I had the opportunity to play goalie in the eight-team state hockey tournament during my senior year at Edina-East High School in 1977. We had a good team that season. In fact, 14 of the 18 players on the playoff roster would go on to play either NCAA Division I or Division II hockey.
The 33rd annual tournament was played at the St. Paul Civic Center, the historic old arena that featured the clear dasher boards.
The talented tournament field included Rochester John Marshall (22-2), Mounds View (23-1), Hill-Murray (22-2), South St. Paul (18-1-5), Minneapolis Southwest (15-7-2), Edina-East (22-1), Grand Rapids (19-3-1) and Roseau (23-0). The record of the tournament qualifiers was 164-17-8.
In the opening round, we played the late game on Thursday night against Neal Broten, his brother Aaron and Busty Erickson from Roseau. The Rams were ranked number one in the state, we were second.
I seem to recall there some sort of pre-game mix-up as both teams took the ice for warm-ups wearing their green jerseys. We eventually made the switch to our white sweaters and it was time to play.
I remember the ice was soft, the lights were bright and it was hot in the Civic Center. There was a also standing room only crowd of 17, 409, which, at that time, was the largest crowd to ever watch a hockey game in Minnesota.
A majority of the fans in the building were pulling for the northern Minnesota school, except for a couple of sections in the corner where the Hornet faithful were seated.
I was so excited to be there – achieving a goal I had been dreaming about since I first strapped on the pads as a peewee.
But I was also nervous, playing on such a big stage, in front of a record crowd and with thousands more throughout Minnesota watching the game on WTCN-TV with announcers Joe Boyle and Lou Nanne.
Once the puck dropped, I couldn’t wait to make my first save. After that, I was able to settle down and focus on the task at hand.
It was a back and forth contest with both teams exchanging excellent scoring chances.
Teammate Bret Bjerken broke the scoreless tie a couple minutes into the third period. Another Hornet tally by John Donnelly a few minutes later sealed the 2-0 victory.
That set-up a semifinal showdown against the two-time defending state champions from Grand Rapids. Their team featured a number of future Division I hockey players including current University of Minnesota Head Coach Don Lucia.
This game turned out to be a shootout from the opening face-off. Grand Rapids built up a 4-2 lead in the second period before we came storming back with four straight goals to take the lead in the third. Grand Rapids added one late but we hung on to win it in electrifying fashion 6-5. Current Michigan Tech Head Coach Mel Pearson scored two goals in that game for the Hornets.
With the win, we advanced to the finals to face Rochester John Marshall, a team we did not know a whole lot about. But what we did know was the squad from southern Minnesota could put the puck in the net and had one of the best goalies in the state in sophomore Paul Butters who would go on to play at the University of Minnesota.
Rochester scored on a breakaway 36 seconds into the title game and added another seven minutes later. But we battled back on goals from Dave Terwilliger and Tom Kelly to tie the game at 2-2 after two. But that was a close as we got. JM added two in the third to win it 4-2.
Even though we team lost in the championship – playing in the state tournament was a wonderful experience and something I’ll never forget.
And if I ever need a trip down memory lane, I can pop in a DVD and watch the games from that memorable March 40 years ago.
Fourteen players on the 1976-77 Hornets team
would go on to play college hockey.
John Anderson Gustavus Adolphus College
Bret Bjerken Michigan Tech
Steve Carroll Mankato State
John Donnelly Dartmouth
Mark Gagnon Cornell
Paul Gagnon Notre Dame
Gordie Hampson Michigan
Scott Hampson Colorado College
Tom Kelly Colorado College
Mike Lauen Michigan Tech
Mel Pearson Michigan Tech
Steve Pepper Minnesota
Bill Peterson Hamline
Dave Terwilliger Minnesota