Minnesota State Boys Hockey Tournament

I spent the last four days covering the Minnesota State High School League boys hockey state tournament.  It’s the largest state sports tournament in the country in terms of viewing and attendance and with Minnesota being christened the home of American hockey, the tournament is a spectacle.  This year’s tournament was no different.

A little blood never hurt anyone. Right?

On December 30th, 2011, Benilde-St. Margaret’s hockey player Jack Jablonski was checked from behind into the boards and suffered a severe spinal injury. Doctors say he will never walk again and his injury has sparked an enormous amount of support from around the state and the world and provoked instant rule changes to protect hockey players. Everywhere you turned at the tournament, kids and adults were wearing shirts, stickers, sweatshirts and hats with some form of “13” on it, which was Jablonski’s number.  His team, the Red Knights, upset the second-ranked team in the state in Minnetonka to advance to the state tournament.  The storyline was waiting.  It just needed to be written.

On Thursday night, the Red Knights defeated the four seed Edina, 3-2, and followed that up by setting a state semifinal scoring record in a 10-1 victory over Lakeville South. That set up a championship game against Hill-Murray. I’m not much into cliches, but the label “team of destiny” is a perfect fit for this Red Knights’ team.  They dominated Hill-Murray winning the Class AA championship 5-1 behind five goals, including three short-handed, from Grant Besse.

Aside from that storyline, I was covering a variety of teams including Duluth Marshall, Hermantown, Duluth East, Thief River Falls and Moorhead. Hermantown’s undefeated season came to an end as they finished second for the third year in a row.  Duluth East came into the tournament as the top ranked AA team, but played flat in their 3-2 loss to Lakeville South to open the tournament.

Finally, I want all of you to know that I spilled blood for these photos.  Literally.  In Hermantown’s opening game of the tournament on Wednesday evening, I was shooting from a corner hole in the glass.  Action was happening on the other end of the net and I was tracking that when there was a soft check away from the action right into the hole I was shooting.  Stick hit lens.  Lens smashed into face.  Head poured blood.  Lens was fine, but my left eye was a little cut up.  It was all good, but sore, the next day.

It was an exhausting, but fun four days of shooting. Below are a selection of my favorite images from the tournament!!

Benilde-St. Margaret’s students react after the Red Knights’ Grant Besse scored his fourth goal of the game against Hill-Murray Saturday evening.

With the time approaching 13:13 left in the game, Benilde-St. Margaret’s students including junior Nicole Sarquis (13 on face) raise their hands to communicate a “13” in honor of Jack Jablonski in the third period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Avery Starzecki of Hermantown, Minn. watches Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Hill-Murray warm up Saturday evening.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jake O’Borsky (right) celebrates the Red Knights’ state title with teammate Jake Horton (left) who could not go back on the ice since his penalty for gross misconduct in the third period had yet to expire before the game ended Saturday evening after the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s fans celebrate with Red Knights players after they defeated Hill-Murray 5-1 Saturday evening in the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse scores his fifth goal of the game against Hill-Murray goaltender John Dugas in the third period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Chris Hickok leaves the ice to high-fives and cheers after the Red Knights defeated Hill-Murray 5-1 Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Christian Horn (right, 21) knocks Hill-Murray’s Ryan Black (left, on ice) to the ice during the first period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Tyler Ellegard (left, 40) moves the puck while being chased by Hill-Murray’s Ryan Black (25) in the first period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse scores his second goal of the game against Hill-Murray goaltender John Dugas in the third period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jake Horton (red jersey) celebrates teammate’s Grant Besse (not pictured) first period goal in front of Hill-Murray goaltender John Dugas (1) that put the Red Knights up 1-0 Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse celebrates his third of five goals against Hill-Murray in the second period Saturday evening during the Minnesota Class AA championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Jake Horton (on ice, 16) celebrates his second period goal with Tyler Ellegard (top, 40) that put the Red Knights up 7-0 against Lakeville South Friday evening.

A plastic Packers helmet was thrown on the ice by the Benilde-St. Margaret’s student section and landed a few feet from Lakeville South goaltender Hunter Ziniel after the Red Knights’ Jake Horton scored to put his team up 7-0 Friday evening during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benidle-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse (center, A on chest) celebrates his second period goal with his teammates that put the Red Knights up 6-0 against Lakeville South Friday evening.

Benidle-St. Margaret’s Grant Besse celebrates his second period goal that put the Red Knights up 6-0 against Lakeville South Friday evening.

Lakeville South goaltender Tyler Schumacher (right) swats a flying puck away from Duluth East’s Ryan Lundgren (left, 21) in the first period Thursday evening.

Duluth East’s Trevor Olson (left, 12) was unable to score on a breakaway while being chased by Lakeville South’s Cameron Jackson in the second period Thursday evening.

Duluth East’s Jake Randolph battles Lakeville South’s Justin Kloos near the net in the second period Thursday evening.

Duluth East’s Alex Toscano (stick above head) heads to the locker room after the Greyhounds lost 3-1 to Lakeville South Thursday evening.

Hermantown’s Chris Benson (on ice) celebrates his second period goal with teammate Andrew Mattson (left, 9) Wednesday evening during the Minnesota Class A quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown’s Chris Benson (left) and Andrew Mattson (right) celebrate teammate Jared Thomas’ (not pictured) goal in the third that put the Hawks up 3-2 against Thief River Falls during the Class A semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Thief River Falls’ Amanda Sturgeon (left, “Let it Rock” sign) and Katie Mumm (blue glasses) cheer for the Prowlers after they scored to go up 2-1 against Hermantown in the second period Friday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown students including Karlee Carlson (center, jersey) and JoAnna Carlson (hands to face) shows their nerves in the final seconds before Hermantown’s victory over Thief River Falls Friday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown’s Jared Thomas heads to the locker room to high fives and cheers after his Hawks defeated Thief River Falls 3-2 Friday afternoon.

Thief River Falls’ Connor Doherty slips in front of Hermantown’s Owen Stauber (left, 21) in the first period Friday afternoon.

Hermantown’s Grant Sega (center, 29) couldn’t get his shot past Thief River Falls’ goaltender Jon Narverud (left) while being pursued by a trio of Prowler players Friday afternoon in the second period during the Minnesota Class A semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Jack Jablonski (smiling, right) gets a hug from his mom, Leslie Jablonski (smiling, shirt with colored circles) as they celebrate Christian Horn’s goal with 34 seconds left to propel Benilde-St. Margaret’s past Edina 3-2 Thursday evening during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Benilde-St. Margaret’s fans celebrate Christian Horn’s goal with 24 seconds remaining in the game that put the Red Knights up 3-2 against Edina Thursday evening during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Max Jablonski, brother to Jack Jablonski, watches the first period in the Benilde-St. Margaret’s student section Thursday evening during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown’s Bo Gronseth (5, on ice) gets knocked to the ice by a pair of St. Thomas Academy players in the second period Saturday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown seniors Blake Johnston (right, blue and yellow hair), Rachel Lufholm (center, poms) and Danielle Vatalaro react after St. Thomas Academy scored in the second period to go up 3-0 Saturday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

From left: Hermantown seniors Mitchell Ryks, Devin Smith, Jake O’Brien and Ben Gross pretend to sleep during player introductions for St. Thomas Academy Saturday afternoon prior to the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown students pretend to sleep during player introductions for St. Thomas Academy Saturday afternoon prior to the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown fan Samuel Scott (right) gets his face painted by Alex Lehrer (left), Jake Melin (center) while friend Caleb Annis (top left) watches Saturday afternoon prior to the Minnesota Class A championship game between Hermantown and St. Thomas Academy at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown players including Brian LeBlanc (hands on face) watch as All-Tournament awards are handed out for Class A following the Hawks’ 5-1 loss to St. Thomas Academy in the Minnesota Class A championship game Saturday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

St. Thomas Academy’s Matt Perry (right, 23) watches his first period goal slide into back of the net next to Hermantown goaltender Matt Mensinger (left, 35) in the first period Saturday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hermantown’s Jared Thomas (left) could not get this shot past St. Thomas Academy goaltender David Zevnik (center, 30) and Eric Schurhamer (right, 5) Saturday afternoon during the Minnesota Class A championship game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Duluth Marshall’s Kris McKinzie (left, 8) runs into Breck School’s Thomas Lindstrom (right, 16) near the net during the second period of the Minnesota Class A state quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Duluth Marshall cheerleader Emily Couture, a junior, reacts after Breck School scored to go up 4-0 in the second period of the Minnesota Class A state quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Breck School’s Nate Breitenfeldt (7, left) and Conor Andrle (right, 5) attempt to score past Duluth Marshall goaltender Caden Flaherty (center, on ice) during the third period of the Minnesota Class A state quarterfinal Wednesday afternoon at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer reacts in front of his team’s fan section after teammate Logan Ness put the Spuds up 3-0 against Eagan in the third period Wednesday afternoon during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Parker Dronen, 12, cheers for Moorhead during introductions before the Spuds’ game against Eagan Wednesday afternoon during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Moorhead’s Jacob Uglem (hands up) celebrates the Spuds’ 4-0 victory over Eagan Wednesday afternoon during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer (left) blocks a shot from Eagan’s Will Merchant (right, 24) in the first period Wednesday afternoon during the Minnesota Class AA quarterfinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hill-Murray’s Conrad Sampair celebrates his goal in front of Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer and Nicholas Uglem (17) that tied the game at 1-1 in the third period Friday evening during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hill-Murray’s Blake Heinrich (16) knocks a Moorhead player to the ice in the second period Friday evening during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Hill-Murray’s Jake Guentzel (center, 20) attempts to shoot on Moorhead goaltender Michael Bitzer (left) while being defended by Simon Selberg (right, 3) in the first period Friday evening during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Moorhead’s Cody Rahman (center, 19) celebrates his first period goal in front of Hill-Murray’s Dan Dolan (right) with teammate Zach Quaife (left) Friday evening during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Moorhead’s Zach Quaife (left) reacts in front of Hill-Murray’s Dan Dolan (right) after teammate Cody Rahman (not pictured) score in the first period Friday evening against Hill-Murray during the Minnesota Class AA semifinal at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.

Thief River Falls’ Connor Doherty (right) scores in the first period against Breck goaltender Jack Kenney (left) Saturday morning during the Minnesota Class A third place game at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.