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A love letter to The Tourney: New book details history of state hockey tournament

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The cover of a new book, "Tourney Time," about the 75-year history of the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament features the Wayzata Trojans rushing to celebrate in front of their fans after winning the 2016 Class AA state championship. (Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Historical Society Press)

The 75-year history of the Minnesota high school boys hockey state tournament can be broken down nicely into three distinct eras.

That's what David LaVaque and L.R. Nelson have spent the past two-and-a-half years doing: Memorializing in print an event that started as a dream of a St. Paul Public Schools athletic director and has evolved into one of the premier high school sporting events anywhere.

"The whole book is a big love letter to the tournament," said LaVaque, a St. Paul native and a high school sports reporter at the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, "and so much of it is celebratory in nature."

In "Tourney Time," LaVaque and Nelson take readers on a journey from 1945, when Gene Aldrich all but begged the Minnesota State High School League to allow him to organize the first state hockey tournament in St. Paul, through last March, when third-line winger Peter Colby scored in overtime to give Edina its 13th state championship with a 3-2 win against Eden Prairie.

The book is much more than facts and game recaps.

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It tells the stories behind the scores — such as Roseau's Rube Bjorkman, the hero of the 1946 Tourney, in which the Rams beat Rochester High 6-0 in the state championship game. Bjorkman became known as the Masked Marvel due to a combination of distinctive eyeglasses and spectacular play. Every championship team has its own unique place in history.

"For me, every chapter ... I didn't really know where these stories would go," Nelson said. "It was really fun to learn what made all those teams tick. They all had interesting stories behind them.

"There is so much fascinating information behind each team that it was easy to get the book where we wanted it to be."

Nelson is a long-time hockey journalist and founder of the website Legacy.Hockey, a gathering place for information on the past, present and future of high school hockey in Minnesota. It's also the easiest place to purchase "Tourney Time," which retails for $29.95. LaVaque and Nelson will sign and personalize any book ordered through the website.

Nelson wrote what LaVaque calls one of the "four chapters in the book where we knew we had to really shine and bring it."

Along with 1945 (the first tournament), 1969 (the first tournament at the Met Center, and a classic title game, Edina beating Henry Boucha-led Warroad 5-4 in OT) and 1996 (the legendary 5-OT semifinal between Apple Valley and Duluth East), the authors said they knew that the story of the 1977 state champions from Rochester John Marshall is one that had to be told well and be told thoroughly.

"We separated the book into three eras of the tournament," LaVaque said, "the Early Years, the Golden Era and Modern Day. The '77 tournament falls right in the middle of the Golden Era.

"That year was everything that makes the tournament so great — the characters, the upset victories, the way JM played, with the stretch passes and big goals, and even the Edina guys saying to them during the game 'you don't belong here,' and JM went out and beat them."

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The story of the 1977 champions begins with an anecdote about head coach Gene Sack, whom the authors place at the top of their "Top 10 Characters" in tournament history.

Nelson relates in "Tourney Time" that Sack called all of his players "hamburgers" and it tells the story of why he called goalie Paul Butters — whose 37 saves in a 1-0 semifinal shutout against South St. Paul still stands as a Tourney record for saves in a shutout — "eccentric."

The chapter about the 1977 Rockets begins on Page 109, but JM fans shouldn't skip ahead so quickly. The first photo that greets readers upon opening the book is a full-page shot of then-sophomore Todd Lecy reacting after scoring the lone goal in JM's win against South St. Paul. The photo perfectly captures both sides of that outcome — Lecy's arms in the air, a look of joy on his face, while a South St. Paul player prepares to slam his stick to the ice in frustration behind him.

"That chapter was a lot of fun to write," Nelson said. "I didn't know as much about that team. I was just a kid when they won, but that enthralled me with the tournament. I thought it was the coolest thing ever.

"I could remember Todd Lecy running on his skates after scoring. That team had a whole bunch of characters and Gene Sack, there's no coach like him."

From Gene Aldrich to Scott Lecy to Dave Spehar to Karl Goehring to Peter Colby, "Tourney Time" tells new stories of state tournament heroes that are household names in Minnesota, and it tells the stories that most hockey fans have never heard.

One of those is the story of Rick Larsen, an Eagen resident who officiated the legendary five-overtime state semifinal in 1996, in which Apple Valley outlasted Duluth East. Larsen pulled into his garage after that game, opened his car door and ... rolled to the door. His body and legs were so exhausted that he couldn't even walk.

When he crawled into bed at 2:45 a.m., Larsen's wife said "I told you not to go to the bar after the game."

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He replied: "Obviously you didn't watch the game."

"When he relayed that story to me, I wish i would have recorded it," LaVaque said. "I was laughing so hard.

"It was a different way to tell that story. We had this big thing and were just wondering what else we could add."

Related Topics: NELSON
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