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A storm’s a brewing: state tournament time in Saint Paul

For those of us who are big fans of St. Paul there is real reason to be worried, we just might be enjoying the last week of sanity in our lovely Capital City.

March is Tournament Month here in Minnesota. The winter sports have their championships, the big one here in the Northland is the Boys Hockey tournament. Last night the period was dotted bittersweet sports story of the year, as the Benilde-St. Margaret Red Knights  defeated the Hill-Murray Pioneers 5-0 to win the Class AA boys hockey championship. For those you not from around here this years season at Benilde will be remembered for a long time, not just because championship, but because of the injury suffered December 30, 2011 by Jack Jablonski a sophomore skater who was checked from behind into the boards resulting in a severed spinal cord at the neck and two fractured vertebrae.

This season was dedicated to Jack, who watched the game with his family from a box at the Excel. Bittersweet to say the least.

But that’s not what I’m worried about for St. Paul next weekend.

This weekend the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (WCHA) will be having their Final Five Conference Tournament at the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul. 6 teams from the conference will be here, along with their fans enjoying 5 hockey games in 3 days. I used to have season tickets to this event, this year I let them lapse. Dumb move on my part because this year oldest kids school Michigan Tech will be here in St. Paul playing in the tournament.

On a sad note this is the last year that this tournament is going to matter or frankly be worth attending. The big teams in the conference are all bailing and college hockey will never be the same, or in my opinion, as good. Seriously, why you screw up natural rivalries and break up college hockey’s premier conference is beyond me.

The Minnesota Golden Gophers are the Notre Dame of college hockey. Outstanding program with a long history of success, hated by everyone outside the Twin Cities. Their arch-rivals are the University of North Dakota Fighting [name to be determined but not printed here]. Minnesota Duluth a recent powerhouse is there, Wisconsin, Colorado College, Denver.. all great programs that are leaving. Minnesota and Wisconsin are leaving for a  new Big 10 Hockey conference where only 6 schools actually have hockey. And.. no one cares. North Dakota will join Duluth, the Colorado schools, Nebraska-Omaha in a new mid-west conference that only folks from Fargo and Grand Forks will care about.

This Big 10 thing screws up the CCHA as well as natural rivals Michigan, State, Northern and Western Michigan won’t play each other anymore.

I digress here.

So in St. Paul we have the championship game, which I’m thinking the Gophers will be in.. and when the Goph’s are playing on championship Saturday night the Excel is a 18,000 seat home rink that rocks down to it’s foundation. Their home rink on Campus only seats about 10,000 fans and has been sold out for years.

So that’s Saturday night.

Saturday afternoon at 1:00, in the same venue the NHL Minnesota Wild will be taking on the Carolina Hurricanes. So we’ll have a pile of college and pro hockey fans downtown at the same time. Looking at the calendar I see that all of this sports orgy goodness falls on Saturday, March 17. St. Patrick’s Day. No town in Minnesota does St. Patty’s like St. Paul. Former governor Jessie Ventura once was quoted as saying St. Paul streets were laid out by drunken Irishmen. Leaving aside the stereotype of drunks, St. Paul was a very Irish city back in the day.

So there you have it, three unrelated events coming together at the same time, in the same place; the Excel Energy Center in St. Paul.

I’m thinking smoldering ruins.

This post was written by Gary Sankary and originally published on Old and In the Way. Follow him on Twitter: @sank


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