You’ve probably been wondering about the background photo to this blog? Well, here it is. (The letterhead photo is just of some old guy standing in the middle of beautiful Lake Darling and hoping the ice doesn’t break.) It is of the all-tournament team from the 2008 Girls’ State Hockey Tournament, won by the Cardinals. The Alex girls (in black) are, from l – r, Kat DelZoppo, Danielle Justice, Ashley Holmes, Michelle Anez, and Abby Williams. They are also, in every sense, the background for this blog. We started following them when they were 8th-graders in 2003. Their fan base of retirees grew into a group called the Super Fans. And the Super Fans prided ourselves in anticipating what would become a state championship team in their senior years. This is the first archival recollection for this blog – the storylines leading to that championship:
[February 24, 2008] The Alexandria girls’ hockey team are the class A state champions! They beat Roseau in the semi-final, 2-1; then, deciding that was a pretty good score, replicated it in the championship game against Breck. We cheered, we cursed, we laughed, we cried, we chugged antacids – the last couple of minutes of back-to-back 2-1 games register off the charts on the “omigosh” scale. Looking back to the beginning of the season, the initial blog story on November 16 about the 8-1 win against Sartell, the state championship was considered an attainable goal – and the seven seniors who led the team to the state tournament for 5 consecutive years were not about to be satisfied with anything less.
[Back: Abby Nelson, Caitlin Murphy, Katherine DelZoppo, Danielle Justice; Front: Abby Williams, Ashley Holmes, Nikki Ecklund]
Beating Roseau and Breck proved the Cardinals worthiness – they were the two best teams we played all season, and we ended with a 3-0-1 record in the four games against them. The Cards played Roseau to a 1-1 tie at home earlier this year, and beat Breck 2-0 at their arena just before Christmas. In the semi-final, Roseau scored in the 1st period and held that 1-0 lead into the 3rd period – the Cardinals then got two power-play goals from Abby Williams and Michelle Anez and hung on for the win. The Super Fans were all of the opinion it was the best game we’d seen since the double OT win against Totino-Grace in the section finals two years ago. The championship game against Breck was almost identical in terms of the play – except this time the Cards scored first. Kat DelZoppo and Michelle Anez scored in the 2nd period, and Breck scored in the 3rd to get within one goal. Of course, Breck pulled their goalie at the end to try to tie the game, and the Cardinal fans didn’t start breathing again until the final whistle finally blew. The common thread through all three wins in the tournament was the superstar play of goalie Danielle “Roadblock” Justice – she had 97 saves in the three games. The Breck coach said before the game there would be little scoring (Breck beat Austin in their semi-final 12-1, without taking a shot on goal in the third period!) – and after the game he said Danielle was the best goalie they faced all year. If there had to be one downer in an otherwise perfect weekend, it was that Danielle was not named Ms. Minnesota Goalie. Those of us who have watched her play the last three years know she’s the best – she is THE Ms. Minnesota Goalie.
Danielle was named to the all-tournament team, of course, along with Abby, Del, Michelle, and Ashley Holmes. And then a real bonus occurred when Ashley was also named recipient of the Herb Brooks Award – congratulations Ashley! Abby won that award last year, so Alex pulled off a rare double! After watching them for 5 years, we’re really going to miss the seniors next season – but we wish them all well as they move on to college.
And hooray for the Cardinal fans. Seven buses went down for the semi-final game – and they had to turn people away. There weren’t as many buses for the championship game (hard to get them lined up on one-day notice), but we think even more fans showed up. The Super Fans spent Friday and Saturday in the Cities (that’s another story!). The Cub Reporter took 47 pictures over the two days – the cub reporter-in-training took several as well. We’ll do some editing and send them out in small groups.
[February 24, 2008] The Super Fans decided to spend Friday night in the Cities, knowing the team would play again Saturday, win or lose (perish the thought!). It was the Annen’s turn to drive. We got to the Science Museum parking garage, where we had parked for the Wednesday game, and it was closed! While trying to figure our next move, the cars behind us starting honking their horns at the out-of-town yokels. We wanted to park there because we had planned on going to the IMAX movie on the Alps (we did, it was terrific) after the game – we ended up going to the next stoplight, doing a U-turn, and going back to the River Center ramp. The ramp proved to be an exercise in spatial relationships – it was never clear what direction one was suppose to drive, but after much consternation, we finally found a spot and went to the game.
After the game, we drove to the Crown Plaza, just a couple blocks away to check-in. We did . . . and then went to park in their garage. That’s when we noticed the garage had a 5’9″ height restriction, quite unusual for a state where everyone, including us, drive SUV’s. They told us to go to a garage a block away – that we could take the skyway back to the hotel. We did – unfortunately, we first forgot to leave our luggage at the hotel. So, we parked the car, started schlepping our bags through the skyways, and before we knew it, we were in Stillwater! We were lost in the skyway system – there were no signs pointing the way to the hotel. When we finally got there, Ruthie, of course, had to change our room (standard practice) – she told them, “Don’t you know we’re the Super Fans? We demand a room with a view!” I thought, boy, aren’t the Republicans going to have fun during their convention!
[February 20, 2008] As the Super Fans drove away from Alexandria this morning, Patty Wicken on KXRA constantly reminded us that the temperature was 26 degrees below zero. The wind chill was such that it could make certain body parts crack and fall off – but we were heading south, to the Cities, where the temperature was rumored to be a balmy minus 10.
We were going to see the Alexandria Cardinals play the first game in the girls’ state hockey tournament against South St. Paul at the XCel Energy Center. We arrived at 10:00 am and parked (mostly out of habit) at the across the street Science Museum of Minnesota. We walked into the arena in time to watch the Cards warm-up, greet our neighbors in the stands, spill my Coke so we were wading in “sticky” the whole game, and settle in for team introductions and the opening face-off.
Pardon me – as I’m preparing this report, I have to get up occasionally to observe the lunar eclipse currently under way.
The game started – we Super Fans, and Stacey Paulzine’s folks sitting immediately behind us, said, “$%^**^^$, we’ve got soft ice again!” Last year the ice at both the XCel and Ridder Arena was noticeably “softer” than what the team prefers – harder ice is better for a small, fast team like ours. Again this year, it appeared like the girls, and the puck, were moving through molasses. But they got through the early stages and we able to pick up the pace. Then Stacey scored the first goal of the tournament. Her linemate, Ally Nielsen, also scored in the 1st period and the Cards led 2 – 0 at the break. Kat DelZoppo scored in the 2nd period and the Cards led 3 – 0. At this point, the Cards seemed to be in total control of the game. In the 3rd period, the Cards got a “too many men on the ice” penalty – we seem to be the only team that is ever called on, although it seems it could be called every time there is a line change. On the power play, the Packers were able to get a rebound past Roadblock. That seemed to change the whole pace of the game – the Cards had to kill off several penalties the rest of the game (they would not, and did not, after the game mention anything about the illnesses that have been plaguing the school and the team for the last couple of weeks – but they were obviously pooped). Abby Williams scored to make it 4 – 1 – then the Packers scored again, another rebound on a power-play situation. In the hectic final minutes, Beth Rindy scored for the Cards on a length of the ice shot into an empty net to wrap up the win. Nikki Ecklund was named player of the game with 3 assists – we were happy for the 2nd line, as Nikki, Stacey, and Ally all had terrific games. And, of course, Roadblock was great in net.
Eclipse almost total!
[February 15, 2008] The Alexandria girls’ hockey team is going to the state tournament for the 5th consecutive year! The Cards overcame what today’s Echo headlined, “Nasty flu bug bites students,” (160 kids missed school yesterday, 190 today) to hold off the Fergus Falls Otters at the Willmar Civic Center by the score of 3 – 0.
It appeared early on that the Cards were going to try to get an early lead and ride it out (note Echo headline). In the first period, Kat DelZoppo captured the puck and it was obvious before she even hit center ice that she was going to take it all the way – and she did, a beautiful unassisted goal. Abby Williams also scored in 1st period, and again in the 3rd to round out the scoring. Three goals were plenty, as usual, with Roadblock Justice in goal.
The Super Fans are psyched, we’re excited, we’re stoked, we’re proud of the team, and we’re heading on down the road next Wednesday for the first game of the state tournament at the XCel Energy Center when the Cards take on the winner of tomorrow’s game between So. St. Paul and Totino-Grace. As usual, a Super Fan priority for each day in the Cities will be – where do we eat?
[February 5, 2008] Tonight was the last game of the regular season, and senior night, for the Alex girls’ hockey team. Led by the seven seniors, the team finished with a terrific 22 – 1 – 2 record, won the Central Lakes Conference with an undefeated record, and obtained the No. 1 seed for the sectional tournaments beginning this weekend. The Cards will draw a bye on the first round, and then will have a home game next Tuesday against the winner of the 4th-5th seed game, most likely to be Detroit Lakes.
Tonight the Cards got a hat trick from Michelle Anez, and goals from Ashley Holmes and Kathryn DelZoppo. I believe Abby Williams had an assist on all 5 goals. Danielle Justice had her usual stellar game in goal with 29 stops.
Prior to the start of the game, each of the seven seniors skated to center ice and had their bios, written by their parents, read over the P/A system. The cub reporter-in-training took videos of the event. I’m waiting to hear about his results, because, unfortunately, my still photos bombed out – something to do with the “mood” lighting during the event. We’re hoping Danielle’s mom, Sue, who was down on the ice, got some good shots.
In any event, Ally Nielsen’s mom, Jeanne, did a great job putting together the attached program honoring the seniors.
[January 31, 2008] The Cards bounced back from a flat performance in St. Cloud on Tuesday with a 6 – 0 victory over Fergus Falls tonight, the final road game of the regular season. Abby’s parents confirmed tonight what we thought Tuesday – that Abby wasn’t feeling good. And when she isn’t feeling good, the team seems to lack energy because she’s the spark plug. Tonight all was well again, for Abby and the team came out flying from the opening face-off. The team had two power play goals, two short-handed goals, and two even strength goals – Abby had a hat trick, Michelle Anez, Stacey Paulzine (whose father’s cousins were baby-sat by Lorlee Bartos, high school classmate of the Cub Reporter), and Kathryn DelZoppo had a goal apiece. Del’s was a beautiful effort, short-handed, when she stick handled through what seemed like the entire Fergus team to score the final goal. I think hers, and one of Abby’s preceding hers, were goals of frustration because the Cards had two goals taken off the board when the on-ice refs overruled the goal judge. In both cases, the players and Coach Loch were upset because this was the first game this season in which goal judges were used in preparation for the sectional tournament beginning in a week. Oh, and of course, Roadblock got another shut out – this was important because we all believe Fergus will be the toughest hurdle to a fifth straight appearance in the state tournament.
The Super Fans sat right in front of Cardinal announcers, Tom Savegeau and Dave Harris, and undoubtedly provided a distraction for their radio audience. Between Ruthie’s, “Aaaackkkkk, get it out of there!!!,” and Vivian’s “Get the puck and score,” things could not have been easy in the booth. Plus, all of the Super Fans were appropriately nonplussed when the two goals were taken away and expressed ourselves with great vigor in that regard.
Next up, senior night and the last home game of the season against Elk River on Tuesday. We will caucus with extraordinary speed and then high tail it to the RCC!
[January 29, 2008] After tonight there are only two more regular season games. Not wanting to miss any, the Super Fans braved the blustery 40 below zero wind chill weather along I-94 to follow our girls’ hockey team to St. Cloud to take on the Icebreakers. The Cards had one of those games that make you appreciate how good they are. Despite being off their game the entire night (they just seemed flat); despite playing against one of the best players in the state, Anne Schleper, a Gopher recruit, who was absolutely terrific; the Cards won the game 3 – 1 in their usual manner: Roadblock was great in goal, Abby, Michelle, and Del scored the goals (in that regard, it was a duplicate of the Bemidji (who also had a great player, Sarah Erickson, heading to the Gophers) game on Saturday). 20 – 1 – 2 now – next game at Fergus Falls on Thursday, and then the final regular season game, and senior night, is next Tuesday against Elk River.
[Ashley Holmes, Anne Schleper, Abby Williams]
A highlight of tonight’s game was running into the blog’s St. Cloud correspondent, John Herdan (another high school classmate of the Cub Reporter). John got plenty of photos and will be forwarding them anon. Oh, and I received a disc from the Herd family with many more photos from the Breck game – they will be forwarded as time permits.
[January 28, 2008] OK . . . I sent a couple of e-mails to KSAX inquiring as to when they were going to put Danielle’s story on the website. When it gets up, it will be at http://ksax.com – under “News” on the left hand side, click on “Sports/Outdoors,” and then on Athlete of the Week (or just start the video).
Well, as long as I’m here, might as well do a full report. We’ve heard from several people that the girls’ hockey 3 – 2 win at Bemidji on Saturday was just a great game. I ran into Martha Williams, Abby’s mom, today. She admitted Abby made a boo-boo (well, she’s not perfect) in the game – while trying to ice the puck, she was intercepted by Sarah Erickson, Bemidji’s star player (and Gopher-to-be), who scored. Well, Abby also scored in the game to cover herself – but Martha thought Abby should have received an assist on the Erickson goal – ha!
Anyway, there must be something in the water (or lutefisk in the ice) around here lately. The girls hockey team is on a 19 game unbeaten streak, the boys hockey has won six games in a row, the girls basketball team has turned it around and believe have won 4 of their last 5, and the boys basketball team is on a three game winning streak – incredibly, the only games they have won all year.
The Super Fans plan on going to the Icebreaker game in St. Cloud tomorrow night – assuming Black Cloud doesn’t mess up (Black Cloud is my nickname, because every time we do or plan a winter trip, the weather turns bad – we’ve had back-to-back 40 degree days, tomorrow the high will be below zero with strong winds and blowing snow).
[January 26, 2008] Hockey mom Deb Paulzine called in the score from Bemidji this afternoon. We don’t have scoring details. It’s a big win – Bemidji is a class AA school and has a player, Sarah Erickson, Alex Coach Mitch Loch thinks may be the best in the state. Erickson and Anne Schleper, St. Cloud Icebreaker star, both played on the USA Under-18 team that won the world championship in Canada over the holidays. Erickson and Schleper will play for the Gophers next year. The Super Fans hope to go to the Icebreaker game in St. Cloud on Tuesday. The team’s record is 19-1-2, with only three regular season games left.
Last night was Danielle Justice’s birthday – Happy Birthday, Roadblock!
[Del, Abby, and Danielle, now as college juniors.]
The Super Fans opted not to go to Bemidji today – it’s a long trip and we were all out past our bedtimes last night. The AAAA Theatre hosted a sell-out crowd for Hometown Humor, a theatre fundraiser hosted by Harland Angen and Jerry Van Kempen. The stars of the show were the Hotdishes, Tina and Lena, Skilly and Duff, the Uncommon Scents, and Hilda Finkbinder (Kathy Little, George’s wife) and Pa. Everybody was mightily impressed with the local talent – and if I was a comic, I would pay Patty Wicken and Vivian Annen to sit in the front row because of their infectious laughter. Sandy Susag announced that the theatre had raised the $150,000 it was seeking to put a new front on the building and to put A/C in the lobby – Bud Peterson (of SuperValue and County Market fame) was acknowledged, and given a lifelong theatre pass, for contributing $50,000. The continuing renovations have helped a lot, but it would be nice to have a sugar daddy (or mommy) step forward to build a new auditorium.
[January 25, 2008] The Alexandria girls’ hockey team traveled to River Lakes last night and came away with a 5 – 4 victory locking up the Central Lakes Conference championship. Congratulations to the team in meeting one of their pre-season goals. Their record is now 18-1-2, and they have four more games left in the regular season – only one at home, the season finale against Elk River – before the sectional tournaments begin. They will be the No. 1 seed in Section 6A.
Now I know what you’re saying – 4 goals? Listening to Dave Harris on the radio, he was similarly flabbergasted. Alex had a 5 – 1 lead with less than 5 minutes to play in the game. River Lakes then scored 3 goals in about 2 minutes. That is the first time all year the Cards have allowed more than 2 goals in a game. But for some reason, River Lakes, though they have a losing record, always plays us tough. Kathryn DelZoppo said in a post-game interview that the team got a little loose at the end – and that they better tighten it up again for Saturday’s game at Bemidji, which has one of the best players in the state, Sarah Erickson, who was also on the USA Under-18 team.
Addendum: Bob Annen, the cub reporter-in-training, with his Sony movie camera, took videos of senior night that year; as well as a composite video of the state semi-final and championship games and their aftermaths. Unfortunately, there were technical difficulties involved in downloading them to computers and then uploading them to YouTube. YouTube can only handle about a 10-minute clip, and senior night, with 7 seniors, was about 27 minutes (the emcee that night was Bruce Olson, director of the Minnesota Lakes Maritime Musuem). It wasn’t till over a year later that Grandson Tom, a teenager (it’s in their genes) was able to figure it all out for us. So here are 4 videos of the state championship team (Bob actually caught a goal being scored), as well as one from the following year featuring our No. 4 ranked volleyball team (which produced two D-1 players in Ari Carlson and Sam Dale) and another hockey goal: