There are certain things in Minnesota that I really look forward to every March. The snow banks start to disappear and the days become much warmer, sunnier and longer. As a sports fan, March madness kicks into high gear and there is no better way to kick it off than the boys high school hockey tournament set to begin this Wednesday.
I am not a huge hockey fan, more of a hoops fan, but the hockey tournament is something I greatly look forward to each March. It has a wonderful long standing tradition in this state and arguably might be the best state tournament anywhere besides the Indiana boys high school tournament. It is the dream of any kid who ever laced up their skates in this state to come down to St. Paul for that weekend and play in front of a state wide television audience.
I grew up in a hockey hotbed town in northern Minnesota and it was the goal each year to make it to the state tournament. I still remember the excitement of the community during regional playoff time with a trip to the state tournament on the line. I have been to many sporting events in my life of all levels, pro, college and high school but the games I remember the most are the ones that decided who was going to the state tournament. The excitement in the building and atmosphere was second to none. Some years did not always produce a winner for my team but the years that did really brought our community together and made everyone proud.
It is really hard to pinpoint one single thing that makes this tournament so great. It has such a wonderful tradition and produced so many memorable games. I still remember staying up well past midnight one year and watching a 5 overtime game that ended about 1 in the morning. I also love seeing the small northern teams come down here and beat the larger metro area teams, similar to the movie Hoosiers. How could you not root for a team like Warroad or Roseau with such small communities and schools? The television coverage is another thing that makes so tournament so great and probably separates this tournament from others. Each game is televised all over the state and every player relishes the chance to stand before the camera during intros and get their few minutes of fame. How can I not forget about the legendary voice of Lou Nanne who has done more than 40 years of broadcasting this tournament. What would a state tournament be without his voice? He is very much a huge part of the tournament’s tradition.
The tournament has made changed some in the last several years. Now there are two classes instead of one. I personally would like to see the two classes combined into one and have a 16 team tournament. It has become more of a battle between private and public schools now. Many of the recent tourney winners have been private schools which makes people wonder if they have an unfair recruiting advantage. A little controversy to add to the tournament! However, despite these changes, the tournament is still going strong with no end in sight.
Many prominent hockey players have always said that their biggest hockey memory is playing in the boys high school state hockey tournament. As a spectator and lukewarm hockey fan, I love it because it is what sports should be all about. The participants will never forget the thrill of stepping onto the ice in front of a regional television audience to represent their school and community. It an experience they will cherish for the rest of their lives.