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"We played in front of 5,200 people in the finals," said Begich. "That was a big crowd for us."
"Milan, when we got on the bus it was a big crowd."
They talked about their old coach, Cliff Thompson. If a kid broke a stick and wasn't able to afford a new one, Thompson would buy him one and leave it in the snowbank outside the boy's house. "Poor?" said Drobnick. "Why we only had one puck per block, and when that road apple dried up, a lot of times we didn't have any pucks. You skated all day because there was nothing else to do. No TV. You had to get out of the house. Eveleth was a real melting pot—Swedes, dagos, bohunks. I don't care what you call me as long as you don't call me late for supper."
We laughed and drank the wine and ate the delicious sausage. As I bade good-by Drobnick nodded at Begich and said, "Why, during this tournament we even give up sex." They smiled at their wives, who smiled back. "We make our hotel reservations for next year when we leave."
The championship game that night between Edina and Mariner drew a crowd of 17,553, which brought the total attendance for the six sessions to 101,006. Edina dominated play and after two periods led 4-0, despite having two goals disallowed. "I don't like 'em personally," said an old coach before the start of the third period. "I've battled Edina all these years, and nobody hates 'em worse than I do. But they've got character. It bubbles out all over."
The final score was 6-0, a fair reflection of the play. Nearly everyone remained in the stands for the awards ceremony. First Cloquet—not just its players but its fans and cheerleaders as well—received the sportsmanship award. Then Edina was presented the state championship trophy, which the captains took turns carrying around the perimeter of the rink, as they had seen Stanley Cup winners do. The ovation they received couldn't have been warmer if they had been beloved underdogs all week.
Later, the Edina players posed outside their locker room for the television cameras. "We like Ike! We like Ike!" chanted the team as I kola arrived. He was subdued, as most coaches are at such moments. During his interview he struck exactly the right chord by thanking, up front, Minnesota's youth hockey coaches. "The youth coaches give us the talent and we take it from there," he said.
Inside the locker room the players were slapping each other around, hollering in the showers, comparing their feelings with those of Stanley Cup and Super Bowl champions. The blackboard at the end of the room said: GIVE IT EVERYTHING YOU'VE GOT AND SOON YOU WILL HAVE EVERYTHING YOU WANT! Underneath that message was another: WHITE JERSEYS HERE. A pile of wet hockey sweaters lay below.
Outside the Mariner dressing room, several hundred parents, fans and cheerleaders were waiting. As the players came out one at a time, the people burst into applause. It stopped each player. I imagine it had been quite some time since those boys had lost 6-0. For a while, they probably wondered how they should act.
They'll remember that applause. They'll remember a lot of what happened to them that wild weekend in March.