The Minnesota high school hockey tournament was this past weekend. Benilde-St. Margaret's won the Class AA championship, Hermantown won the Class A public school championship, and St. Thomas Academy won the No Class championship. Here's a few notes and I thoughts I had from the weekend of hockey.
-I love watching Minnesota high school hockey, but there's always some seriously mixed emotions watching the tournament. All you need to know about the people running the tournament in the MSHSL is that they allowed St. Thomas Academy to celebrate on the ice on Saturday and wouldn't allow Jack Jablonski to celebrate with his team on the ice.
By now, almost the entire hockey world knows Jack Jablonski's story and what he's gone through these past three months. I was there at the section championship when he came onto the ice and accepted his team's trophy, and it was an incredibly moving moment. Saturday night, I was waiting for the same thing, but it never happened. Why? Because the MSHSL has RULES that are SERIOUS BUSINESS that kept Jablonski from joining his teammates on the ice. Instead, Benilde had to wait until they got back to the lockerroom to take their team photo with the trophy and celebrate as a team. It's unbelievable that the people involved with the MSHSL would have so little humanity and basic common sense, or would believe that the sanctity of their rulebook would outweigh the significance of what was happening at that moment.
The high school tournament is a fantastic tournament because of the kids involved, and in spite of the people that run it. I recommend the MSHSL check out what happened to the tournament at the XCel Center this coming weekend, which has operated under the same principle for many years.
-Justin Kloos won Mr. Hockey, and Michael Bitzer won the Frank Brimsek Award for top senior goalie. Both were the most deserving candidates. I'm glad Kloos got the opportunity to show the whole state why most people in the know just chuckled whenever someone suggested anyone but him for Mr. Hockey. Bitzer had a good tournament, and was definitely the best senior goalie in the state, but I think people are going a little overboard with expectations beyond college. Best high school goalie in the state of Minnesota really doesn't carry a lot of weight. Bitzer will have to prove himself at the junior level.
-The players that helped themselves the most in this tournament: Christian Horn from BSM, Blake Heinrich from Hill-Murray, Connor Hurley from Edina and Jack Walker from Edina. Heinrich is an interesting player, because he's always been a solid player, but has gotten lost behind a very good group of '95 defensemen in his age group. There were questions if he had the elite level ability of some of those players, but I think he started to answer some of those questions this weekend.
-Grant Besse was the big story on Saturday night, after scoring all five goals, including three shorthanded goals for Benilde. There's no denying that was one of the great performances in state tournament history, and he deserves a ton of credit for that. As far as his future, like Bitzer, I wouldn't go too far too soon. I still don't think Besse gets drafted this year, though after this performance maybe someone takes a shot in the late rounds because he's got great skills. I will say that one thing I've really liked about Besse this year is that I think he has taken steps to improve the areas of his game that were really lacking, namely, playing a more physical style of game instead of just using his skills on the perimeter. He's still not perfect in that regard, but if you compare him now to where he was last year at this time, I think he's a much better, closer to complete player, which is a promising sign.
-The dominance of private schools in this year's tournament got me thinking a lot about the idea of moving to private schools for "exposure". Benilde may have won the state title, but did a player like Jake Oborsky really help himself more by being an afterthought on a great team than if he had stayed in Red Wing and helped lead them to the state tournament? There's a few other examples of players on those private school teams that would have been leaders on their local teams and instead saw minimal ice time on a very good private school team. I don't think those players are getting the type of exposure they planned on.
-The less I say about St. Thomas Academy the better. It's a joke that they play in Class A, and an even bigger joke that one of their coaches tried to say his team didn't have enough talent to play AA after the game. That's now their fourth state championship since 2006, and honestly, with the talent they've had, they would have won more if they weren't such a horribly coached team. The talent that goes into that program is far greater than the talent that comes out of it. Their excuse for not choosing to play up is that they don't want to be known as a hockey school. Congrats. That's the last thing I think of when it comes to that school.
-Not to take away from Benilde's accomplishment, but other than their match-up against Minnetonka in the section final, they almost literally had the easiest path to a state tournament possible. They got a virtual bye to the section finals when 7th seed Armstrong beat 2nd seed Eden Prairie. At the state tournament, they got the benefit of playing the teams ranked 4th, 8th, and then 7th. Mathematically, the only way to have an easier path at the state tournament is if the 4th seed beat 5, 7, and 8. All that said, with the depth of talent they had, and the way they were playing, nobody was going to beat that team.
-A couple people have asked: I'll post my list of top Minnesota high school players by class one more time this year, but I'm going to wait until after the Great 8 senior showcase festival in the last weekend of March, just to be able to add a few more players from outside the Twin Cities area.