In terms of projecting state tournament strength, boys' basketball deserved the edge over boys' hockey going into their respective 2016-17 seasons.
Individual talent favored basketball and its unprecedented senior class depth. Meanwhile, the race for Mr. Hockey lacked intrigue after Casey Mittelstadt decided to stay at Eden Prairie.
Still, hockey rallied in a big way. The recently completed state tournament was one for the ages. As Star Tribune contributor Loren Nelson put it so well, "There were upsets, overtimes, record crowds and razor-thin victory margins, and two victory celebrations in a single championship game."
There was more to love. The tournament's crescendo featured Class 2A's first all-northern Minnesota title game in a decade. And the Iron Range rejoiced as Grand Rapids prevailed to earn its first state championship since 1980.
Unique to this tournament was the overall lovefest vibe. The so-called villains from Edina didn't make the show. Private schools many love to hate, Hill-Murray and St. Thomas Academy, got knocked out in the quarterfinals. That meant more focus on attractions such as Mittelstadt, a future first-round NHL draft pick, plus the charm brought by northern schools Grand Rapids and Moorhead.
Even the haters who contend Hermantown has no place in Class 1A tapped their sticks as the Hawks won all three games in overtime. And how about Monticello/Annandale/Maple Lake? The state tournament newcomers brought huge crowds, an awesome "Moose" chant and three solid performances. Heck, Hermantown had to beat the Moose twice in overtime.
Let's be honest, while the basketball tournament occasionally heats up, the hockey tournament really never cools down. Hockey's huge ticket waiting list, annual $1 million profit and superior television ratings make it a state tournament none in this state can touch. All that aside, the 2017 edition was something special. Here's hoping the hoopsters can close the gap this week.
DAVID LA VAQUE