When David La Vaque first told me he and Loren Nelson were writing a book commemorating the first 75 years of the Minnesota boys’ state hockey tournament, I knew it would be a labor of love.
David has been the Star Tribune’s lead high school hockey writer for the past 10 years. And we’ve been lucky to add Loren’s exceptional coverage to our prep hockey hubs.
It’s no surprise to see how well this book came together. “Tourney Time” is filled with interesting behind-the-scenes tidbits, many humorous and insightful, all of them well-written.
Reprinted with permission from the Minnesota Historical Society Press, here is an excerpt -- La Vaque’s chapter on arguably the greatest Minnesota state hockey tournament game ever played:
Well past midnight, Rick Larsen pulled his Pontiac Grand Prix into the garage at his Eagan home. He shut off the engine, opened the driver side door, and realized he had a huge problem.
His legs wouldn’t work. They had cramped up on the ride home from the St. Paul Civic Center, where Larsen had just officiated the longest state tournament game ever played. The five-overtime tour de force had lasted a record 93:12. Apple Valley won 5–4 over Duluth East at 1:39 am.
Far from the stadium lights and the buzz of the crowd, Larsen rolled out of his car and onto the garage floor. He crawled into the house and labored into bed, relieved to have not woken wife Deb and their two young daughters in the middle of the night. Then Deb rolled over. The clock on their nightstand read 2:45 am.
“She says, ‘I told you not to go to the bar after the game,’” Larsen said. “I said, ‘Obviously you didn’t watch the game.’ She shut it off after the first period.”
Anyone who checked out early missed the defining tournament game of its era.
The pace, superb: neither offensively gifted team held anything back. The quality, sublime: defending champion Duluth East and a one-loss Apple Valley team would send a combined eighteen players to Division I college hockey programs. The star, Apple Valley’s Karl Goehring: the 5-foot-6-1/2, 150-pound goaltender stopped a state tournament record sixty-five shots.
The game was a smaller, colder, granola-less Woodstock — everyone says they were there. Those who actually were there experienced something special.
“I have never been in a hockey rink to this day with that energy,” said Dave Spehar, Duluth East forward. “Wasn’t just loud. Wasn’t just a great game. It was an out-of-body experience. And I never think about it, really. Never talk about it. After that day, I kind of left it where it ended. But it was something.”
Spehar was the main attraction, thanks to the three hat tricks he had racked up in as many games during the Greyhounds’ 1995 title run. An extraordinary finisher, Spehar raised his profile with a four-goal performance in Thursday’s quarterfinal against Blaine.
No more of that, thought the Apple Valley coaching staff.
During a team meeting Friday morning, coach Larry Hendrickson wrote Spehar’s number 33 on the board, circled it, and told players, “There’s one god, and it sure as hell isn’t Dave Spehar.” Hendrickson instructed his top-two centermen, Chris Sikich and Erik Westrum, to hassle, harangue, and hound the mighty Greyhound.
“Larry told us to chop him on the laces as hard as we could when the refs weren’t looking,” Westrum said.
Spehar wasn’t fazed. Everyone wanted a piece of the 5-foot-9, 175-pound wing all season.
“I grew up in the 218,” Spehar said, referencing northern Minnesota’s area code. “I didn’t feel it when I was out there.”
How many goaltenders become legends in a 5–4 game? The question drew a knowing chuckle from Goehring.
“It’s not what most goaltenders dream of,” he said.
Going into his senior season, Goehring knew his state tournament dreams came down to beating Bloomington Jefferson.
In the 1995 Class 2A, Section 5 championship game, Goehring allowed five goals on eighteen Jefferson shots. Hendrickson pulled Goehring midway through the third period. After the season, the coach took Goehring aside.
“He knew how disappointed I was, but we chatted, and he lifted me up,” Goehring said. “I took away from it that he was proud of me for the overall season I’d had. That helped kick-start me getting ready for the 1996 season.”
Three games in, however, Jefferson beat the Eagles 3–2, and Goehring found himself at odds with Westrum.
During practice that week, Westrum whiffed on a puck, and Goehring chirped, “Nice shot.”
Already agitated by Goehring’s play against Jefferson, Westrum fired a puck at Goehring and caught him square on the chin.
“I wanted to know if he was for real,” Westrum said. “I needed to know he wouldn’t fold emotionally or physically.”
“I was like, ‘That’s how it’s going to be? Let’s go,’” Goehring said. “As a smaller guy, I had to bring it and couldn’t be intimidated.”
Westrum said, “That’s when I knew he and I were on the same page.”
Apple Valley beat Jefferson 2–1 in a section final rematch, and Goehring stopped a breakaway in overtime.
Goehring and Westrum ended up as state tournament roommates.
“There’s a fiery competitor in both of us,” Goehring said. “We pushed each other.”
As overtime play ensued, Goehring and his counterpart, Duluth East’s Kyle Kolquist, were left exposed as their coaches eschewed conservative play.
First overtime: Goehring made a pad save to stop Spehar at close range. Westrum corralled the puck and made an end-to-end rush thwarted only by Kolquist’s poke check.
Second overtime: Game officials likely missed Duluth East’s game-winning goal when Matt Latour tipped a Dylan Mills slapshot past Goehring and under the crossbar. Latour instantly raised his stick, but officials did not signal goal. As the linesman positioned at the red line, Larsen said, “If asked, there was no way I could say yes.” Television replay showed the puck went in before quickly caroming out. Unfortunately for the Greyhounds, video review at state tournament games wouldn’t begin until a decade later.
Third overtime: The mounting pressure began affecting Goehring. After the third extra session, Ostby came to the locker room and found his intense yet introverted goalie on the brink of collapse.
“I felt like I couldn’t go on after so many shots,” Goehring said. “I was near tears.”
Ostby, who had played goalie and later coached the position at the University of Minnesota, helped soothe the frazzled youngster.
“He was super anxious and just wanted to get the game over with,” Ostby said. “Karl had a tendency to get ahead of himself. I remember talking briefly and saying, ‘Slow down, relax.’
“Goalie is not about being tough. It’s about being good in your head.”
Goehring credited Ostby for helping refocus him.
The officiating crew of Larsen and referees Bill Mason and Mike Riley, meanwhile, were enjoying their extended evening.
“I remember us saying how we had one of those great high school hockey games on our hands,” said Larsen, a senior defenseman on St. Paul Johnson’s 1984 state tournament team. “I remember drinking a lot of water, too.”
Fourth overtime: Goehring’s sixty-second save of the evening broke the twenty-six-year-old tournament record. Notified over the public address system, the enthralled crowd — many of the 16,934 remained — rose to applaud.
Goehring’s and Kolquist’s saves in the fourth overtime (seventeen and ten, respectively) were a testament to all the players’ stamina and spirit.
Fifth overtime: The game’s final faceoff took place in the Duluth East zone to Kolquist’s left. Larsen threw down the puck with his left hand.
Sikich won the draw, but the puck got batted around. Larsen skated backward toward the blue line, just behind Dwyer, as the Eagles’ Jeff Przytarski pursued the puck behind the Greyhounds net.
Przytarski sent a backhand pass toward the slot, and the puck hopped away from Sikich out toward Dwyer, just beyond the faceoff circle. In the final seconds of regulation, Dwyer had hesitated and lost. This time, he drew back his stick and swung at the moving puck.
Moments later, Kolquist sat motionless in his crease as Dwyer skated the length of the ice with arms held aloft.
“I got good wood on it, let it go, and luckily it went in,” he said. “I’m glad it was a good goal, not cheesy.”
That brought little consolation for Duluth East. Later that morning, the team met in an Embassy Suites conference room. Randolph stood to speak but produced more tears than words.
Locker lightened the mood during the meeting with officials before the third-place game.
“One of them said, ‘Any questions?’” Locker recalled. “I raised my hand and asked, ‘Do all goals scored count today?’”
On Saturday night, Apple Valley regrouped to beat Edina 3–2 for the championship. Junior forward Aaron Fredrickson, benched with the third line against Duluth East, scored a goal and assisted on the game winner.
The Edina game is overshadowed by the Duluth East marathon in the same way the Miracle on Ice in 1980 made the Americans’ gold medal–clinching game against Finland an afterthought.
Westrum said, “Ninety-nine out of a hundred people think we beat Duluth East for the championship.”
At the Westrums’ later Saturday evening, Hendrickson placed a long-distance phone call to his son Darby, then playing for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Westrum listened on another phone.
As a Minneapolis Washburn player, Larry had lost in the 1959 state tournament championship game. Same result in 1976 as Richfield’s coach. He coached three seasons at Apple
Valley in the early 1980s, then returned for a second stint in 1994, finally winning the elusive title.
“Darby said, ‘Dad, I’m so proud of you. You’ve been waiting for this for a long time,’” Westrum recalled. “For Larry, plus my dad, and all the time and effort they put in—it was special.”