Two more games were played that night. Hibbing, the Iron Range representative, shut out Henry Sibley of Mendota Heights 3-0 and Mariner of White Bear Lake routed Cloquet 7-2. More than 18,000 people attended the evening session, bringing the day's gate to 36,000. Excluding scouts and coaches, few spectators sat through both sessions. Hockey games are like the movies—a double feature is plenty for most enthusiasts. Four in one day is too much for me.
I watched the third period of the Mariner-Cloquet game in my hotel room. Mariner had huge defensemen, and Coquet was in the process of getting stomped. That was too bad. What little emotional involvement I could still muster I'd thrown Cloquet's way. It was making its first trip to the state tournament, and it had terrific uniforms. The team's nickname is the Lumberjacks, and on the front of the players' sweaters was an emblem of a bearded lumberjack wearing a wool cap. Unfortunately, Cloquet was missing its star player, Cory Millen, who had broken his ankle in the sectional playoffs. He had finished the season with 44 goals in 15 games. During the Mariner game, Millen was behind the bench, leaning on his crutches and lending moral support, but that couldn't make up for his missing scoring touch.
On Friday afternoon, I went to the Radisson Hotel to see Willard Ikola, Edina's coach for the past quarter-century. Ikola's assistant, Bart Larson, was stationed outside Ikola's room on the 14th floor—the Edina floor—to make certain that merrymakers confined their frolicking to other parts of the hotel, so the Edina players could get their rest before that night's game. Ikola had been a goalie for Eveleth in the late '40s, when the school won five of the first seven state titles. In four appearances at the state tournament, Ikola had five shutouts—a record that still stands—and by the time he graduated, Eveleth had won 50 games in a row. Ikola is a short, circumspect man who has worn the same checkered yellow hat to every state tournament since 1968. It was no great trial for him to speak of the old days.
"My dad, like most of the people in Eveleth, worked in the iron mines," he said. "Things were tough. We didn't have a lot of money. It was a big thing to come down to the tournament. The whole town came. It was the only time most of them ever slept in a hotel. The first time I ordered from a menu was down here. We played in the old St. Paul Auditorium, which held 7,756 people. Eveleth's entire population then was about 6,000. That was quite a thrill. Our team was responsible for there being a rule about how much the players could eat at training meals. We used to pass plates of food to our friends who had come down from Eveleth. We'd never seen so much food."
Thirty-six colleges purchase seats to the tournament, and a good showing by a player is a virtual guarantee of a scholarship offer. NHL scouts, who have found such stars as Steve Christoff, Neal and Aaron Broten, Mike Ramsey and Phil Housley at the tournament in recent years, also flock to the event. Last year the NHL drafted more players out of Minnesota high schools (27) than it did from the Quebec Major Junior League (17). But peddling talent to the pros isn't what this tournament is about—not remotely. "For the guys who make it into the finals tomorrow night," said Ikola, "it will be the biggest game they'll play until the Stanley Cup." Noise suddenly erupted from the hallway, and Larson could be heard ushering a beery crowd of students back onto the elevator. "It's their tournament," said Ikola. "It's something they'll never forget. Every time they watch this tournament as an adult they'll remember all the fun they had." He smiled. "Like I do."
The first game of Friday night's semifinals matched the two local teams, Edina and Jefferson, and the atmosphere was festive. A group of Jefferson students had painted their faces blue to match the outfits of their cheerleaders. "Let's get fired up!" implored the cheerleaders. Fifty of them were intermingled with the crowd—I never thought I would see so many blonde 16-year-old girls in my life—and spectators trying to get to their seats were taking a pretty good battering from the pompons.
"We are fired up! We are fired up!" was the response. That cheer was led by an entire section of guys wearing raincoats, dark glasses and Blues Brothers hats. No one could explain why they were dressed that way, not adequately, anyway. Something about the fourth branch of the secret service of the school government. At the end of regulation time the score was 2-2.
Ask anyone to name the most memorable game in tournament history and he'll mention one of two. The first is Thief River Falls against Minneapolis South in 1955. That one lasted 11 overtimes. Rudy Kogl, South's coach, is said to have taken a walk during two of the extra periods. Had to get away, clear his head. Following the ninth OT, the referees decided to start the second game of the night, between Roseau and St. Paul Johnson. Herb Brooks played for St. Paul Johnson. "We had to give those other teams a rest," says Brooks. "We played our first period, then they played their tenth overtime. Then we played our second period. I remember thinking we were going to finish our game before they finished theirs." It didn't happen that way. Between the second and third periods of the Roseau-Johnson game, South scored to win 3-2. Exhausted, South lost the next day to Brooks' team, which went on to win the championship.
The other game most often cited is the 1969 title game between Warroad and Edina. Warroad, a small town from up north, was led by a center named Henry Boucha, a Chippewa Indian whose professional career ended in 1976 as the result of an eye injury sustained in a stick-swinging incident with Dave Forbes of the Boston Bruins two years earlier. Hockey fans in the Twin Cities had heard about Boucha all season, but the tournament was their first opportunity to see him. He put on an electrifying show in Warroad's first two games. Then, in the final, Boucha was viciously checked by an Edina defenseman and injured. Most recall the play as being dirty, but no penalty was called. "About 15,000 people were ready to go over the boards and lynch the entire Edina team," one observer remembers. Edina already led 4-2, but Warroad, playing without Boucha, made a stirring comeback before Edina won 5-4 in overtime.
That, I supposed, was one reason for the ill feeling toward Edina. More damning is the fact that Edina is one of the Twin Cities' wealthiest suburbs. "No one likes rich kids who are good," said Bob Johnson, coach of the Calgary Flames, when asked about the tournament. Johnson, who guided Wisconsin to three NCAA titles, got his start in coaching at Warroad. As I waited for the overtime between Edina and Jefferson to start, I could find no one from outside Edina who was rooting for Edina. It's the Dallas Cowboys of Minnesota high school hockey. As one small boy explained to me, "They think they're so hot."