Joe Christensen: Next week, young hockey players across Minnesota will skip school, with permission, to attend one of the nation’s great sport spectacles: The boys’ hockey state tournament. It’s a phenomenal event, don’t get me wrong. But too many fans are late to the party. For my money, the section tournaments going on this week are even better than “The Tourney.”
Randy Johnson: Joe, you’re correct in saying that there’s outstanding hockey during the section tournaments. Heck, on Saturday we saw defending state champ Minnetonka get knocked out in the section semifinals by Holy Family. But I gotta go with the state tournament. Minnesota is the STATE of hockey, not just a section or two of hockey. It’s great seeing all areas of Minnesota being represented – or at least having the chance to be represented – at the X in early March. The big tourney has created so many great matchups over the years. Edina vs. Duluth East. Moorhead vs. Eden Prairie. Grand Rapids vs. Hill-Murray. Outstate vs. Big City. Iron Rangers vs. Cake Eaters. Even in Class 1A you can see a team from a nontraditional hockey area like Luverne come out of southwestern Minnesota and make State.
JoeC: Listen, I was one of those kids. My dad would somehow get tickets for one day of the state tournament. He’d pick me up early from school, and it was one of my favorite days of the year. But as I’ve gotten older, I’ve discovered the beauty of the sections. Anyone who grows up playing hockey in Minnesota dreams of playing in the state tourney. But they have to get there first. And they often got to climb past an archrival to do it. I was at Aldrich Arena three years ago for Stillwater/Hill-Murray. Every seat was jammed an hour before the game. It went to overtime, and Noah Cates scored that spin-o-rama goal to send the Ponies to state. I had no rooting interest, but that was one of my all-time favorite sports memories. Nothing that happened the next week at the actual state tournament could top it.
RJ: My Minnesota high school hockey memories go back to when I was growing up in South Dakota. We’d get WTCN on cable TV, and that station would broadcast the state tournament. I was intrigued by those clear boards at the St. Paul Civic Center, and watching the tourney helped hook me on hockey. Although the section tournaments often produce an amazing amount of drama, I like watching what’s on the big stage in St. Paul. It’s great to see a Minnesota prep tournament that’s as important or even more so than the Texas football, Indiana basketball or Iowa wrestling events. And you gotta give a stick-tap to a tournament that’s so big that Howard Cosell once came to St. Paul to provide commentary.