One of the oldest precepts in sportswriting is to, when possible, visit the losing locker room.

Cover the winners of a big game and you'll often hear unintelligible yelling. Cover the losers and you'll get pathos and determination, maybe philosophy, often poetry.

Sportswriters didn't have access to the athletes and coaches on championship day at the Minnesota state hockey tournament on Saturday, but you didn't need to be in the building to see how much this tournament means to these kids.

When Edina beat Andover 2-1 with a last-second defensive stand in the Class 2A girls' final, the Andover players reached fingers between the bars of their face masks to wipe away tears, and hugged one another as if something precious had just ended, because it had.

Four championship games in one day in an empty Xcel Energy Center on Saturday introduced a unique combination of urgency and quiet to the tournament, but the pathos really began on Friday night, when the Eden Prairie boys won a frenetic shootout, 6-5, over Maple Grove in overtime.

Upon seeing the puck in the net, some Maple Grove players collapsed to the ice. Others seemed to melt. Some slumped against the boards, staring into space, and remained frozen in place until Eden Prairie's players began surrounding them, patting shoulders, enveloping them in hugs.

"With COVID, it's been an unusual world, and you're always wondering whether or not you can do certain things," Maple Grove coach Todd Berglund said. "We were told we needed to get out of there as quick as we could.

"I'm glad all of those kids had the opportunity to talk to each other, and do those things. It was a touching moment. You wish you could be on the other side of a game like that, but I commend those Eden Prairie kids for reaching out and doing what they did. It's not always that way, certainly. It's kind of funny how hockey is unique in that way, I think."

Both teams were dominated by seniors. Most of those seniors have been playing with and against one another for years.

"These kids have went at it before," Berglund said. "When they are in the heat of battle they're saying things they don't usually say and chirping at each other, but at the end of the day they are bitter rivals and great friends.

"They competed for a title in bantams, and they played together in the Elite league. They develop special bonds there. Even after a tough loss, I'm happy the Eden Prairie kids came over and talked to our boys and congratulated each other. They're a great group of kids and are going to go on and do great things."

Speaking of his players, Berglund said: "They're not just wonderful, respectful kids, they're great students. All of them are at 3.5 GPAs or higher. As a coach, it's certainly going to be a group that you're going to be very sad to see go. Of course, I'm sad to see any of them go.

"Eden Prairie has 14 seniors. We have 12. Those groups don't come along all the time, and you've got to cherish that."

Berglund said he spent Saturday at home, answering text messages and taking calls from team supporters and former players. He watched the girls' finals, off and on, and told himself he wasn't going to watch the boys' finals, including Eden Prairie against Lakeville South on Saturday night for the Class 2A title.

Eden Prairie played in another overtime classic, this time winning 2-1 in the second OT period.

"I keep telling myself that I'm not going to watch it,'' he said on Saturday afternoon. "But I'm going to be planted right in front of the TV, ready to go. I love high school hockey too much and know a lot of those kids, so I'm definitely going to be watching.

"It's just too good to miss.''

Jim Souhan's podcast can be heard at On Twitter: @SouhanStrib.