Ironically, the first one, might be “first day.” Whether it’s leaving the comfort and nurturing of home for the very first time, or the annual realization that summer vacation has come to an end, a first day can certainly cause significant levels of anxiety.
A second frightening phrase can be “report card.” The supposed ultimate measuring stick of your scholastic performance can horrify any student. For me, it was never the actual receiving of the report card, but rather the showing it to my parents that caused my confidence to break faster than a number-two pencil. This was a never-ending battle for me despite essentially being a “B” student. As recently as a week ago, I had a bad dream about getting a report card in the mail. Yep, I even despised my mail carrier when grades would arrive at home during college years. I have been done with school for about a decade, and I’m apparently still not completely over it.
Another two-word phrase that relates to the report card, and mirrors the concern for some students, is “final exam.” The one mammoth test that proves to be all-encompassing for the entire course. Can the student retain everything? Will a top performance be delivered?
It’s final exam time for prep boys hockey teams in Minnesota. Section final exam time to be exact. Three sections have area teams hoping to ace the big test, Who is ready to succeed?
Here in my house, my fiancee and I both have our opinions. I feel I have a good grasp of hockey, and as an English teacher, she knows a thing or two about final exams. In fact, the on-ice action could be very similar to an exam on a literary classic.Section 7A: Duluth Denfeld vs. Duluth Marshall – “Great Expectations”
The famous Charles Dickens piece fits this game for the most obvious of reasons. Both teams lived up to great expectations to simply make this game possible. It’s the championship battle the city was longing for. While it could also relate to the book in the sense that nobody has heard a “Pip” from Duluth Denfeld in hockey since 1989, this season is very different.
The Hunters deserved the top seed in 7A, and are heavy favorites on paper for this game. Denfeld has outscored opponents 15-0 so far in the 7A playoffs, and the Hunters seem primed for a section crown. The “Thompson Twins,” (who ironically share that nickname with a popular rock band from the last time Denfeld hockey was relevant) are carrying this team in a big way. Alex shouldered the scoring load in the semifinal victory over International Falls, and Zach has been a brick wall in the nets most of the season.
A huge opportunity is there for the Hunters. Can they handle it? Head-to-head, the Hunters have a chance to be Duluth’s best team this season. They have beaten Duluth East, and a second win over Marshall would give them a section title. Yet, a loss, and Denfeld becomes an also-ran again. It is believed that the Hunters caught East on a bad night, and Marshall is the team that most fans expect to own the section. Denfeld has earned big wins all year. None would be bigger than Wednesday night. Without it, the value of the previous wins shrinks significantly.
Big wins have eluded Duluth Marshall for most of the year. The signature wins have been some of the most recent ones. A win over St. Cloud Cathedral in the regular season finale announced Marshall playoff-ready, and last weekend’s victory over Hibbing-Chisholm confirmed it. It is no coincidence that the ‘Toppers are now healthy and hot at the same time. Will a Marshall team at full-strength be enough to cool off Denfeld? It could happen. The Hunters throttled the ‘Toppers 8-3 during the regular season, but the big difference in that game was a second period owned by Denfeld. Don’t expect extremely lopsided periods in this one. It should be back and forth and evenly played. That said, the ‘Toppers often fold when they aren’t the favorite. Nobody is calling them the favorite.Section 7AA: Duluth East vs. Grand Rapids — “Fahrenheit 451″
I don’t have many perfect correlations between this contest and the Ray Bradbury novel, but if you were to gauge the temperatures of these two teams — the title is fitting. Both teams are red-hot. The Duluth East Greyhounds have won 15 straight games and 19 of their last 20. The 15-game winning streak began with a victory over Grand Rapids on January 10. Grand Rapids has not lost since that January 10 battle, and has won 10 straight overall.
Both teams have improved significantly since their first meeting (2-1 East), and it will be a matter of which team plays to their strengths. East is outstanding defensively and very skilled with the puck. The Greyhounds can, and perhaps will, control the play. Yet, they must bury the puck. East outshot Grand Rapids 33-9 in the regular season affair, and Grand Rapids goalie Hunter Shepard kept the Thunderhawks in the game. That may very well need to happen again. The Greyhounds have solved their scoring woes, and have scored 27 goals in their last four games. What has made East a more feared opponent, is that the goaltending has caught on as well. When Rapids first met East, it appeared unclear if Dylan Parker could even remain the number one goalie for the ‘Hounds. Lately Parker seems to have a special focus, and has allowed only three goals in his last five starts. The Greyhounds have outscored opponents 18-0 thus far in the Section 7AA tournament.
However, the Thunderhawks may be a team of destiny. The hockey gods were smiling down on them as they tied Elk River by using the extra attacker with just 10 seconds left in regulation on Saturday. Then their best player sent them to this section final, with a double-overtime game-winner. That man is Avery Peterson, and he may be the most skilled player on the ice on Thursday night. Grand Rapids has tremendous individuals in Peterson, Shepard, and the Bischoff brothers (Jake and Jonah). Those players will have to play at a high level, because depth favors East. It will be interesting to see how the game starts. If it stays close, the pressure mounts for East in the quest for five straight section titles. If it comes down to special teams, East dominates. Yet East has dominated games before — and lost.
Section 5A: Hermantown vs. St. Cloud Cathedral — “The Outsiders”
This tremendous book by S.E. Hinton eventually became an even better movie. The Hermantown Hawks 2012-2013 season would be an entertaining movie as well. It has all the right elements so far. Several big stars, conflict midway through, overcoming adversity — but does it result in a big win towards the end? We will find out on Friday.
“The Outsiders” is a perfect fit for this game and this section. Hermantown has to feel like an outsider in the postseason. Despite being a very short distance from several area schools, the Hawks are seemingly in their own world for section play. With all the buzz surrounding Denfeld, Marshall, Hibbing, East, Grand Rapids and Cloquet-Esko-Carlton — Hermantown and Section 5A become a forgotten entity. The two teams battling Friday are a big reason why.
Hermantown and St. Cloud Cathedral have treated the rest of 5A like outsiders recently. The last five championships belong to these two teams. The last three have gone to Hermantown. The Hawks appeared to be weakening in January, but now look perhaps even better than anyone expected. The Hawks have won 11 straight games and have soared through the 5A playoffs. St. Cloud Cathedral has also been cruising and has lost only once since an overtime win over Hermantown in January. Does St. Cloud Cathedral’s win mean we’re ready for a changing of the guard again in the section? If it was still January, I’d say yes. On Friday, it’s March.
I do expect to see Bruce Plante with his team at the state tournament again next week. I don’t know if we will see him complaining about St. Thomas Academy again when he gets there.
So whether you like the two-word phrase “final exams” or “literary classic” — it’s time for area hockey teams to write their own storybook in the section final. They’ll either deal with the heartbreaking phrase of “last game,” or the dream come true phrase of “state tournament.”
That has to be better than my nightmare of still getting report cards.