One of the many endearing quirks about my adopted home state of Minnesota, is the annual Minnesota Boys State High School Hockey Tournament, which begins today in St. Paul. Having grown up in Western New York, it has always struck me as odd that a high school state championship tournament would not only be televised in a major television market, but sell out a 16,000 seat arena for 3 straight days. Whenever a Batavia or ND basketball squad made the state tournament back home, the best we could hope for was radio coverage on WBTA.
My first experience of the Hockey tournament was in 1993, my first year living in Minnesota. I was between projects with ABB, and hanging out for the week at my apartment in St. Paul, when I stumbled across the daytime TV coverage of the tournament one afternoon. I’d been nursing a cold, and was pretty much confined to the couch, so any alternative to daytime television was a godsend. So I spent the week watching hour after hour of coverage. It was just so damn Norman Rockwell-esque. The pimply-faced boys being introduced before the game with a TV closeup, the perky cheerleaders on figure skates (another strange Minnesota thing), the team captains reciting the MN High School Sportsmanship Code over the PA before the game, the play by play call of Wally Shaver, and the color commentary of Lou Nanne, I was hooked. That year, Bloomington-Jefferson steamrolled their way to the Class 1 title to finish the year 28-0, and the storied Golden Bears of Eveleth-Gilbert won in Double Overtime over Lake of the Woods.
Each year since I have always tried to make time to watch the games, much to the dismay of Mrs. 20 Prospect who fails to understand the Hockey cult. I have been blessed to have been knocked down with the flu on a few occasions during the week of the tournament. But mostly, I have had to pick and choose my games around the TV viewing habits of Mrs. 20P.
As the great Vintage Minnesota Hockey site details, the tournament has a long and storied history, and has been played in several historic locations, but is most closely associated with the St. Paul Civic Center. The Civic Center was a classic 1970’s arena. Huge open bowl seating, stretching a mile from the ice, narrow hallways and few amenities. Opening on January 1st, 1973 as the home of the WHA’s Minnesota Fighting Saints, it was notable for it’s clear plexi-glass boards, the result of a seating quirk in the multi-purpose facility that placed the first row of seats on the same level as the ice, but way back from the boards.
The Fighting Saints were notorious for living up to their nickname, as Glen Sonmor filled the squad with a team of goons, as was the style in the mid 70’s. In fact, the real life “Hanson Brothers” played hockey for the Fighting Saints. SO did the infamous Bill Goldthorpe, (the real life inspiration for Ogie Ogelthorpe in the movie Slapshot) when he was signed for a playoff series in 1975.
The Fighting Saints came and went, and the arena become host for college and high school hockey tournaments, circuses, and rock concerts. Eventually, when the NorthStars left town for Dallas, an AHL club named the Moose moved into the Civic Center for a few years until an NHL expansion franchise was granted to Minnesota. The Civic Center was torn down in 1998 to make way for the Xcel Energy Center, home of the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.
So the tradition continues. At 11am today the puck will drop on the 65th edition of the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament, as the Carlson’s Alma Mater, Virginia, take on Hermantown. The “Big” schools take to the ice tomorrow when the “hoosier-esque” Rosseau Rams take on the Edina
Cake Eaters Hornets. I think I feel a cold coming on.
(All photos copyright VintageMinnesotaHockey.com)