ST. PAUL - Last weekend, another high school boys hockey season ended at Xcel Energy Center with the Minnesota State High School League crowning state champions for Eden Prairie (Class AA) and St. Thomas Academy (Class A).
The league concluded another successful tournament in one of hockey's finest facilities at Xcel Energy Center. It capped a season that stretched over the course of five different months. In fact, the boys hockey tournament is perhaps one of the more popular state tournaments nation-wide, drawing comparisons to other high-profile tournaments across the country.
"I don't think there is any question that it is the premier high school hockey tournament in the country," said Howard Voigt, Director of Information (tournament program & media relations) for the MSHSL. "In fact, it is probably one of the best high school tournaments, period. It has been compared to the Texas state football tournament and the Indiana state basketball tournament in terms of attendance and atmosphere."
Photo by Steve Muscatello
The Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul pictured during the opening round of the Class A State Tournament.
This year's tournament drew 112,474 people and every year the MSHSL has the job of making sure all of those fans have a great experience overall.
Brief History of the tourney
According to the MSHSL Boys Hockey Program, the first high school tournament was held in 1945. Prior to that, high school hockey was played by approximately 25 schools in the 1930s. Gene Aldrich, the St. Paul Athletic Director at the time, is credited with helping the first tournament start because St. Paul was drawing many fans for its games. Backed by the MSHSL, Aldrich went ahead and planned the details for the first state tournament and it became the first state hockey tournament in the United States.
The behind-the-scenes work at the boys hockey tournament:
Craig Perry, Associate Director and Tournament Director
Susi Hollenbeck, administrative assistant to Perry
Rich Matter, Assistant Director (ticket management)
Nancy Myers, administrative assistant to Matter
Kevin Merkle, Associate Director (tournament officials)
Katie Vanderpoel (administrative assistant to Merkle)
Bill Kronschnabel, Supervisor of Officials (tournament officials selection)
Chris Franson, Assistant Director (Web site)
Nancy Etter, administrative assistant to Franson
Lisa Lissimore, Associate Director (marketing of tournament)
Sheila Robinson, administrative assistant to Lissimore
Howard Voigt, Director of Information (tournament program & media relations)
Ellen Rajkowski, administrative assistant to Voigt (tournament program)
Yvonne Walsh, administrative assistant to Voigt (media credentialing)
Lori Glover, Institute for Athletic Medicine (trainer and doctor coordination)
Jill Mastel, Xcel Energy Center Event Coordinator
The inaugural state tournament was won by Eveleth and 8,434 spectators witnessed the eight-team tournament.
By 1947, attendance had more than doubled and it surpassed 30,000 people in 1956 and 40,000 people in 1961. The three-day event reached a capacity of 46,000 its last three years at the St. Paul Auditorium.
The tourney itself was held at the Auditorium as well as the Met Center in Bloomington, where attendance nearly doubled when it was held there. In 1976 the tournament returned to St. Paul where it was held at the Civic Center.
Up until 1992, the tournament was one class but it went to a two-class system in 1992 and a fourth day was added. The championship rounds were played at Target Center in 1999 and 2000 and then they returned to St. Paul and the new Xcel Energy Center. There, 129,643 fans attended in 2008 to set a tournament record.
Presently, the tournament begins the Class A Tournament at Xcel Energy Center on Wednesday and the AA portion of the tourney on Thursday. The consolation bracket is held at Mariucci Arena on the campus of University of Minnesota.
Getting ready for
It's no easy task to pull off the hockey tournament. According to Voigt and Craig Perry, who is the MSHSL's Associate Director and Tournament Director for the boy's hockey tourney, it's a year-long process involving all members of the MSHSL.
"League staff annually establishes a calendar of events for the following year, along with a projected calendar for the following two years," Voigt said. "The Board then reviews these calendars and approves them on an annual basis, as well."
From there, minor but yet important details are figured out. Everything from security to ticket-takers to concession stand workers must be figured out. Perry said that each facility is in charge of concessions and having enough people on hand. The MSHSL itself has about 50 people in various positions.
As far as getting the tournament lined up at Xcel Energy Center every year where the Wild would generally get top priority during hockey season, Perry said it's not difficult at all to get the tournament set up there every year.
"It is extremely easy," Perry said. "The management of Xcel Energy Center blocks off the calendar dates for the MSHSL tournaments and informs the NHL that those dates are not available for Wild games."
Once the field for the tournament is set, the MSHSL is busy working on the hockey program that is sold to the general public (includes team pictures of all of the teams that qualified, some historical data, and rosters along with many other tournament-related information) as well as a media guide. This is also divided up amongst the staff and several people play key roles in making sure its ready to go come tournament time.
"Much of the historical information in the program comes directly from our annual Yearbook and Record Book," Voigt said. "I work either with League staff, freelancers or sports reporters from around the state to put together feature stories and photos for the program. We rely on our member schools who qualify for the tournament to post up-to-date information on the League Web site (rosters, season records and statistical information). That information is shared with our printing company. Proofs are made available to League staff early Sunday morning of tournament week and approval is granted by noon or earlier that day. [Ellen] Rajkowski reviews the stats from the teams, researches their history at the tournament, and drafts an advance news release on Sunday or Monday. She and I then format the Media Guide and run 100-150 copies for distribution to media at the tournament."
Just like having the best teams at the state tournament, the MSHSL also has to make sure the quality of the referees is fit for the state tournament. Perry said that written and in-person evaluations are used to select the officials, who have to apply to work at the state tournament games. The tournament director also picks the arena announcers for the tournament games.
And once the tournament concludes in March, it's not long before planning goes into the next year's event.