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Cinderella, David and Goliath—all we needed now was a cry for Big Chloe. Larson described the ticket situation, and it was grim. Unless you were affiliated with one of the eight schools that had made it through the sectionals to the tournament, you could pretty well forget about getting a seat. Even scalpers were scarce. Those who couldn't attend could either watch the tournament on television—last year WCCO-TV in Minneapolis paid $450,000 to carry the games in 1983-85—or listen to it on one of 19 radio stations across the state.
The first game, between Edina and Rochester Mayo, began at 12:35. The top row of the stands had been converted into an auxiliary press box, and I sat there, muscling a pleasant young man named Terry Albert out of my seat. He plopped himself onto the steps in the aisle, beside his father, Ernie. I read the program. Edina was the pretournament favorite, and I recalled that Bill Nyrop, the former Montreal Canadien defense-man, had played for the 1969 Edina state championship team. The Alberts told me whom to keep an eye on in the game. Ernie works at 3M in St. Paul, and he had taken a vacation day to be here. He and Terry had paid a scalper $5 apiece for $3 standing room, which they thought was a fair price. I asked Ernie whether he had played hockey.
"Sure," he said. "I grew up in the southwest part of the state, Okabena. There was a river outside of town the kids used to play on. We had clamp-on skates back then, or if you didn't have clamps you played goal." I could picture it: Some kid in galoshes, his feet freezing, trying to stop the puck and keep his balance, and failing at both. "We'd take stones off the road to make goals," Ernie continued. "Man, they hurt if you fell on them." He winced. "We didn't have real sticks, you know. We'd cut off a curved tree limb to use as a stick. And the puck would be the piece of an old tire."
We paused to watch the action. Having seen two of the best teams in the NHL the night before, I was prepared for a shambles. I didn't get one. The kids were very fast, the passing occasionally errant but never sloppy, the pace relentless. The two bands lent an urgency to the atmosphere that had been missing from the North Star-Islander game. After all, this game meant something—even to nonpartisan observers like Ernie, who in some small way was reliving his afternoons on the river in Okabena. "I've been coming to this tournament for 10 years," he said. "I think you appreciate it more if you've played the game." Yes, that was probably right. Edina eventually beat Mayo 7-4. Both teams had looked awfully good.
The second game featured the Bloomington Thomas Jefferson Jaguars, who were the defending champions, and the Green Wave of East Grand Forks. I decided to pull for East Grand Forks. An 0-4 record in two previous tournament appearances made the Green Wave an irresistible choice for someone whose college team had gone 1-22 a dozen years ago. I recalled teammates who'd played in this tournament, how they'd spoken of it, and how some had quit our college program in disgust. What a letdown we must have been after this.
East Grand Forks, which is on the North Dakota border, was the northernmost town represented in St. Paul. In its early years, the tournament had been dominated by northern schools, which won 20 of the first 24 titles. Little towns like Eveleth, Roseau and International Falls became familiar names to American hockey enthusiasts and produced many of the country's finest players. Southern teams, however, have won the tournament nine of the last 14 years. The north-south rivalries are keen.
The Jefferson-East Grand Forks game was even crisper than the opener. It was difficult to believe that these were high school players. In the third period the score was 3-3, the minutes were ticking down and the tension was building. Then an amazing thing happened. Upon a stop in play, an entire section of green-clad students rose—this was the real Green Wave—and chanted in unison. "We have spirit! Yes we do! We have spirit! How 'bout you?" On the you the East Grand Forks contingent pointed accusingly across the rink at the Jefferson fans and then sat down.
The Green Wave's challenge was swiftly met. A powder-blue throng rose—hundreds, no, thousands, strong—and screamed, "We have spirit! Yes we do! We have spirit! How 'bout you?" Index fingers were directed back toward the East Grand Forks contingent, and the Jefferson section sat down.
I had never seen anything quite like this. Our favorite high school cheer had been "Stomp 'em on the head." This was so wholesome, so refreshing, so Mary Tyler Moore-ish. I felt as if the whole lot of them should have been flown to the nearest mountaintop by some soft-drink company to film a commercial.
Back and forth the two schools went: up, down, up, down; green, blue, green, blue. I wondered how it would end, and presently I learned. When it came their turn, the Jefferson supporters began to scream, "We have more! We have more! We have more!" Unfazed, the Green Wave rose and countered with the same cheer. The entire place resounded. (All weekend long, the best moments in the Civic Center came when scores were tied.) Then suddenly, as each section was challenging the other's spirit, Jefferson scored its fourth goal. Now the mood shifted. The cheerleaders dressed in powder blue assumed a giddy, triumphant air, while those in green began to tug on each other's sweaters, chew fingernails and sneak looks at the clock. Several were near tears. On the ice, play became frenetic, but the game ended 4-3.