After winning two independent state hockey championships, Hill-Murray High School finally joined the state high school league in 1974-75, and in that first year, entered state tournament play with a team led by future NCAA champion Rod Romanchuk and Olympic Gold Medalist Steve Janaszak.
Arguably its first great tournament moment, however, came a year later when senior winger Mike Hurt scored in overtime to lift the Pioneers over Minneapolis Southwest in the 1976 quarterfinals, triggering a massive on-ice celebration and cuing a robust run through the school's fight song.
"Hail the Pioneers to victory" was the song's key refrain, and leading the band in his signature green jacket was Frank Asenbrenner, the school's principal, who was deeply familiar with the tune -- having been its composer.
On Dec. 31, Asenbrenner died at age 81, and although he'd been retired for many years, Hill-Murray closed on Monday for his funeral.
A one-time band director at St. Agnes High, Asenbrenner took over as principal at the former Archbishop Murray High, an all-girls institution, before its merger in 1971 with the all-boys Hill High. At 6 feet 4 inches, he was a formidable presence at the school, but was known more for an energetic, friendly demeanor. It was not uncommon to see Asenbrenner at the door greeting students in the morning.
"I thought it was important that they see their leader -- to be out and visible, not off in a corner," he told the Star Tribune in 1997. At the time, his wife Margaret Asenbrenner, who since has died, marveled at his ability to handle so many responsibilities at once.
"He's just like a juggler, all the balls up in the air at one time, keeping them going," she said. "It's a gift."
Known as "Mr. A," Asenbrenner retired from school administration in 1991 -- but not before again hearing several full-throated renditions of the song he wrote. In 1991, the hockey team captured its second state title, and the coach that year was Jeff Whisler, a center on the first two tournament teams of the 1970s.
Asenbrenner is survived by eight children, all of whom played in the Hill-Murray band, and 16 grandchildren. In his obituary notice, the family preferred memorials to the Frank & Margaret Asenbrenner Education Fund, 2625 Larpenteur Av. E., Maplewood, Minn., 55109.