Emotional highs are one of the best feelings in the world. Rarely though, do those emotional highs last for entire weeks. Over the past week and a half, the Edina Junior Gold A team has enjoyed one of the best weeks they may ever experience.
It all started Friday, March 11th as the team kicked off its pursuit of a state title at the Junior Gold A State Tournament. Entering the tournament as the number two seed and unbeaten since January 11th, Edina was easily one of the top contenders. The team wasted no time showing why as it rolled through its quarterfinal and semifinal games, by scores of 4-2 and 6-2, respectively. State Championship Sunday presented a rematch of last year’s championship game against defending champion Wayzata.
After two periods, Edina held a 1-0 lead in tightly contested matchup. It was setting up to be a fantastic third period and season finale when an unexpected power outage occurred while the ice was being resurfaced, eventually forcing the game to be suspended until Monday night.
The next day, both teams took the ice knowing they had 15 minutes left to lay everything on the line and hopefully be named state champions. Edina scored first in the third period lengthening their lead and pulling the state title that much closer. It wouldn’t be that easy though. Wayzata stormed back scoring two unanswered goals and sending the game to overtime tied at 2-2.
That’s when an exciting weekend began to transform into an unforgettable week.
The teams would go on to play in seven overtime periods before Edina’s Chris Bloom tallied a power play goal to win the 2015 Junior Gold A State Championship. The 15 minutes they had planned to play turned into nearly 80 minutes and combined with Sunday’s periods totaled over 108 minutes of hockey, making it one of the longest state tournament games ever recorded in Minnesota at any level.
“It was just unreal,” head coach Bill Smith told USA Hockey in an interview. “The intensity hadn’t slowed down. In fact, the pace was picking up the deeper we got into the game. It was just unreal how both teams competed. The game could have gone either way. It was just a knock-down battle.”
That is… until they scored the game winner.
“Then it was pandemonium,” Smith said. “The place just erupted.”
In itself, that would have been an unbelievable end to a remarkable season. But it wasn’t over. Prior to the tournament beginning, Wayzata and Edina had each agreed that whichever team finished highest would represent Minnesota as its very first participant in the USA Hockey High School National Championships.
With games beginning Thursday in St. Louis, Missouri, the team had only one day to soak in their moment before getting on a bus Wednesday to continue their journey.
“I guess it really hasn’t sunk in yet, but it’s quite an honor,” Smith explained after arriving in Missouri. “We’ve had a lot of success from our team, and this is just kind of icing on the cake to go down there and see how we fare against these other teams around the country.”
Upon arriving, the mood quickly changed towards anticipation for the chance to prove themselves against teams around the country. With Edina being known as a hockey hotbed, the chance to represent their community and state created a deep desire to continue playing at a high level despite little rest and no practice time.
“Minnesota is known as, ‘The State of Hockey,’ so we want to go down there and prove that we’re capable of playing with anybody,” said Smith prior to their first games. “I think they’ll take it up another notch after our state tournament.”
And they did.
Edina swept their first three games in pool play beating St. Rita (IL) 4-1, Orange Lutheran (CA) 9-4 and Carroll (IN) 6-5 in a shootout to earn the pool’s top seed into the final bracket. Sunday’s quarterfinals pitted Edina against Idaho Falls (ID) who they sped past by a score of 7-0 to reach the semifinals. Later that night, they faced off against Santa Margarita (CA), falling 4-2 and finishing in 3rd place.
“The semifinal game against Santa Margarita was a tough one,” said Smith. “We threw everything at them all game. We just couldn't buy the couple goals we needed last night. Their goalie was hot and a hot goalie in a semifinal game is tough to beat.”
The team’s first lost in nearly two and a half months couldn’t dampen their mood though.
“Representing the state of Minnesota in a High School Varsity National Tournament was a honor for me as a coach and the athletes on this team,” said Smith. “The support from Minnesota Hockey, Metro Hockey League and Edina Hockey Association was unbelievable. KARE 11 did a story on our team heading to Nationals, and they continued to report on our achievements all five days.”
“I am extremely proud of every player on this team. Junior Gold can compete with anybody as we demonstrated by beating varsity teams from California, Illinois, Indiana and Idaho.”
It was an amazing stretch of high intensity hockey that spanned eight games and 33 periods in just 10 days. In that span, they experienced one of the longest state tournament games in Minnesota history, claimed a Junior Gold A State Championship, represented Minnesota in its first USA Hockey High School National Tournament and finished in third place.
Each achievement on its own would have provided memories that last a lifetime. Together, perhaps, team manager Krista Gresham described it best: