State Tourney Insiders: Sights and sounds from the hockey semifinals

10:24 p.m.

Attendance records keep falling

Announced attendance for the evening session of Class 2A semifinals on Friday was 20,956. That's a record for the session and the first time it cracked 20,000. The previous record was 19,964 for the 2016 Class 2A semifinals.

Friday's afternoon session for the Class 1A semifinals set a record with an announced attendance of 13,319. That beats the mark of 11,795 set last year.

Records fell for both Class 2A sessions Thursday. The first two quarterfinals drew an announced attendance of 19,765. The record was 19,232, a mark that stood since 2008.

The attendance for the evening session was 20,208. The previous record was 18,878 set in 2012.


9:45 p.m.

Something and someone to play for

Cretin-Derham Hall played spoiler as an unseeded team to make it through to the state semifinals last year and this year. The Raiders failed to win either semifinal game. Last season they played for third place, losing 5-3 to Andover.

While the third-place game can be a tough spot — teams obviously have their heart set on the championship game — Raiders senior goaltender Leo Miller said, "There's absolutely something to be said" for taking third place. He recalls what last year was like after the Raiders lost to Edina in the semis.

"Then in the third-place game, we didn't really go into it caring too much about it," Miller said. "And in the moment in the locker room after, I wasn't that sad. I don't think any of the guys were that sad.

"But looking back on it, going out on a win, hanging another banner, getting another medal, is something special."

A win on Saturday would also mark this year's 2023-24 Cretin-Derham Hall team as the second-best in program history, behind the 2006 team with Ryan McDonagh that won a Class 2A championship. This tournament is the sixth for the Raiders and third in a row.

In the postgame news conference Friday, Raiders coach Matt Funk praised Miller for good citizenship going back to that game for third place.

"He gave up the net for a sophomore goaltender [Owen Nelson] in that third-place game," Funk said. "So he didn't even play the third-pace game. You better believe that … he's got the net tomorrow. And we're going to battle for him as a senior."

Funk referred to Miller as an "unbelievable kid" who's "been all class." He's the type of kid a coach wants to coach, Funk said. Hearing the praise from his coach, Miller silently wiped tears from his eyes with his hockey jersey.

"He's a tremendous kid," Funk said. "His brother looks up to him. His sister looks up to him. I just really proud to be associated with Leo Miller."

9:20 p.m.

Storm kept a foot on the gas

Chanhassen built 3-0 lead, which turned into a 4-0 lead, in Friday's first period against unseeded Cretin-Derham Hall. Pretty comfortable lead, right? Not completely.

"We also knew they had good comeback ability," said Chanhassen coach Sean Bloomfield. "Given what happened yesterday with them. And they've kind of been doing it all through playoffs."

Ah, so the Chanhassen coaching staff made sure to remind their team about what their opponent could accomplish once down, right?

"Actually, [senior forward] Tyler [Smith] was the one who pointed it out on the bench during the TV timeout," Bloomfield said. "Coaches, we were trying to keep them grounded. But Tyler brought up that, 'Hey, these guys are never out. So, make sure you keep playing.' "

During the first TV timeout, Smith mentioned the comeback with four unanswered goals against No. 3 seed Centennial. The Cougars were up 3-0 in the first period before Cretin-Derham Hall responded and eventually won the game 4-3 in double overtime.

Chanhassen's Andy Earl brought up another point, from the earlier Class 1A semifinals.

"We just saw Mahtomedi do the same thing to Hermantown," Earl said. "So, I mean, it was really like, gas pedal. Keeping it floored."

8:01 p.m.

Hermantown dealing with captain's injury

Hermantown played much of the last two periods of its 7-6 victory over Mahtomedi without the services of senior defenseman and team leader William Esterbrooks because of what coach Patrick Andrews called an upper-body injury.

"He's our heart and soul, man," Andrews said. "He wears that 'C' for a reason. These guys love him, they feed off of him. He's our psycho competitor."

Andrews said he hopes Esterbrooks will be able to play in the finals. He will be tough to keep off the ice.

"I thought he was going to kill me when I took his helmet away from him when I told him he couldn't play," Andrews said.


7:59 p.m.

In the fall, they're Edina football players

Two members of Edina's team were crucial members of the Hornets football team that played for the Class 6A championship.

Quarterback Mason West, who had a goal in the quarterfinals, plays on the Hornets' top line and went into the tournament with 15 goals and 36 points.

Forward John Warpinski was Edina's workhorse running back, rushing for 1,773 yards and 19 touchdowns. He had three goals and five total points for the hockey team.

Chanhassen's Smith brothers, senior Tyler and sophomore Logan, played for the Storm's Class 5A state champion football team.


6:37 p.m.

The view from both sides

Even after giving up a two-goal lead to Mahtomedi in the final two minutes, members of the Hermantown Hawks went into the overtime session confident they were going to win.

"I told the team that this whole season has been like this," Hawks coach Patrick Andrews said. "We've been up, we've been down — just like this game, we've been up, we've been down, and now we're even. I just knew we were going to win because this team is so good at climbing back. We are so good when we're climbing."

Forward River Freeman nodded in agreement. "There was never any doubt in my mind we could get the job done, no matter what," he said.

When the Zephyrs were down 4-0 to Hermantown, Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl told his players they had a choice to make.

"I basically said we can either roll over and die, just throw up our hands and pack up our stuff and go," Poeschl said. "Or we can make a decision to make a game of it. I was really proud of the way my guys responded. It was a good choice."

His primary takeaway from the game?

"Don't give Hermantown a 4-0 lead."


6:31 p.m.

Hermantown endures a Mahtomedi din

Hermantown is a fixture at the state tournament, but the Hermantown players said Friday's semifinal against Mahtomedi felt like a road game.

Hermantown was making its 14th state tournament appearance in the past 15 years, but as a northern team playing against a metro power, they said the advantage Mahtomedi had in terms of fan support in the Xcel Energy Center stood out.

"Their student section is three times bigger than ours. It's huge," Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews said. "When they score, it feels like the whole rink is coming at you."

Andrews admitted that the difference concerned him.

"You tell the guys just keep your head in it, right? It's hard," he said. "This tournament is so emotional, as much as you try to take the emotion out of it. I kept telling them play on energy."

Mahtomedi's support system paid dividends in helping the Zephyrs rally from a four-goal first-period deficit. Andrews and the Hermantown players said they were confident they would come out of overtime with a victory, despite having blown a four-goal lead.

"Getting that big lead was nice and all, but we had to keep our composure, which we didn't really keep too well," said junior River Freeman, who scored the game-winner. "I mean, they're loud."


6:26 p.m.

'Craziest game' label applies again

After Hermantown had a 4-0 lead but eventually won 7-6 in overtime, Hermantown coach Patrick Andrews did not hesitate when he was asked where this semifinal ranks on the craziness scale for him.

"One," Andrews said. "I mean, how does it not? As a coach, you're thinking you have a four-goal lead. With one of the best goalies in the state. We play great D," he said.

He worked in some language here about the blown lead that we won't repeat. He apologized, too, for that language, and then he continued: "And then to come back on that, just the character of these guys to stick with it is phenomenal."

Andrews recalled the 2017 state title game, former Hermantown coach Bruce Plante's last game before he stepped down.

Andrews was on the bench as an assistant coach for Hermantown during that final against Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake. Hermantown's players thought they had won with 5:16 left in double overtime when Tyler Watkins appeared to score and complete a hat trick. The traditional celebration of thrown helmets, sticks and gloves ensued. But officials reviewed the play and determined there was goaltender interference with Ryan Sandelin in the crease.

Andrews recalled the moment on Friday.

"I was on the bench … that was a goal," he said. "… So, then we have to pick all our stuff back up and go back out and play again. And then Samberg does the amazing snow angel, and it's all history."

Dylan Samberg scored the winner with 19.4 seconds left in double overtime to give Hermantown the victory, for real that time. He slid onto the ice doing snow angels for a celebration, just as Kyle Schmidt did when he scored for the University of Minnesota Duluth to win the NCAA championship in 2011.

"I'd been a part of that," Andrews said of that 2017 Class 1A title game. "And this was crazier just on the way it went down, how we got to that moment."


6:16 p.m.

That starting point

Mahtomedi coach Jeff Poeschl saw the ridiculousness of the situation.

The Zephyrs started their 7-6 loss to Hermantown in the worst way imaginable. They trailed 4-0 after a first-period, four-goal blitz by the Hawks.

"It's a crazy cliché, but you know, after being down four, you're thinking 'OK, we got them right where we want them,' " Poeschl said with a grin.

He was pointed in saying he enjoyed his team's comeback immensely.

"It's just a fun thing when everybody's pulling in the same direction," he said. "I was proud of the way my guys were able to turn things around today."

He was told he had a stunned expression on his face after the first period.

"I don't know how many thousand people were here today," Poeschl said. "They probably had the same expression on their face."


3:57 p.m.

Go-ahead goal reviewed

Ryan Shaugabay's goal at 10:37 of the third period that gave Warroad a 3-2 lead in the early Class 1A semifinal went to a review. It was called no goal on the ice, but once Warroad coach Ryan Hardwick saw the video replay he said he hoped they'd call it a goal "because you could see the goalie made a save… but [the puck] was never at rest at any point."

"At any point in time, the goalie didn't have any control of it," Hardwick said. "But I think the big question was the ref's whistle."

What kind of explanation did St. Cloud Cathedral coach Robbie Stocker get after the call?

"He said he hadn't blown the whistle yet. And he said that that's what they told him up top," Stocker said. "I've got to check the rulebook and see exactly what that is. I think in the NHL, it's intent to blow the whistle and coming to your mouth. But we don't get paid to make those calls, they do."

It created a little adversity for the Crusaders, Stocker said, but they responded.

"We had to push through as a group and never get too high or too low on anything like that," Stocker said. "So, we still felt like we had an opportunity to tie it. We had plenty of time."

Said junior Joey Gillespie: "Our biggest thing is, we've just got to put whatever bad happened behind us. We just got to move on, keep moving, forget about it."


3:53 p.m.

Coach's 'craziest game' list gets an update

St. Cloud Cathedral coach Robbie Stocker said it was just one year ago, when the Crusaders beat Little Falls 5-4 in overtime in the Section 5 championship game, that he coached in the "craziest hockey game I've ever been a part of. And I didn't think that I was going to top that because I've been around the game for a long time and played in some pretty crazy games."

He marveled Friday that it took barely a year for a crazier game to happen to him. The Crusaders survived a reviewed goal by Warroad that was originally waved off, got the game-tying goal with 1:09 left, then won in overtime when John Hirschfeld, who had scored the tying goal, knocked in the puck for a 4-3 victory.

"It only took a year and some change to top it," Stocker said. "That was probably the craziest game I've ever been a part of. Very fun."


3:51 p.m.

Diving effort pays off

St. Cloud Cathedral's Cole Hwang tied the game 2-2 against Warroad in the second period, but it was Landon Swenson who made the play happen with his diving pass to the middle. Hwang didn't expect it.

"I did not," Hwang said. "But he made a great play. Dove-swatted it across, and I just happened to pick it up. But yeah, I didn't expect it."


3:45 p.m.

Overtime is a familiar spot for Warroad

Not only was Friday's game the eighth overtime contest for Warroad this season (the Warriors are 4-4), it was the third consecutive year that the Warriors' state semifinal game reached overtime. Warroad defeated Mahtomedi in overtime in the 2022 semifinal and then took a double-overtime victory over Orono last year.

The result for Warroad was different this time around. Warroad coach Jay Hardwick acknowledged being on both sides of these games.

"They've all been unbelievable games," Hardwick said. "That just shows that once you get past Wednesday, you're going to be in for good hockey Friday and Saturday, Class 1A. And that just speaks to how many quality teams there are."


3:37 p.m.

St. Cloud Cathedral standout hits it big

If the same player is going to tie the game and then win it in overtime with a pair of goals — only 2:02 apart on the scoreboard — it might as well be the team's leading scorer.

St. Cloud Cathedral junior John Hirschfeld, whose 81 points lead the team, scored his 26th goal of the season with 1:09 left in regulation in the semifinals against Warroad. The Crusaders were on a 6-on-4 advantage with a power play and pulled goaltender. Hirschfeld moved with the puck around the Warroad defense and fired a backhand shot into the net.

For his encore, he pounced on a loose puck and scored his 27th goal of the season (tied for second on the team) early in overtime to send his team to the state title game.

"I had some room on the first one and took advantage of it, and put it through his arm," Hirschfeld said. "And then the second one … got the puck to the middle, and we all crashed. There was a nice rebound and finished it."

St. Cloud Cathedral coach Robbie Stocker said Hirschfeld stayed tenacious because it's the type of player he is, the hardest-working guy on the team.

"He doesn't take a drill off, ever," Stocker said. "Like yesterday, I had to tell him, 'You can't work this hard in practice, because we have the state semifinal tomorrow.' Which, as a coach, that's a great problem to have. And we've got a lot of guys like that on this team, which is probably why we've been so resilient with whatever adversity has been thrown at us this season."


1:35 p.m.

Storied Edina-Grand Rapids rivalry renewed

The Class 2A semifinal between Edina and Grand Rapids renews a state tournament rivalry that raged during the 1970s.

From 1969 through 1980, all but one season ended with either Edina/Edina East or Grand Rapids playing for a state championship; Edina and Edina East won five state titles in the stretch, Grand Rapids won three. From 1974 through 1976, either Edina East (even then known as the Hornets and clad in recognizable green, white and gold) or Grand Rapids (the Indians then, the Thunderhawks now) was the state champion: Edina East in 1974, Grand Rapids in 1975 and 1976.

After meeting for the first time in a state tournament setting in 1972 (a 3-1 Grand Rapids victory in the first round), the teams didn't meet again until 1978. Edina East won 6-5 in the semifinals that year, rallying from a 4-2 deficit after two periods with four goals in the third period.

Perhaps their most memorable game came in 1978. Edina East, on an unassisted goal by Tom Carroll at 1:06 of the second overtime, pulled out a 5-4 victory over Grand Rapids.

Edina's championship game is remembered for Hornets coach Willard Ikola's decision to eschew the rotating goalie system he'd used in the postseason and stick with Gary Aulik. Aulik had shut down powerful Roseau, which featured Neal Broten, Aaron Broten and Butsy Erickson, 5-3 in the semifinals.

Grand Rapids, backstopped by goalie Jon Casey, won the championship in 1980.

The teams did not meet again in the state tournament until 2007, a 3-1 Grand Rapids victory in the quarterfinals.


10:51 a.m.

Semifinals Friday is bustin' out all over

Welcome to semifinal Friday! This is the day that's widely considered to be the best of the tournament. Soak it all in, hockey fans.

In the afternoon session, it's the Class 1A quarterfinals with all of the top four seeds having advanced from Wednesday's quarterfinals. First up, it's No. 3 seed St. Cloud Cathedral vs. No. 2 seed Warroad. Cathedral defeated the Warriors 3-2 early in the season — very early, November — despite Warroad outshooting the Crusaders 43-25 in the game. Griffin Sturm scored at the very end of the overtime period.

Friday's second game features a rematch from last year of familiar foes: top-seeded Hermantown vs. defending state champion Mahtomedi, the No. 4 seed. These two teams have quite the history, at the state tournament and in the regular season. They've faced each other regularly since the 2015-16 season, with Hermantown dominating the head-to-head record, at least in the regular season.

Hermantown is 10-2 vs. Mahtomedi since 2015-16, including 9-0 in the regular season. The two losses for the Hawks have come in the state tournament: the 2020 Class 1A title game, which was Mahtomedi's first state championship, and last year's semifinals. The game last year ended thrillingly as Mahtomedi upset then-defending champion Hermantown 2-1 in the state semifinals. The game-winner came off Charlie Drage's stick in the final minute of regulation.

Hermantown's only state tournament victory over Mahtomedi was in the 2018 third-place game, a 4-0 shutout.

This season, Hermantown kept its regular-season success against the Zephyrs going with a 5-1 win on Dec. 16. The Hawks used a four-goal second period, starting with goals at the :15 and :40 marks of the period, to help coast to victory. Five different Hermantown players scored goals in that game.

The Class 2A semifinals, starting at about 6 p.m., start with No. 2 Chanhassen trying to make the state championship game in its first-ever state tournament trip. The Storm will need to weather the unseeded Cretin-Derham Hall Raiders, who knocked off third seed Centennial in the quarterfinals. Later, top-seeded Edina faces No. 5 seed Grand Rapids, which won Thursday's nightcap with a buzzer-beater goal to break a 1-1 tie with White Bear Lake with less than two seconds remaining in regulation.

It was an ending that gave perfect meaning to the phrase "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." White Bear Lake is still in search of its first state quarterfinal victory after 20 state tournament trips spanning decades.