Here's the deal. Back in December I started counting down the ten best hockey games that I had seen in person. I stopped after the first seven, partially because I got bogged down by the holidays, and partially because the last three were all late-season playoff games, and I figured it might be better to wait until that time of the year.
In case you weren't here in December, or what a refresher, here's a recap of the top ten so far:
10. Toronto Maple Leafs vs. Pittsburgh Penguins
6. Minnesota State High School Finals
4. Fargo-Moorhead vs. Southern Minnesota
And that brings us down to our top three, starting today with the third best game(or series of games) I've seen in person.
Who: Section 6AA Final Minnetonka vs. Benilde-St. Margaret's, Section 2AA Final Edina vs. Burnsville
Where: Mariucci Arena
When: February 27, 2008
Final Score: Benilde 3-2(OT) , Edina 4-3(OT)
A lot gets made of the spectacle of the state tournament, and how impressive it is that they manage to fill the 18,000 seat XCel Center. But the thing is, the state tournament is an "event". People don't necessarily show up for the hockey, so much as just being there. Plus, it's drawing from all over the state. Far more impressive to me, is to see a 10,000 seat get filled past capacity on a weekday evening to watch four amazing local hockey teams battle it out.
These games were spectacular. I made the rookie mistake of showing up fairly close to puck drop for the first game, and thus, had to spend most of the first period watching the game on a TV monitor in the Mariucci lobby. Still, it was the best $8 I've ever spent on a hockey game.
My late arrival was okay though, since the first game between Minnetonka and Benilde didn't start to get really interesting until the third period. Minnetonka was the huge favorite, and probably the second or third best team in the state. But Benilde had some great players of their own.
Minnetonka led 2-0 after two periods and had completely controlled the game. They weren't quite able to get that extra goal to put BSM away though. In the third period, Minnetonka took a penalty and BSM's great powerplay went into action. They scored once to cut the lead in half. Benilde tied the game midway through the third period, and the rest of regulation became crazy, non-stop up-and-down action, with both teams having a chance to win the game.
It ended up going to overtime, fitting for a game of that quality, but the style of play wasn't likely to produce a long overtime session, and sure enough, Benilde found a way to score less a minute into overtime and pull off a huge upset. The winning goal was scored on the east end of Mariucci, but Benilde's team went racing down to the northwest corner of the arena to celebrate with their small, but happy fanbase. Their players climbed the glass and stood on the dashers while they hugged and cheered with their students, friends, and family.
Once the Red Knights were cleared off the ice, it was time for the second game against Edina and Burnsville. Both are huge public schools with huge fanbases. The first game had been mostly full, especially by the end, but it was completely packed by this game.
Edina was the heavy favorite in this game. Burnsville had a great duo in Tyler Barnes and Jake Hendrickson, but not much else. I was a little concerned about the possibility of Burnsville getting blown out of the water by a great Edina team. Those concerns were eased quickly when Burnsville scored a flukey goal in the game's first minutes to take the lead. Edina responded back with two goals and led after the first period. Again, I was worried that Burnsville would start to fade. Edina controlled the second period, but never extended their lead and in the final minute of the period, Burnsville scored on an odd-man rush to tie the game. Edina dominated the period, and still ended up losing their lead.
The third period brought another chance for Burnsville to quit. Midway through the period, Edina's Anders Lee got a penalty shot, and calmly skated down the left wing and absolutely buried a shot into the far corner. But again, Burnsville had an answer and tied the game. The last eight minutes was some great hockey with both teams being inches away from taking the go-ahead goal, and Mariucci being absolutely rocking.
Regulation eventually ended tied. During the brief break before overtime, Burnsville's student section, which had been both huge and loud all game long, decided to huddle up. Their students, which took up all of sections 8, 9, and 10 in the southwest corner of the arena condense themselves into section 9 as if to try and summon up strength and energy for their gassed players. It almost worked too. Edina controlled the first overtime, but Burnsville's goalie was absolutely on fire. Burnsville almost made it to the break of the first overtime and a much needed rest during the resurfacing, but Edina found a way to sneak the puck into the net and avoid a huge upset. It was a little bitterwsweet to have to see a team that fought so hard have to lose that game, but it was fantastic hockey.all night long.
You really can't get much better than two fantastic overtime games between four great teams. Some day, you'll be able to look down the rosters of those teams and there will probably be over a dozen that played college hockey, and some that will have played in the NHL. But it's unlikely any will ever again play in a game like that.
This year's installment of the Mariucci doubleheader takes place tonight, with #2 Edina taking on #3 Bloomington Jefferson in the first game at 6pm, and #1 Eden Prairie taking on #6 Minnetonka at 8pm at Maricucci. Both games could even manage to top last year's. If you don't already have tickets, they go on sale at Mariucci starting at 5pm, and if you wait much past five, you'll probably miss the start of the first game, and risk not getting a ticket at all.