds.


5:59 p.m.

Strike up the band

After a quiet afternoon session, the tournament finally saw dueling pep bands to start the evening session. In one corner, it's a sea of red with the Alexandria band. In the other corner, Hermantown sent its band in matching hockey jerseys in the school's navy blue.

The bands were already battling it out during pregame warmups. "Thriller" was on the list, as was Green Day's "Holiday" and "Uptown Funk" by Mark Ronson.


5:29 p.m.

Crusaders goalie remains unbeaten

St. Cloud Cathedral senior goalie Nick Hansen missed 11 games this season with an upper-body injury. His value could scarcely have been more obvious.

The Crusaders recorded all four of their losses while Hansen was out. They are on 13-game winning streak since Hansen returned.

Wednesday, he gave up an early goal to Northfield before shutting out the Raiders for the rest of the game by making 19 saves. St. Cloud Cathedral is 17-0-1 with Hansen between the pipes.

Hansen admitted he had a slight case of state-tournament jitters early in the game but settled down quickly.

"Obviously, there's nerves. We're back in the state tournament," he said. "But we had big expectations and we were able to settle in and play our game. Defense played really well in front of me. Forwards were able to play well, as well. So, made it a lot easier after that goal."


5:22 p.m.

Third time's no charm

Wednesday's Class 1A quarterfinal loss was the second time this season Northfield met St. Cloud Cathedral, and they played each other in the tournament consolation semifinals last year. The Raiders lost 4-2 in January and 3-1 at Mariucci Arena a year ago.

"We've had a couple past battles with them," Northfield senior forward Kamden Kaiser said. "I think when we drew them, we were pretty excited to get one shot at them. You don't usually get multiple shots like that. They're a great team and we've had some battles in recent years."


5:18 p.m.

Perfect power play

St. Cloud Cathedral showed off Wednesday afternoon the upside of a power play that had been down as often as up this season, going a perfect 2-for-2 with the man advantage.

Joey Gillespie scored a goal midway through the second period to give the Crusaders a 3-1 lead, and Andrew Dwinnell added a third-period goal with the extra man for added insurance.

Crusaders coach Robbie Stocker downplayed any power-play struggles his team had has this season. "There are nights you might not get a power-play goal because they've got a nice goalie or they got a good penalty kill. And so we try not to buy too much into that, because at the end of the day, it's a process," he said. "If it delivers in big games, that's what it matters, right? You can go 19 percent [on the power play] in the regular season, but we were 2-for-2 tonight. When it counts, coming through is huge."


4:48 p.m.

Revenge in rematch

Friday morning's Class 1A semifinal is a rematch of St. Cloud Cathedral's 3-2 overtime victory over Warroad on November 25.

"I'm excited, I know they're going to want to get us back for earlier in the season," said St. Cloud Cathedral senior goaltender Nick Hansen, who is undefeated during his team's 24-4-1 season after defeating Northfield 5-1. "I'm confident we can play our game just like we did that game."

St. Cloud Cathedral tied Thief River Falls 2-2 in overtime and then beat Warroad on the Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving.

"That game feels like a really long time ago because it was a really long time ago," Cathedral coach Robbie Stocker said. "It was the first weekend of the year. I have to go back and watch the tape to jog my memory. I remember it being a really high-tempo, up-and-down game. It's going to be a super exciting game."


3:47 p.m.

Day session slant

That's it, hockey fans.

Wednesday afternoon's opening session is in the books. Combine the score from the first two games and you get a lopsided 13-2 margin by the winners. Third-seeded St. Cloud Cathedral followed second-seeded Warroad's 8-1 romp over New Ulm with its own 5-1 win over Northfield before a sparse audience by game's end. St. Cloud Cathedral and Warroad advance to Friday's first Class 1A semifinal.

The evening session starts with top-seeded Hermantown facing Alexandria at 6 p.m., and fifth-seeded Orono versus fourth-seeded and defending champion Mahtomedi set for an 8 p.m. puck drop.

See ya then…


2:47 p.m.

Cousin connection

New Ulm hadn't been to the state tournament since 2019, and the Eagles are still looking for the first state quarterfinal victory in their history after an 8-1 loss to second-seeded Warroad at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday. They're now 0-13 overall in the tournament, and avoided being shut out in Wednesday's game with defenseman Talan Helget's third-period goal when his team trailed 7-0.

That was no occasion for exuberance, unlike the goal his cousin Jonny Kopacek scored for New Ulm in the 2015 state tournament.

That one was a diving, swiping, sharp-angled goal in a 6-3 quarterfinal loss to Mahtomedi that Kopacek celebrated by punching the air all the way over to the New Ulm student section and pounding the plexiglass.

It was good enough to make the No. 1 Play of the Day on ESPN's SportsCenter that night long ago.

Has New Ulm made SportsCenter since then?

"Not that I can remember," said Eagles coach Ryan Neuman, an assistant coach on that 2015 team. "I know this year our basketball team had an over-the-shoulder shot from the corner. I don't know if it ever made it to SportsCenter, but it should have. That was a top-10 play."


Superstitious ride

New Ulm took a school bus rather than a coach bus the 100 miles from home to St. Paul because the team wanted to keep the same bus driver it had all season.


Into pickles on the bench

Warroad reached the state quarterfinal by defeating East Grand Forks 4-3 in double overtime of the Section 8 championship. Senior forward Murray Marvin-Cordes was hurting by game's end.

On Wednesday, he felt no pain, not after he scored a hat trick.

His secret for survival in two overtimes: pickles.

"That 15-minute sit between the third period and the first overtime, my legs sort of locked up," Marvin-Cordes said. "The first shift in double overtime, I could tell something was going on. Some pickles on the bench got me through the game."


2:27 p.m.

Warroad's slow starts

Despite the eventual 8-1 score that led to running time for the entire third period, Warroad was only up 1-0 at the first intermission. The Warriors had some younger players who were nervous going into the game, and it took the first period for them to settle in, said senior defenseman Will Hardwick.

Fifteen seconds into the second period, the lead went to 2-0.

"That first goal within the first 15 seconds, that really helped get everyone going," Hardwick said.

The early start, just after 11 a.m., had coach Jay Hardwick a little worried about his Warriors, who he said have been a slow-starting team throughout the season.

"It takes a little while to wake up," Jay Hardwick said. "One of my concerns with the early game today was, these guys don't like getting out of bed. I don't like getting out of bed early. That's kind of been our MO all year where we start slow and then we get doing. As the game goes, we usually get better."

Five goals in the second period was proof of that formula Wednesday.


Warroad top line gets it done

Warroad coach Hardwick said he wants to give his top players "the freedom to create and to score goals and make hockey plays." Their top line of Taven James, Carson Pilgrim and Murray Marvin-Cordes certainly did that, combining for five of the team's eight goals in the state quarterfinal.

Marvin-Cordes scored his second hat trick of the season, and 10 of his 27 goals this season have come in the past five games. Elite play from Marvin-Cordes, and the top line, in the postseason is nothing new for Hardwick.

"All three years he's been like that," Hardwick said. "I think our whole top line, ever since playoffs started, they've kind of raised the level, their level of play.

"You could tell once playoffs started that, 'We mean business. We're going to go and we're going to play and we're going to score. And we're going to be a tough team to beat.' "

That level of play shows up in practice, too, Hardwick said. Not just at game time.

"That's what you need from your top line to kind of drive the ship for everybody else," he said.

What makes Warroad's top line so tough to play against?

"Well, I'm sure you've watched them. They're pretty good," New Ulm coach Ryan Neuman said. "They move the puck well. They got team speed. They know where each other are at all times. Again, it's one of the top lines in the state. Just overall speed and puck movement is phenomenal, and obviously, they can finish."

New Ulm goaltender Bryer Hoffmann said Warroad players have quick releases "and can place the puck where they wanted to place it."

Though Neuman said he doesn't "expect to get beat 8-1 at any point in time," he credited his team for playing a solid first period, blocking a lot of shots and playing good team defense and Hoffmann for making a dozen saves.

"Second period, we got caught puck-watching," Neuman said.


Michigan goal is familiar sight

One of Warroad sophomore Dominic Anthony's goals in Wednesday's game was a Michigan goal that video review confirmed as a good goal in the second period. The sight was nothing new to his Warroad teammates. Senior Carson Pilgrim recalls seeing Anthony pull it off once or twice last year as a Bantam player.

"And he tried it at Hockey Day [Minnesota]," Pilgrim said. "Didn't really work out. We knew that he was probably going to try it again. It's fun to see him get rewarded for that kind of goal."

Anthony "does it in practice all the time, too," said defenseman Will Hardwick.

Wednesday, New Ulm goaltender Bryer Hoffmann tried to make the save with his blocker raised behind him, along with his neck. It's the first time he's attempted to make a save with his neck, Hoffmann confirmed. He added that he's thought about the Michigan goal a few times before.

"But no goalie coach ever really tells a goalie, 'This is how you're supposed to stop it,' " Hoffmann said. "Just kind of throw the hands up and hope to stop it."


Warrior almost wipes out

Warroad junior forward Draydin Johnson, No. 23, nearly wiped out skating to the blue line during team introductions. He spun around to save himself from a fall to the ice.

Senior forward Murray Marvin-Cordes, No. 22, was right next to Johnson in case he needed a little help.

"I don't know if I saved him," Marvin-Cordes said. "He recovered on his own. It was just kind of funny that it happened. … When you're doing the skate-ups, that's one of the things you kind of think about when you're going and the fact that it did happen is kind of hilarious."


1:32 p.m.No bands for Game 1

Neither New Ulm nor Warroad brought a pep band to the X on Wednesday morning. The national anthem played before the 11 a.m. game was a prerecorded version over the arena's sound system.


Quick turnaround

The PWHL Minnesota team hosted Ottawa on Tuesday night at Xcel Energy Center. The game went to a shootout and ended at about 9:40 p.m., leaving a little more than 13 hours before puck drop of the boys state tournament. Crews got the advertising along the boards and ice turned over, including painting "The Tourney" logo along each blue line.

Public address announcer Dave Wright also had a quick turnaround. He was on the mic in the arena for the PWHL game and then back at it Wednesday morning for the afternoon session.


12:33 p.m.Warroad's memorials

Much of Hockeytown USA — aka Warroad, Minn. — attended the Warriors Class 1A opener against New Ulm at the Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday morning. Many of them wore commemorative jerseys honoring the late, great Henry Boucha and assistant boys coach Michael Tveit.

Maybe the most dominant player Minnesota ever produced, Boucha died at age 72 in September. Tveit died in his sleep in July at age 38.

Tveit's stepson, Carson Pilgrim, scored twice and recorded an assist in Warroad's 8-1 victory over New Ulm.

Tveit and Boucha worked or collaborated on the jersey design before their deaths. It was made specifically for Hockey Day Minnesota, which came to Warroad in January for the first time and was featured in a "Dream State" documentary.

The jerseys sport a "No. 16″ patch, the number Boucha wore when he led his little school to the 1969 state championship against mighty Edina at the Met Center. The jersey also has a photo of a teenaged Boucha sewn inside the collar.

A full-blooded Ojibwa, Boucha worked with 11 tribal governments and state legislators to save the high school's Warriors nickname and logos.

The varsity team wore the jerseys for other select games this season as well, but not Wednesday, because the shoulder patches for Henry and Michael are too big for Minnesota State High School League code. But Warroad sold 100 jerseys in the metro, with proceeds benefitting Native American education.

A big year

The Warroad girls hockey team won the Class 1A state title in February, the boys team is back in St. Paul and three other youth teams reached state tournaments.

In between, NHL star T.J. Oshie has popularized his hometown's name with his Warroad brand of clothing apparel.

"It's a big year for Warroad," said fan Debbie Green, who attended school with Boucha and now lives in Edina.

The Warroad boys team is back for his 25th state tournament and seeking its fifth state title after losing in the championship game the past two seasons. They last won a title in 2005, when current Concordia Moorhead coach Kirk Olimb was a member of the Warriors. Olimb called the deaths of Tveit and Boucha "a real sad deal."

"It'd be a great year to win one," Olimb said.


10:40 a.m.

Call it a hockey holiday

Pick your favorite day of the year. Any of the holidays, the first day of a favorite season, a birthday. Or, for hockey fans in Minnesota, the start of the boys hockey state tournament.

Welcome to tourney time! We start with a day of Class 1A quarterfinals, and those start with Warroad, the team from Hockeytown USA.

The Warriors, seeded second, are undoubtedly hungry to win a state title, having lost in the championship game each of the past two years. Warroad's 25 state tournament appearances started in 1948. Warroad won in 1994 and 1996 and then again in 2003 and 2005. That was T.J. Oshie's 2005 squad that last won it all for the Warriors.

Their opponent, New Ulm, is the only program in the Class 1A field that wasn't here last year. The Eagles make their first state trip to the X since 2019. New Ulm is on an 11-1 run since mid-January, with a 5-2 loss at Hopkins. The Eagles are overall 0-13 at the state tournament.


Save the Mariucci chants

It's not unheard of for some student sections of winning teams to fire up a "Mar-eee-ooo-cci" chant in the closing minutes of a quarterfinal victory at Xcel Energy Center. The implication, of course, is that the losing team will fall to the consolation bracket with games at 3M Arena at Mariucci on the University of Minnesota campus.

This year, however, all consolation games in Class 1A and 2A will be played at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood. Chant accordingly.