Little did I know what was in store when I took my place atop a small platform inside the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul for the state Class AA boys hockey championship game featuring Benilde-St. Margaret’s and Hill-Murray on Saturday.
I had hoped to grab a spot in the area where I had been for the Class A finals between St. Thomas Academy and Hermantown. I sat next to a veteran hockey shooter, Mike Thill of Let’s Play Hockey, and had a great time shooting side by side with him and witnessing the Cadets make it two in a row in the state finals against Hermantown. Last year, they fell behind early, played catchup and won in overtime. This year, it was St. Thomas who staked an early lead. But, unlike last year, the early leader did not falter, and the Cadets dominated the entire game and won, 5-1.
I thought arriving an hour early for the AA game in the evening would be plenty of time to secure one of the four chairs in front. But, I was wrong. They were all taken. So, I hustled to the other side of the arena and grabbed the only chair on that side.
With plenty of time to kill, I struck up a conversation with several BSM fans seated directly in front of the platform I was on. Turned out two of them were Grant Besse’s grandparents, Bill and Jane Collien. They were decked out in the school’s red and white colors, and noted they had a chance to go to California on vacation. But, a gut feeling about their grandson’s team had them changing their minds about going out of town.
“We stayed home to come to the state tournament,” Bill said, noting he and Jane had been to all but one of the Red Knights’ games this season. “This is the year they have a chance to go [all the way]. They have all the right pieces.”
Turns out, the team had THE one right piece – their grandson. Smiles and high fives were commonplace between the Colliens as they watched Grant score all five of his team’s goals in the game. There were only a couple of rough spots – when Grant went down hard after a check and had to be helped back up, and when BSM senior defenseman Christian Horn took a five-minute major penalty for spearing in the third period. With the Red Knights leading 3-1 at the time, the Pioneers looked to score once and maybe more during the five-minute man advantage.
But, Grant spoiled their plans by getting a shorthanded goal and adding his personal exclamation point on the victory. He then added one more goal to complete the scoring. That gave him eight for the tournament and 52 for the season.
It was fun to witness and photograph. Like I did after the first game, I hustled down to the ice level to shoot celebration photos from the BSM bench. Then, when I was done, I walked by the team’s locker room, where Jack Jablonski was brought in to congratulate the team.
Oh, how I wish I could have gotten inside to take pictures of that! I can only imagine what the celebration must have been like. Hats off to the Red Knights and head coach Ken Pauly for a terrific season.
And, here’s praying that Jabs will keep making progress in his recovery.
Q: What did you enjoy most about this year’s state tournament?