Hockey has a special hold on the Minnesotan psyche. It’s consistently one of the best attended high school sports and tends to cultivate some of the most devoted fans.
Sportswriter and Excelsior local Loren Nelson and co-author, David La Vaque, explore the confluence of hockey’s history and the underlying subtexts through their meticulously-researched history of the state’s high school boys’ hockey tournament in Tourney Time: Stories from the Minnesota Boys State Hockey Tournament.
Compiled from over 400 interviews with players, coaches and other high school hockey fans, Tourney Time, published earlier this year, begins with the tournament’s inception and runs up to 2019.
Nelson spent a lot of time researching at the Minnesota History Center. From there, he was able to take the interesting facts and anecdotes to the players or others connected to the sport. “I never wrote a chapter without talking to at least two players or two people involved in the tournament, but, usually, I would talk to six, seven, eight [sources],” he says.
Along with Nelson and La Vaque’s carefully-culled research, interviews netted them some anecdotal gems that might have otherwise been lost to time or relegated to the myth pile. “The first chapter I wrote, which [highlighted the second state tournament in 1946], I talked to two gentlemen from that Roseville team. These guys are in their 80s, pushing 90, and the fact that we were able to talk to these people and hear their stories is incredible,” Nelson says.
But the popularity of the state high school tournament aside, how did hockey reach such a venerated position in Minnesota? Nelson suspects hockey’s popularity may have to do with its early start. “ was the first state tournament, and basketball was a much bigger high school sport in Minnesota at that time," he says. "But I think what happened, and when that changed, was 1969. That’s the year hockey overtook basketball, according to [sportswriter] Patrick Reusse of the Star Tribune.”
Hockey’s popularity had been on the rise since the introduction of the state tournament, Nelson notes, but the 1969 match between suburban Edina and northern Warroad high school teams brought a greater narrative to the fore. “You had all these dynamics coming into play with high school hockey,” Nelson says. “North verses south, big school verses little school, public verses private, all these elements kept making it relevant.”