The Country’s Greatest Sporting Event?

The action is furious, the fans are fanatical, the athletes aren’t overpaid (they aren’t paid at all, in fact), and no one frets about steroids. It’s the Minnesota High School Hockey Tournament, and some people think it’s the best sports event in the U.S.
Last night, the Roseau Rams beat Grand Rapids 5-1 in an all-northern final, to win their seventh state championship. The Rams are a storied team from an unlikely place. Roseau is a town of around 2,700 people, a few miles from Canada in remote northwestern Minnesota. The entire high school has an enrollment of 345 kids, which means that 170 boys from grades nine through twelve vie for 24 spots on the hockey team. Yet this year, the Rams didn’t just compete with the suburban powerhouses of the Twin Cities; they dominated them.
One of the most famous Roseau teams didn’t win the state title. In 1978, the previously unbeaten Rams lost to a deeper and much bigger Edina team in the semis, 5-3, in a game that Minnesota hockey fans still remember. The remarkable thing about that Roseau team is that three of its members–Neal Broten, Butsy Erickson and Aaron Broten–went on to play in the NHL.
In action from last night’s final, the Grand Rapids goalie makes a save; click to enlarge:

After Herb Brooks coached the U.S. team to a gold medal in the 1980 Olympics, a reporter suggested that the gold medal victory must be the biggest thrill of his life. Brooks famously replied, “Second biggest. The biggest thrill was when my St. Paul Johnson team went to the Minnesota state high school tournament.” You have to be there to fully appreciate it, but you can get a sense of what Brooks was talking about from this photo of the victorious Rams coming over the boards as time ran out in the final game; click to enlarge:

Photos courtesy of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.
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