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McFeely: Minnesota's high school 2A hockey tournament no longer a state affair

For decades, Class AA tournament hasn't been a statewide competition -- and it might be getting worse

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The Moorhead Spuds are the lone outstate representative in the big-school bracket of this year's Minnesota state boys hockey tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. It's the seventh time since Minnesota hockey split into two classes that only one outstate school remained in the final eight. Forum file photo

Moorhead

The first suburban Twin Cities school to win a Minnesota high school hockey boys state tournament was, of course, Edina. The Hornets beat Warroad in the 1969 championship game, ending a streak of 24 years that an outstate school or St. Paul Johnson won the title.

Johnson occasionally intruded on the domain dominated by schools like Eveleth, Thief River Falls, Roseau and International Falls since the inception of the state hockey tournament in 1945. The Governors won championships in 1947, 1953, 1955 and 1963.

Northern and Iron Range schools were the kings in those days. Eveleth won five of the first seven state tournaments and International Falls took five titles from 1957 and 1966. The tournament's top echelon was made up mostly of outstate teams and the city schools from Minneapolis and St. Paul.

Suburban schools popped up occasionally in the brackets. White Bear Lake played in the first two state tournaments and was a frequent qualifier from 1945-1970. Edina-Morningside qualified for state five times in the late 1950s and early 1960s. St. Louis Park played in the tournament several times in the 1940s and 1950s.

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The 1951 state tournament was a wonderful collection of statewide representation. From the suburbs was White Bear Lake. St. Paul Johnson, St. Paul Murray and Minneapolis Southwest repped the big cities. Eveleth came from the Iron Range. Thief River Falls qualified from the northern section. St. Cloud Tech, on a hot run in the 1940s and '50s, carried the flag for central Minnesota.

When Edina won the state title in 1969, the Hornets cracked open the door for the coming rush. Demographic changes and a population explosion in the suburbs meant the epicenter of high school hockey would soon be in the communities ringing Minneapolis-St. Paul. The outstate teams hung tough through most of the 1970s, but by the time Edina East won the state title in 1978 the future had arrived.

Suburban schools have dominated the top tier of Minnesota high school hockey ever since, even though more outstate schools started programs and the game became more easily accessible around the state.

When high school hockey split into two tiers in 1992 and then two classes beginning in 1994, the glorious days of a small school from up north taking down a giant from the Twin Cities area pretty well dried up.

Class 2A is made up of mostly suburban schools, with a handful of powerful Twin Cities private schools and bigger schools from the hinterlands. Of the 66 Class 2A schools competing this season, only 17 are from the 80 counties not included in the seven-county metro area.

Class 1A is the true hockey democracy now, with more schools than Class 2A and a much broader representation of the state. Class 1A includes larger rural schools, small rural schools, the Minneapolis and St. Paul city schools and even some suburban and private schools.

If you're looking for a throwback state tournament, look to Class 1A. This year's Class 2A bracket is even more blueblood than normal, with three private schools from the Twin Cities and four schools from upscale suburbs.

Which brings us, after a long and winding road, to the point of today's typing.

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The Moorhead Spuds are the lone outstate representative in the big-school bracket.

It's the seventh time since hockey split into two classes that only one outstate school remained in the final eight.

Put another way: The Spuds are the lone bulwark against the cake eaters of Class 2A hockey. If there's a better reason for the entirety of Minnesota outside the Twin Cities area to be cheering for Moorhead, please pass it along.

Blake, Maple Grove, Eden Prairie, Lakeville South, Andover, St. Thomas Academy, Hill-Murray. And Moorhead.

It's a numbers game. The Class 2A state tournament usually only has two outstate representatives — one from Moorhead's Section 8 and the other from Section 7 in the northeast part of the state.

Four Class 2A sections don't include any outstate teams and one, Section 2, only has one.

Then there is Section 1, whose nine schools representing southern Minnesota includes seven from the outstate (three from Rochester). Just one problem for them: The section includes southern suburban Lakeville North and Lakeville South, who've combined to qualify for 15 of the past 16 state tournaments.

Could this become an issue for Section 7, home of traditional powers Duluth East and Grand Rapids? Andover, a growing northern suburb, won the section for the first time this season. Anoka, another large suburban district in the northwest suburbs, also competes in Section 2 and occasionally qualifies for the state tournament.

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Given that Moorhead's Section 8 includes the growing suburban schools of St. Michael-Albertville and Rogers — SMA won the section in 2018 — there could be a year when all eight slots in the Class 2A bracket are filled with suburban or private schools from the Twin Cities.

Could it really be called a "state" tournament if that happened? Would outstate 2A coaches call for section changes?

We'll cross that bridge when we come to it.

For now, it's the Spuds against the world. Or at least the cake eaters of the Minnesota high school hockey world.

Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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