Different people - same passion

No matter how much they change, things still remain the same.

Because of some near devastating occurrences in my life at this time,

arrangements had been made for someone else to cover the games in the 2012 Minnesota State High School Boys' Hockey Tournament last week.

But, Hill-Murray's entry into the tournament led me to the Xcel Energy Center to watch the opening game -- solely as a spectator -- after all.

Besides, courtesy of a friend some years ago, I have a complete set of boys' hockey tournament programs and I needed one for 2012.

I made my way to the Al Shaver Press Box and courtesy of Dave Wright - the capable public address announcer during tournaments - I picked up the necessary press paraphernalia. 

St. Paul Pioneer Press scribe - current "Mr. Prep" Tim Leighton came by to say hello. Leighton explained that the next night, instead of "covering" the hockey game, he was "working" the Hill-Murray vs. Highland Park Section 4AAA girls' basketball game.

The Pioneers won the game 52-37 and with the victory advanced to the Minnesota State High School Class AAA with a record of 22-7. They will meet Hutchinson (25-3) March 14, in the opening round. But basketball is next on the schedule. 

You never know who you will run into 

It is always fun to wander the corridors of the Xcel Energy Center to get some idea of the crowd and who might be there. The first two people I met were somewhat unlikely faces to spot at the tournament. Gregg Wong and Mike Fermoyle came by. Both are retired sports writers for the St. Paul Pioneer Press. Wong explained that someone had loaned him a suite for the day. Fermoyle - who didn't say he appreciated being invited along - said of Wong, laughing, "He's the biggest moocher in the world." 

Later when I repeated that comment to Leighton, he affirmed what Fermoyle said. "That's the truth too!" Leighton said. 

I then chatted briefly with probably the No. 1 Hill-Murray fan, Paul Koller. His daughter, Ingrid Koller, described him as "the most devoted Hill-Murray fan." 

Paul explained that he has been at every State Tournament the Pioneers have been to. He said the Hill-Murray hat he is often seen wearing was purchased in 1973 and the sweater is dated from 1983.

Another loyal Hill-Murray fan interrupted our conversation and I was not surprised to exchange pleasantries with Steve Braunig. 

A former Hill-Murray player and himself a participant in the classic, I next heard a hello from Tony Currello. 

I had to stop to chat with Hill-Murray freshman Melvin Schmidt, who was wearing a wig of what had to be the brightest green hair possible. 

Schmidt was there with his buddy and neighbor from Oakdale, Nate Van der Heyden who stated, "I like the outcome so far."

At that time of the game, the score was 2-1 in favor of the Pioneers with Hill-Murray topped Maple Grove at the end of the first period.

He would like it even better at game's end as Hill-Murray moved to the semifinal round with a 5-2 victory over the No. 2 seed Section 5AA Crimson. 

Tommy Kanach an eighth grader at Hill-Murray - he thinks he will play baseball and football said after the contest, "I like it so far, It is really a hard hitting game."

Perhaps the most interested and maybe the most proud of the outcome was Bill Finnegan. He pointed to the number two on his Hill-Murray sweatshirt, which belonged his son Shane Finnegan. 

"It is wonderful. All the kids are playing just great. We're leading Maple Grove so far and they are the No. 3 seed. I think we will keep it up," Bill Finnegan said.

The Pioneers did keep it up by defeating Maple Grove and performed even better in the second game of the tournament against Moorhead.

Just two weeks ago, Hill-Murray downed the Spuds by a 6-1. As coach Bill Lechner pointed out to the television audience, "That doesn't mean a thing right now."

It didn't matter as the game went down to the wire and a 1-1 tie forced the clock into overtime. Conrad Sampair didn't waste any time on the new clock and scored his second goal of the game to advance Hill-Murray to the championship contest.

I don't think anyone would believe what happened - in particular the Pioneers' players - as the Red Hawks' junior forward Grant Besse put his team on his back and scored all five goals, to lead Benilde-St. Margaret's to the title with a 5-1 victory. 

As suddenly as it began, the 68th State High School boys' hockey tournament was history. That it was any different than any of the others is up to who you ask. Certainly there were many similarities, but there is always enough that is different to make if worth the effort to attend. 

QUICK TAKEOFFS

Congratulations to the HILL-MURRAY Pioneers girls' basketball team for their winning their third straight section championship and heading into State Tournament competition which will begin March 14 at WILLIAMS Arena. Good Luck PIONEERS!!! ... And speaking of congratulations, how can one feel anything but good about the fact that former NORTH three-sport great RON ADAMS will take over as head baseball coach. ADAMS has had a great career guiding the NORTH ST. PAUL AMERICAN LEGION Post 39 baseball nine. One can only wish him the same good fortunes as he takes over at the helm of the Polars. In case you are wondering, the appearance by the Pioneers in the State Classic was their 23rd. HILL-MURRAY has been in 10 championship games and has won three state championships. Great going Pioneers!!! ... Hey RUTH you hang in there!