I learned a lot this past weekend.
One thing I learned is that it is possible to drive 989 miles over the course of 72 hours and still remain within the borders of Minnesota. I also learned that it is really hard to do that without liters of caffeinated drinks.
But I learned things far more important than that as I visited 13 of the 14 state tournaments over the weekend.
I learned that you should never take anything for granted. Growing up in Duluth, I played countless games in the arenas in Two Harbors, Silver Bay and Grand Rapids. Being in those jewels of arenas again made me realize how truly unique they are and how lucky each and every kid that played there was.
After watching the White Bear Lake 12U A team fall in a tough semifinal game on Saturday, I learned that you can shed a few tears, and then be laughing and joking with your teammates in the lobby 30 minutes later. Losses are tough, but time with friends can help you get over them remarkably quick.
I learned that you don’t have to reach adulthood to recognize the accomplishments of an adversary. In the Bantam AA title game between Grand Rapids and Stillwater, a Grand Rapids goaltender came up with one of the best glove saves I’ve ever seen in the first period. It was so good that his teammates gave him a group hug as if he’d scored a goal. When they finally released him from their clutches, a Stillwater player skated up to him to bump gloves and pat him on the helmet.
While I learned lessons, the hundreds of kids that participated created memories. They might never remember who scored the goals or what the final scores were. But they’ll remember the pregame introductions, the banquets, the goofing around in hotels and the excitement in the locker rooms before and after games. They’ll remember seeing their high school friends chanting cheers in the stands at Braemar Arena. They might even remember a small-town restaurant in Crookston welcoming them to town with a message on their outdoor sign or how a family member cheered them on from across the country or overseas while watching the games online.
The kids probably don’t realize it just yet, but I suspect one day they will come to understand just how much work went into making their weekend special. Their parents drove them all over the state and supported them win or lose. The tournament hosts put in hours upon hours to make sure their experience in their towns and arenas made the kids feel like superstars.
And if those volunteers ever get stressed or overwhelmed by all of the work, I’ve learned that seeing the reactions of the kids celebrating a goal or a win at the state tournament makes it all worth it.
Thanks to all the parents, players, coaches and volunteers. Enjoy the offseason, and good luck on your quest for more state tournament appearances!