Column: All-Northern hockey finals are rare, but possible

John Sherman
Sports Editor

When I first became interested in the State Boys Hockey Tournament in the late 1950s, it wasn’t uncommon to see two Northern Minnesota teams playing in the championship game.

In recent years, however, that’s almost unheard of.

Including this year’s state-championship game, Grand Rapids’ 6-3 victory over Moorhead, there have been only four all-northern finals in the last 30 years – Roseau vs. Grand Rapids in 1990 and 2007 and Duluth East vs. Moorhead in 1995.

John Sherman
John Sherman

I have a theory on why it happened this year, of course. Too many players from the metro area powerhouses, Edina, Minnetonka and Wayzata included, are skating away from high school hockey to play in Ann Arbor, Michigan or the United States Hockey League.

I would be willing to bet that the kids from Grand Rapids and Moorhead stayed home to play for their high schools. And speaking of that, I give Eden Prairie’s star forward, Casey Mittelstadt, for doing that. Mittelstadt was the leading scorer in the USHL this fall when he turned his uniform and returned to his high school team.
Edina or Wayzata might have won state if their guys had stayed home this season. As it was, both were highly successful – Edina all year and Wayzata with its playoff run.

Moving away from home to play Junior hockey is part of the game now. I understand that. But with that said, what’s better than playing in front of 19.000 fans at the Xcel Energy Center, alongside the teammates you grew up with from Mites to high school?

Hoops Finishes
Edina’s 45-40 Section 2 loss to Minnetonka in the Class 4A basketball playoffs was a battle of wills March 9.

Although Annika Jank played the best game of her five-year varsity career, scoring 27 points for Edina, it was not the Hornets’ night.

“We didn’t shoot as well as usual from the outside,” said Edina head coach Matt Nilsen, whose team cashed in on only one three-pointer.

Minnetonka’s defense had a lot to do with that, especially late in the game when the Skippers knew the ball was going to go to Jank. They jammed up her driving lanes and made it very difficult to get a good shot.

The Edina boys team had a nice win over Prior Lake 75-69 in the Section 2 quarterfinals before falling to the No. 1 seed, Chaska, 73-61 in the semifinals Saturday evening at Hopkins Lindbergh Center.

Walt McGrory, Edina’s all-time boys basketball scoring leader, finished his career by scoring 15 points against Chaska.

The Hornets kept the game close for the most part, but every time it looked like they might rally, Myles Hanson hit a big basket for the Hawks.

Hanson finished with 46 points.

Remembering Larry
Former Edina High boys track and cross country coach Larry Johnson passed away recently at the age of 71.

Over the years, I had a chance to get to know Larry. In the 45 years I’ve been covering Edina sports, I don’t know if I ever met a more positive, upbeat coach than him.

In sports like track and cross country, you need to have a coach who motivates the team in training and also makes it fun for all participants. The way Larry talked with his athletes, you could never tell if he was conversing with an All-Lake Conference runner or a rookie out for the first time. He treated every athlete with respect and also took the time to get to know each one personally. That’s what high-quality high school teaching and coaching is all about.

All-Stars for Jank
Annika Jank, the outstanding 6-3 senior forward for the Edina High girls basketball team, has been selected to play in this year’s Girls High School All-Star Series. She was the third-leading scorer in the Lake Conference with an average of 17 points per game.

“Annika and Bailey Helgren both played five years on varsity,” said Edina head coach Matt Nilsen. “The time sure went by fast. It will be fun to follow their college careers.”

Jank has a scholarship to play for Colorado and Helgren has a scholarship to play for Kansas.

Contact John Sherman at [email protected]