Edina Junior Gold A boys’ hockey coach Bill Smith has been at the helm of the program for 29 years. He’s seen and been a part of hundreds of hockey games in that time, each one burrowing into his mind, and only a few leaving an extra lasting impression beyond the final buzzer.
But this season, Smith has often been reminded of one game. A game in which he coached the winning Edina team in last year’s Junior Gold A State Tournament. A championship game which spanned two days and an astounding seven overtime periods.
Chris Bloom’s power-play goal gave Edina the 3-2 win against rival Wayzata after nearly 109 minutes had elapsed on the game clock. The memories, for all, are proving to last much longer.
“It never went away,” Smith said. “You’ll be walking down the street or something and someone will stop and say, ‘Hey, Bill, heck of a game,’ or, ‘We watched it on TV.’ It was hard to let it go. People still talk about it and it’s been a year.”
Smith ran into one of his former players in Duluth in January. They wanted to talk about the seven-overtime game. With a wide smile showing his appreciation, Smith continues to enjoy the moment.
Letting go was tough for Wayzata, as well.
“I don’t think I slept a night the next month without waking up or thinking about it or dreaming about it,” Wayzata coach Jonathan Lindahl said. “It had such a big impact on me as a coach because it was 11 seniors battling to keep playing in an environment that it was a way for them to go out in style. Nobody wanted to go out, nobody wanted to let go.”
The two top-ranked teams in the state started the game on Sunday, but the Plymouth Ice Center suffered a power outage and the ice conditions worsened. The game would have to be postponed a day with Edina leading 1-0 after two periods.
Both teams prepared for a frenzied final third period.
“I remember going into Monday thinking you’ve got one period to throw everything you have at them,” Lindahl said. “The overtimes all blend together for me. The third period was very unique because it was two teams kind of playing a state championship third period with almost a full day of rest going into it. It was really high energy and that momentum just continued into the overtimes, and it never really died down.”
Bloom’s goal ended the marathon and earned Edina a chance to play the next week at the USA Hockey National Championships in St. Louis.
It was the first time a Minnesota team had ever played in the High School Pure Division National Championships, which consisted of high school varsity state champions from around the county. Edina, filled with kids who might have missed a chance to play for their own high school varsity, finished third overall.
-- WAYZATA COACH JG JOHNATHAN LINDAHL
Broadcasting the Battle
There was no denying the scope of what happened back in Minnesota, though.
The game was broadcast on the internet and interest grew on social media after each overtime period. Because of the power outage, the two teams finished with the entire state being able to see Junior Gold hockey played at its best because every other state tournament had ended.
“It was maybe a little bit of lightning in a bottle but it sure flashed pretty brightly that night,” Lindahl said, later adding: “We had broken pieces of shin pads on our bench, and helmets, and broken sticks. The number of shots that both teams blocked that night was just unbelievable. The kids just laid it on the line. I’m not going to say my guys played perfect, but they played as good as I could have possibly asked them to.”
The Rise of Junior Gold
The Junior Gold program gives high-school age players the chance to continue playing if they didn’t make their high school program. In talent-rich areas like Edina and Wayzata, making the varsity program can be difficult and Junior Gold gives players another outlet.
“I think a lot of people think of it as less hockey, not as good as varsity,” said Edina defenseman Ryan Spades. “I think the speed is a lot faster than people think. It’s just as good of hockey as really any other hockey that we have.”
Alex Bowe from Wayzata has continued his career this season, playing junior hockey in the Tier 3 North American 3 Hockey League. The Trojans returned seven players this year.
Spades is one of five players to return to the Edina team from last year’s championship squad, along with goalie Colin Dunn, who backstopped the team in the seven-overtime game.
“You can’t just not play hockey in Edina,” Spades said of playing Junior Gold. “It doesn’t matter where you play, you’ve got to play.”
Memories for Life
As for seven overtimes, Spades can still relive the experience.
“I will cherish it forever,” Spades said.
The memories for Smith, while still vivid are lacking one important piece—he didn’t see the winning goal. Smith had bent down to pick up something he had dropped on the bench.
“I looked up and pandemonium, they were hog-piling Chris,” Smith said.
Assistant coach Rick Barnes added: “At that point, you didn’t even really believe it went in. The band was celebrating and it was like, it went in, something finally went in.”
The two teams have met in the Junior Gold state championship each of the past two seasons with the game being won in overtime both times. There is a good chance they could meet again.
This time, however, a trip to the national tournament is secure for both teams. Each team has received a bid to go to the national championships in Reston, Va.
Lindahl said his team is still focused on the state tournament, despite the privilege to play in the national championships this year.
Last year's letdown is perhaps fueling even more for them.
"I've never been, as a coach or athlete myself, I've never been in a locker room of any sort that had just the raw emotion that one had," Lindahl said. "We tried to tell them that they needed to get through it, but in time they'll understand how unique and cool an experience, how special of an experience that was.
"We all want to be winners, but being a loser sometimes doesn't mean you are always losing out on that experience. Maybe in the long run you get more out of it than you would have if you came out on the right side of it."
Emotion and experiences they'll carry forever.