From the Catbird’s Seat: Will you root for a rival?The basketball tournaments are nearing completion but if you’re a hockey fan, this week is nirvana. The state tournaments and the start of the WCHA playoffs are all this weekend, and a plethora of puck is available on television screens everywhere.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
So what’s a good Lumberjack to do?
We’ve reached March Madness for our high schools and, if you’ll pardon a brief foray into blasphemy, it’s “Holy Week.”
The basketball tournaments are nearing completion but if you’re a hockey fan, this week is nirvana. The state tournaments and the start of the WCHA playoffs are all this weekend, and a plethora of puck is available on television screens everywhere.
Which leads to a problem if you follow hockey at a level below the colleges: It is OK to root for a rival?
We may have a few oddball Gopher fans around town (OK, I’m one as an alumnus unless they’re playing UMD) but by and large the Bulldogs are a team most of us can agree on.
But what do we do about the high schools? The local Class A champion is a conference rival, and the Class AA champion is ... well, let’s just say, it’s an arch-rival.
OK, let’s come out and say it. Duluth East is a terrific hockey team, surely the rival of the great Cloquet teams of Langenbrunner, Mrozik, Novak and company of the early ’90s and Millen, Plankers, Ketola, Sprenger and company of the early ’80s.
In my capacity as a broadcaster for The Fan 1490, I’ve said certain things about this East team that are hard to take back. For example, I think they’re the quickest high school team in transition from defense to offense that I’ve ever seen from lines one through three.
They are as skilled on and off the puck as any team I’ve ever seen, and they are solid from the goal outward.
You can’t help but admire them.
But can Lumberjacks root for them?
The other entrant is Hermantown, a Lake Superior Conference rival of the ’Jacks, who have run the table this season to the tune of a 28-0-0 record entering the state quarterfinals.
They are coached by former Lumberjack Bruce Plante, and for a time he was assisted by his son, Cloquet hockey icon Derek Plante, now an assistant coach for Scott Sandelin at UMD.
Like the Greyhounds, the Hawks are deep and skilled. Like the Greyhounds, they have six good defensemen they can call upon in virtually any situation. They have a solid goaltender and two excellent lines with a highly serviceable third line.
Yet, they are also a rival, while Cloquet’s 17-win team sits at home with neither a conference title nor a section title to its credit. Fellow conference rival Duluth Marshall is also playing at state this week.
So, what to do?
There are people who won’t root for a rival. For example, I can’t bring myself to root for the Packers, even if they’re playing the Dallas Cowboys. Then, I root for a tie.
There are also people here who won’t root for East and who might be ambivalent toward Hermantown as well.
Be that as it may, there’s a strong possibility that both state champions will be on CEC’s schedule next season.
There’s nothing wrong with rooting for that. There’s nothing wrong with having the teams that beat you go all the way.
And there’s nothing wrong with having the bar set very highly for next season’s teams. The top three scorers on the 2011-12 Lumberjacks were all underclassmen, and will hopefully come back next winter a year bigger, stronger and faster.
So, root for the local teams this weekend. And then tell them to bring their hard hats and a lunch box next season. The purple will be ready for them.