Nevertheless, Edina won, scoring at 7:03 of the first OT. It was the prettiest goal of the night, which is as it should be in a game of that importance. Afterward Ikola did a jig in the locker room, looking, for a split second, as merry as any coach I'd ever seen. "We're going to the big one!" he said, beaming.
One of Edina's co-captains, Bill Brauer, was sitting at his locker. There was no rush to undress after a game like that. "At first I was just happy to be in the tournament," he said. "But now we're trying to win it. It's your goal since you were a kid. I remember being down at the playground when I was eight or nine pretending to be Craig Norwich or someone like that. 'He comes down...he shoots...he scores!' You think of them as so great. And now we're here—like they were." A smile settled on his face. It was a pleasing thought.
In the other semifinal, White Bear would play Hibbing, the sentimental favorite. George Perpich, Hibbing's coach of 29 years, would retire after his team's last game. This was the fifth time Perpich had brought Hibbing to the final eight, and on every occasion one of his sons and a Micheletti boy had been on the team. This year Pat Micheletti was Hibbing's starting center, and Jeff Perpich was a starting defenseman. Each is the youngest in his family.
Hibbing's fans had been having a time of it. Several busloads of students had come the 190 miles to see their team's opening game. Immediately afterward—around nine Thursday night—they had piled back into the buses for the 4½-hour drive back to Hibbing. School was held as usual on Friday morning, and at 12:30 in the afternoon the buses filled again for the trek back to St. Paul. If Hibbing should win this one, its fans would make the round trip once more for the title game, bringing their total time on buses in three days to 27 hours. I have no fonder memories of bus rides than the average American, and I expressed my sympathies to one of the Hibbing students after hearing of this ordeal. "Are you kidding?" she said. "The bus rides are the best part." It wasn't the last time that weekend I would feel 87 years old.
Alas, the return trip to the Iron Range on Friday night would be the last one for Hibbing followers. Mariner shut down Perpich's attack with superb defense and advanced to the finals with a 4-1 victory. Following the game, I walked the six blocks back to the Radisson. The moon was three-quarters full and waning. The night was windy, and the temperature on the bank clock read 30°. A group of barelegged cheerleaders ran by me, their pompons still held high. They were shouting how they were going to crush Edina.
I sensed I was nearing the hotel when an orange, falling 20 stories, splattered on the street. There was vomit on the sidewalk. Inside, at midnight, the Radisson looked like Vegas Midwest. "We will, we will skate-skate," sang a group of cheerleaders, different from those who had passed me on the street. The lobby was jammed. The pool area was jammed. The bar was jammed. Need I tell you about the elevators? "Where's the party?" asked a student carrying a tapedeck as he tried to exit at the 14th floor. "Not here," the vigilant Larson replied, shoving him back into our ascending brewery. Someone had pushed all the buttons. Eventually I made my escape.
I had been invited to a hospitality suite. It was hot and crowded with fans, parents, coaches and scouts. Shortly after I arrived, a well-dressed lady passed out in the living room. She recovered. The talk in the suite was of an up-and-coming ninth-grader, of a younger Broten brother, of Phil Housley's chances of turning pro (which he did, signing right out of high school with the Buffalo Sabres, who drafted him in the first round). This was grass-roots hockey. Not many people here would walk out of a game early. "The Minnesota hockey fan does not sleep with his North Stars," said one of the scouts. "The North Stars have to succeed to get a following. The Minnesota hockey fan sleeps with his high school hockey."
On Saturday afternoon, while the consolation games were being played, I went to find Ron Drobnick, the goalie on the Eveleth team that won the first Minnesota state tournament in 1945. His name is still in the record books: LEAST STOPS-One Game—1—Ron Drobnick, Eveleth (1945). Eveleth won that game 16-0, and the save, says Drobnick, came on a shot from center ice. He had not, as I had been told, injured his ankle on the play.
Drobnick's room was packed. His wife, Margaret, was there, along with a former teammate, Milan Begich, who had witnessed the infamous one save, and a bunch of other people from Eveleth. A consolation game was on TV. Homemade Polish sausages were simmering in a steamer in the corner of the room. They lent a sweet, humid scent to the air. I was offered a sausage and homemade wine, 1981 vintage. It was pale gold, and I could nearly see through it. A lot of folks in Eveleth make their own wine. The grapes come from California.
Drobnick has missed only two state tournaments since playing in that first one. One year he was in the service. Then in 1981 he switched jobs, so he had to pass up another. "For me to get here is the big thing," he said. "I don't care who wins." He and Begich traded insults about the old days. "We even took a tour of the state capitol that first time," recalled Drobnick. "Milan says, 'Boy, they sure could put a lot of hay in here.' Then we went to a restaurant and found a tip someone had left in the tip bowl. We thought it was an ashtray. Milan looks at the bowl and says, 'There's money in there, holy cow.' And we took it."