Editor’s note: From 7 p.m. Wednesday to about 10 p.m. Friday, 16 Minnesota boys’ hockey teams will win their divisional tournaments and earn places in the state championships for Class 2A and 1A. Here is where you can keep up with all the happenings. Come back for updates as pre-game prediction grows and scores come from all over Minnesota.
Thursday, 6 a.m. – Morning headlines from the Wednesday section play
Wednesday, Noon – Preliminary Match, Category 1A, Division 2
Delano boys’ hockey coach, Gerrit van Bergen does not compromise.
Not a little.
“1000 percent” wants the Tigers to beat Minneapolis in a Class 1A, Division 2 championship game Wednesday at St. Louis Park Recreation Center and advance to the state championship for the fifth time in six seasons.
He also knows what’s at stake for the Minneapolis program that was last represented in the state championship 28 years ago. Van Bergen understands what it means for the program to succeed after so many disappointing finishes.
“As a fan, it’s good to see new teams in the tournament,” Van Bergen said. “You might be miserable because it’s not you, but you can appreciate what the other team has accomplished.”
Not so long ago, the now powerful Van Bergen program was about to happen. Five times in six seasons from 2011-16, Delano lost to Brick in the playoffs. With internal expectations growing for a talented team to break through, finally, in 2017, the Tigers killed their opponent in a division championship match and reached their first official championship.
There are similarities to Minneapolis. The unnamed team, which attracts players from many public schools within the state’s largest city, has secured a top-seeded in the Division 2 playoffs. In the past eight seasons, the team has never tied better than the No. 4 seed and has never won a semi-final match. Final.
Legitimacy came over six days in January when Minneapolis beat divisional opponents Orono and Delano on the road. This newspaper and a few local TV news stations noticed.
“The interest is fun,” Van Bergen said, recalling the Tiger Lights’ comeback in 2016-2017. “And the kids deserved it. They were working on changing the story of our show, and that created a lot of excitement. But that’s where it has to stop. The kids have to class. You still have to work hard, get better and play for each other.”
Delano’s players in the 2016-2017 roster put each other ahead. None of them dropped out early to pursue a junior hockey opportunity. Fortunately, Van Bergen said, they were rewarded with an official tournament appearance.
Minneapolis, which holds a handful of youth league players each year opting for private schools, is boosted this season by a large number of top-notch hockey players versus good kids who play hockey. The team is making the most impressive season in coach Joe Dzidzic’s contract behind the bench.
“I think the kids who play with them see the university team as a success and realize they don’t have to quit or move on to get an experience of what high school hockey could be,” Van Bergen said.
When Delano, about 30 miles west of Minneapolis, finally toppled Rick’s metro area school, tournament watchers welcomed the arrival of a new small-town team.
Facing Minneapolis in an all-important rematch doesn’t mean Delano becomes the villain. But tigers are no longer the emotional choice, either.
“It’s new to us,” said Van Bergen, the former Delano player. “I said to our kids, ‘We’re the number two seed and we’ve already lost to them. In many ways, you are the underdog. “It’s definitely a little different.”
One of the final scenes in Donnie Brasco’s mob movie sees Al Pacino as gangster Benjamin “Lefty” Ruggiero receiving a phone call to a meeting he knows will end in his death. Lefty had the title character played by Johnny Depp – an undercover FBI agent.
Before leaving the apartment, Lefty said to his girlfriend, “Listen to me, if Donnie calls…, tell him…to him.”
The scene came to mind when Van Bergen said, “If not, it would be great to see Minneapolis go.”