Monday, December 22, 2008

#9 Breck vs. Chisago Lakes

Who: Breck School vs. Chisago Lakes Area
Where: Chisago Lakes Arena
When: December 13, 2007
Final Score: 5-2 Breck

I realize this is kind of an odd game to make the list. There wasn't much on the line in this game. It was just a regular season high school game, and the heavy favorite won a game with a final score that wasn't all that close. But this game was one of my favorites because I felt like it really captured what Minnesota high school hockey is all about.

Chisago Lakes is an amalgamation of a couple small towns built by Swedish immigrants in the far, far outskirts of the Twin Cities suburbs. Technically, their sports teams play in the Northern Suburban Conference, but there's really nothing suburban about it. The number of large lakes in the area make their arena a little difficult to get to. Chisago Lakes Arena is about 10 miles from my apartment as the crow flies, and yet it takes me like 30 minutes to get there. The high school, gym, and hockey arena are all clumped together about a mile south of town on a road with absolutely no lights. After about 5pm on a winter night, it really feels like you've driven off the face of the earth.

The Breck School is a prestigious, Episcopalian-affiliated college prep school in Golden Valley, Minnesota, in the posh western suburbs on the Twin Cities. Looking over their list of famous alums, there are CEOs, poet/authors, the dude who invented GPS. They've also had some fine hockey players come through the school in recent years including Blake Wheeler, John Curry, and Jordan Fulton.

So the two teams were from very different backgrounds. One group of parents were in suits, the other in hunter orange and camo. The teams themselves were quite different too. Breck was two days removed from a huge win over top-ranked St. Thomas Academy. They were loaded with skilled, talented players, with at least a couple kids that would have a future in hockey beyond high school. Chisago was a team that would only win 6 games all season. It's unlikely that any of those kids would play hockey at any level after high school. On paper, it looked like the third period would be played with running time.

Breck managed to escape with a win, but the game was far closer than anyone could have expected. The atmosphere was top notch. Chisago Lakes Arena is one of those old school arenas with stands along one sideline and a metal roof. The arena was pretty full, and the crowd was loud. And not just loud after goals. They were loud after everything. A nice hit, a good scoring chance, a nice save.

Breck jumped out to an early lead, and controlled play throughout the game. I can't find a listing for shots on goal in the game, but Breck must have outshot Chisago by like a 4 to 1 margin. Chisago had an excellent goalie though, and took advantage of the few opportunities they had. By the third period, Chisago had cut Breck's lead to 3 to 2 and momentum was starting turn towards the home team. Chisago had a great chance to tie the game, but Breck's goalie made an amazing save to keep the lead. Breck was able to add an insurance goal late and then an empty-netter to make the final score look lopsided, but it was still a great game to watch.

When people start discussing which state has the best hockey, they start throwing out statistics about how many players make to the college or pro level. I think that misses the point though. None of the players on Chisago's team will ever make the NHL; probably not even any of the Breck players. But no where else in the country would you get such a fun game, and more importantly such a great atmosphere in a tiny little town in the middle of nowhere.


Chuck Schwartz said...

Peter Mueller is also from Breck.

Anonymous said...

Lots of hockey fans like the big hockey powers playing against each other...those games are good, but I enjoy a David vs. Goliath matchup. Especially when David hangs around and all of a sudden the whole crowd (neutral fans alike) start to cheer for them to pull an upset. There is nothing like the anticipation of a team attempting to knock off a big hockey power and the excitment that goes along with it.

Anonymous said...

I don't disagree with your characterization of Breck, but just as a matter of geography, when people refer to the 'posh Western suburbs' they usually mean places like Minnetonka or Wayzata, which is where most of their students come from. However, in terms of location, Breck is actually located about 1 mile from the Near North side of Minneapolis which is probably the roughest neighborhood this side of Chicago.