Every year, or almost every year, I type a column that summarizes my state tournament experience. The content depends on some thoughts rolling around in the empty gray matter that I call my brain, and sometimes it makes sense, and other times...well, the term 'random rambling' was created on my behalf.
I will try to do my best.
I went back into our archives, and the first sentence of this story is a lie. I had two years (2017, 2019) where I wrote up a recap of my recollections of the tourney. That was all I could find, but I only went back a few years and then got bored, so I'm going with my first sentence of this paragraph as the gospel truth.
Maybe the fact that I am going to have two consecutive years will help motivate me.
So, boys and girls, moms and dads, here is my key thought for today: girls high school hockey is in good hands. What exactly I am talking about?
I compiled the votes for the girls All-State Tournament team and found—somewhat to my surprise—that both goalies on the team were freshmen. One other player was a freshman and five players were sophomores.
Here is a list:
That is eight of 13 players on the first and second team that are underclassmen. Last year, only two of 13—Parker and Zilisch made that list, so this year, we saw many more youngsters step up on the big stage and perform masterfully.
On the state tournament rosters, there are 12 freshmen and 26 sophomores. To drill down even further, 28 of those would be considered regular players (first three forward line, top-4 defenders, or starting/platoon goalie).
Unless I am imagining things, there are more younger players than ever, taking regular shifts and playing major minutes in goal.
Starting younger, better instruction, more opportunities to play 'elite' hockey? All of the above?
Yes, probably. Let's enjoy it and hope the trend continues, because then the 'Wisconsin' game can maybe catch up to the 'Minnesota' game.
Once again, Wisconsin Prep Hockey held a ceremony for our 'End of the Year' awards. Despite having to change the game plan (switch from Saturday morning to Friday afternoon), we feel it was a huge success. An estimated crowd of 250 watched as eight awards were handed out. The crowd included players, parents, grandparents, other relatives, and fans that all seemed to enjoy the proceedings. Many people stopped to offer kind words and we appreciate that. Hopefully, next year will be bigger and better.
State tournament is like 'Old Home Week,' where you run into friends that you haven't seen for a year or years. For example, I ran into Arrowhead coach Carl Valimont at the WHCA Player of the Year/State Tourney banquet, who I hadn't seen in ten years or so. He was named the 'Bob Johnson Coach of the Year.' It was a great honor for a great coach, and the 10 minutes I spent with him was a joy.
As always, it was nice to chat with WiPH fans that stopped us in the concourse or caught up with us the the 'Official Suite of Wisconsin Prep Hockey,' Suite 506 at The Clamshell.
I even spent a couple periods with my wonderful son Corey and two of my grand-daughters Saturday during the Verona-Notre Dame game. Rosie cracked me up when she asked what that 'timer' was for and how did the players get onto the ice? I love you guys; thanks for stopping!
And the fans were great. The WIAA, acting on a suggestion by the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association, put up black curtains near the top of the arena most of the way around to make the crowd appear larger (which it did), and to make the place a little louder (it was).
The fans were forced to sit in the bottom two-thirds of the venue, which made it (to me) cozier than in past years. The crowd for the Verona-Chippewa Falls game on Friday was not only large and loud, but they saw a great game, perhaps one of the best in the 50 years of WIAA hockey. There shouldn't have been a loser in this game, but Verona sneaked out a 1-0 victory.
So, as in an Academy Awards speech, I'm sure I missed someone. But for all you that showed up, and you know who you are, thanks for a great State Tournament.