John's Journal
A Broken Neck, A Season Of Transition And Life Lessons 12/9/2013
This story has a very happy ending. Well, actually, we won't know how it truly ends until the hockey season ends. But we know how it began. With a broken neck.

Laura Slominski was excited as winter and her sixth season as head coach of the Edina High School girls team neared. The Hornets are one of the state's top programs, with four Class 2A state tournament appearances since 2009 and state runner-up finishes in 2010 and 2011.

Everything changed, however, when Slominski played in a women's fall hockey league game on Sept. 29. She and another player were racing for the puck, they collided, and Slominski flew back-first into the boards. She knows she was lucky. There are plenty of what ifs; for example, what if she had gone in head-first and suffered a spinal injury?

Her spine was OK, but her neck was broken in three places on the C5 vertebrae. She underwent surgery, spent a week in the hospital, has been wearing a neck brace since then and is unable to skate or do any on-ice coaching this season. But again, she knows she was lucky.

"It gives you a new appreciation for people who have gone through similar situations but with much worse results," she said. "The first time being able to get up and walk, it was a whole new level of appreciation for me."

She will return to teaching math at Edina later this week, which will be a big step in getting back to normal. The neck brace should come off for good sometime in January, when the only physical sign of what Slominski has endured will be a great big scar on the back of her neck.

Slominski (pictured here with her players) was injured on a Sunday evening, and one of the first things she thought about in the hospital was finding a substitute teacher for her classes the next day. That was taken care of, but finding a substitute head hockey coach for the upcoming season was another matter. After the job was posted and interviews were held, former Wayzata boys hockey coach Dean Williamson was hired as interim head coach for the season. Slominski holds the interim title of assistant coach.

Williamson coached most of the Hornets varsity players when they were younger, and his daughter Taylor is a junior forward on the team.

"I knew all the kids, I tied most of their skates when they were five years old," Williamson said. "So from that standpoint I was happy to step in, as tough as it was to lose Laura. I'm just glad that she's back on track."

Senior captain Riley Anderson said, "I think it made it easier since Dean coached a lot of us growing up. That made the transition easier, but it is different."

Slominski attends the Hornets games (with the exception of a road trip to Warroad and Roseau in November), watches from behind the glass or the bleachers, consults with Williamson (they are pictured here) and talks to the team in the locker room between periods and afterwards. There's clearly a tight bond between the 33-year-old coach and her players.

"She came to school after her surgery," said senior captain Emily Eide. "All the hockey girls were called down to the athletic office and we didn't know what was happening. Then she walked in and it was a big shock. There were tears instantly."

Slominski said, "There has been so much support from everybody, and you know your family and closest friends will be there for you. The hockey kids are part of my family, too, and we talk about being a family.

"It's a lot easier for me right now because they're in good hands and they're having a good experience. It's hard for both sides to be used to something and have it change so quickly and so close to the start of the season."

The Hornets are off to an outstanding start. They have 10 wins, no losses and one tie and are ranked No. 4 in Class 2A. A big test will come Saturday when they meet top-ranked Minnetonka.

"No matter what's going on, Edina never changes its expectations," Slominski said. "We have expectations that we'll be at the top at the end of the season, and they're playing great hockey right now. Emotionally, I think they're in a very, very good place and they're being well-coached. They're responding very well to what's happening. It's a very strong team, and a lot of it comes down to the chemistry and the character that's there."

Since her injury, Slominski has used a CaringBridge website to keep family and friends updated on her progress. Some of the posts were short updates on her surgery and rehabilitation, but Slominski wrote some longer messages. On Oct. 27, the day before girls hockey practice began around the state, she wrote about the lessons she learned from the coaches she has played for, and offered advice to high school players. Some excerpts ...

--"I was so blessed to have incredible coaches my whole life. Yes, we always wanted to win, but I knew they cared so much about me as a person. It was just as important for them to help me and my teammates to develop as people as it was for us to win games. These life lessons that I was taught and the mental toughness I gained through being an athlete has given me the strength I have needed to be so positive in my journey."

--"Girls, as you go through tryouts, be confident, give all that you have to give so that you can walk away with no regrets, and make the most of every moment this season. We always talk about how you want to give your best because you don't know what is going to happen in life. This is another reminder for me as 4 weeks ago from this very moment, I was getting ready to put the kids to bed and then headed off to my hockey game, just as I have done many times. ... I can't control what happened to me, only how I react to it. I am glad that I have given my all to coaching for the past 5 years at Edina so that when I have to sit this one out it is with no regrets. ... Remember to focus on what you can control, and give your all in everything you do, so that when all is said and done you can walk away with no regrets and you can be proud of all that you and your teammates have accomplished together."

Slominski's doctors have told her to stay off skates for at least six months. That's a long stretch without hockey for someone who grew up with the game. Slominski graduated from Burnsville High School in 1998, where she was her school's Athena Award winner and was named Minnesota's Ms. Hockey. She played hockey and was a team captain at the University of Minnesota, worked as an assistant coach at St. Olaf College, head coach at Bloomington Kennedy, assistant at St. Cloud State and assistant at Minnesota before taking over as Edina's head coach in 2008.

"I was hoping to get back (on the ice) during the second half of the season," she said. "It's kind of like jumping back on the horse. But you never know what can happen in practice; sometimes a player will slide into you and knock you off your feet. It's probably good for me that the doctor said at least six months, because it will force me to be 100 percent fully recovered."

In the meantime, the season will continue and the Hornets will keep playing ... for themselves, their school and their coach.

"It's a great group of kids," Dean Williamson said. "I just want to make it a special year for the seniors and I'm just holding the car keys until Laura's ready to roll. We're excited to have her come to these games and she looks fantastic. Her spirit is a big part of our team this year."

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 236
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,986
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Some Decisions Made, Big Football Decisions To Come 12/5/2013
The MSHSL board of directors held a lengthy discussion about a proposal to revamp regular-season football at its meeting Thursday, with no decisions made as more information is gathered from schools.

The plan, called District Football Scheduling, would (as described in a previous installment of John's Journal) group teams into districts as a method to assist schools in filling their football schedules. Schools around the state have asked for assistance in fixing the problem, and a select committee developed the District Football Scheduling concept.

The board approved the dates for the 2015 Prep Bowl at the University of Minnesota's TCF Bank Stadium. The Prep Bowl games will be played Nov. 13-14. The board had previously approved a move to TCF Bank Stadium for the Prep Bowl in 2014, with championship games to be played on Nov. 21-22, 2014.

Other football issues remain to be settled for 2015. Because the Prep Bowl will be played earlier than normal (due to TCF Bank Stadium availability), the board discussed several options pertaining to the regular-season format in 2015. They included the possibility of starting the season earlier, playing a seven-game regular-season (instead of the normal eight games) and an abbreviated playoff format. Board members want to gather more information before voting on a football plan for 2015; a vote is expected at the next meeting on Jan. 23.

The 2015 football season is a major issue, but scheduling problem will not be an issue in 2016 and thereafter, because the Prep Bowl will move into the new Vikings Stadium in 2016.

The board approved several other actions ...

--The placement of Benilde-St. Margaret's into the Metro West Conference and St. Thomas Academy into the Metro East.

--The 2014 state soccer tournament will be held at St. Cloud State's Husky Stadium, with semifinals and finals played Oct. 28-29-30. The 2015 state soccer semifinals and finals, also at Husky Stadium, will be played Nov. 3-4-5.

--An MSHSL partnership with the Minnesota High School Press Association.

--An expansion of varsity baseball rosters from 18 to 20 players.

Discussion items included a recommendation from the softball advisory committee that softball go from three classes to four classes. No vote was taken at the meeting. Another discussion item was a proposal from the Minnesota Academic Decathlon program to have it become affiliated with the MSHSL; no discussion was held and the item was withheld until the board's January meeting.
MSHSL Board To Discuss District Football Scheduling Proposal12/4/2013
The MSHSL board of directors will meet Thursday morning at MSHSL World Headquarters in Brooklyn Center, with a full agenda on the table.

The biggest headlines are likely to come from a proposed District Football Scheduling Plan that has been put together in an attempt to solve football scheduling issues that many schools face (details below). The board will not make a decision on the proposal Thursday; it is a discussion item only.

The board is expected to approve placement of two schools into conferences: Benilde-St. Margaret’s into the Metro West and St. Thomas Academy into the Metro East. State soccer tournament dates and a temporary site at St. Cloud State’s Husky Stadium for 2014 and 2015 also is on the agenda, as is a partnership with the Minnesota High School Press Assocation.

In addition, the board will vote on a request to increase the roster size for baseball teams and on state football tournament dates and sites for 2015.

The board has previously approved a move to TCF Bank Stadium for the Prep Bowl in 2014, with championship games to be played on Nov. 21-22, 2014. For 2015, TCF Bank Stadium is available for Prep Bowl games on Nov. 14-15, which may mean a shortened regular-season football schedule , an abbreviated playoff format for that season or other options.

Other discussion items include a proposal from the Softball Advisory Committee to move from three classes to four classes in softball, and a request to add Academic Decathlon as an MSHSL program.

The proposal for a District Football Scheduling Plan was put together by a special committee. The proposal -- which if approved by the board at its January meeting -- would be implemented for the 2015 football season. The proposal includes these possibilities …

--Scheduling groups would be created around the state, based on factors that include school size, geography, “like schools” and strength of programs. The groups should consist of at least 16 or more schools whenever possible. The minimum size of any group is 10 schools.

--A placement committee with representatives from all areas of the state would place schools into scheduling groups. Those decisions would be reviewed by the MSHSL’s Activities Director Advisory Committee and would have to be approved by the MSHSL board of directors.

--Districts would be realigned every two years to make adjustments for enrollment changes, changes in nine-man schools, changes in cooperative programs and changes due to programs being dropped, school consolidations, etc.

--A guideline is that the enrollment difference in any group should be no more than a ratio of 2-to-1, and when possible the ratio would be less than 2-to-1.

--All schools would be able to provide information to the placement committee, including important rivalries, willingness to play against larger schools, travel issues or a willingness to travel further for a competitive schedule.

--Class 6A would follow the same plan as other classes, and some Class 5A teams may be included in groups with 6A teams based on enrollment and geography.

--Each school must play all eight of its regular-season games within its district. The only exceptions are districts with an odd number of schools. In that case, Zero Week games may be used to provide a full schedule or games could be scheduled against out-of-state teams.

--Each district would create schedules for teams in the district. Districts may create conferences or other sub-groups within the district for scheduling purposes.

--The section playoff format would remain the same as it is currently, with section seeding based on regular-season results.

The board meeting will begin at 9:30 a.m. Thursday.
Channeling History: Owatonna Takes Home A Title 11/30/2013
For the unbiased football fan -- by which I mean anyone whose outerwear doesn't carry the words "Owatonna" or "Huskies" -- the sentimental favorite to win the final high school sporting event in the Metrodome was Brainerd football coach Ron Stolski.

After all, the guy has been a high school head coach for 53 years and has more victories (354) than any coach in Minnesota history. Stolski was one of the architects of the current playoff system, which began in 1972 and became an occupant of the Metrodome when the place was shiny and new in 1982. So it would have been fitting to see Brainerd take home its first state football championship in Saturday's Class 5A Prep Bowl.

But the story is Owatonna, and the Huskies' first-ever state football title is all the more deserving of accolades. Brainerd was playing in its first Prep Bowl and Owatonna had played in four and lost in four. Furthermore, Owatonna played in the first indoor Prep Bowl in 1982 and closed the building with a 24-0 victory over Brainerd on Saturday on the final prep game under the big roof.

Huskies coach Jeff Williams, who was a senior at Rochester John Marshall in 1982, said, "It was 32 years in the making, I guess, and to be able to close out the dome for high school football with a W is pretty cool."

Here's another link from 1982 to 2013: Owatonna senior Aaron Peterson -- who rushed 35 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns Saturday -- is the grandson of the late Jerry Peterson, who was the Huskies coach from 1966-96. Stolski, in fact, was good friends with Jerry Peterson.

"My grandpa coached the 1982 Dome team," Aaron said. "And to be able to come back and say a Peterson was on the first Owatonna team to win a state championship means a lot. I'm so proud to be here."

Owatonna took control of the game quickly. The Huskies' opening drive covered 80 yards in 16 plays and took nearly six minutes off the clock. Peterson capped it with a 3-yard scoring run. He scored on a 1-yard run early in the second quarter for a 14-0 lead ... and the tone was set. Owatonna's defense was solid throughout, holding Brainerd to eight first downs and 89 rushing yards. The Huskies had 369 total yards and they went 7-for-7 on fourth-down conversions.

Last season, Owatonna lost to Totino-Grace 49-21 in the 5A Prep Bowl; Totino-Grace moved up to 6A this season. Before last season, Owatonna's most recent Prep Bowl came in 1998, and Williams talked about the change in attitude at the dome, and throughout the season.

"I don't think they necessarily enjoyed this experience as much as they enjoyed last year," he said. "This year was just all business. There wasn't any wow factor or the little tickle in the back of your neck when we came out of the tunnel into the dome. It was just business for these kids. I'm really happy they're getting to experience winning the last one."

Stolski (pictured) had been flooded with good luck messages during the two weeks between the state semifinals and the Prep Bowl. But he stressed after Saturday's game that this enterprise isn't about him. It's about his team.

"I really appreciate all the well-wishers, I really do," he said. "But honestly, we've won a lot of games, and to pick one over the other ... we've had some great wins. I wanted this, honestly, for our coaches and our kids. But for me, I'm way past it. Honestly.

And he said he'll be back next season, his 54th.

"We're going to coach next year and we're going to bring a bunch of kids along again."

MAHNOMEN: AT HOME IN THE DOME

If any football team is particularly sad to see the Metrodome go, it's the Mahnomen Indians. They have made the dome their second home over the years, and on Saturday they won their second consecutive Class 1A state championship with a 46-13 victory over Dawson-Boyd.

No high school team in the state has played in more Prep Bowls than the Indians, who have done so 13 times. And Saturday's title was their eighth, along with five state runner-up finishes. Their previous championships came in 1980, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1993, 1998 and 2012.

Mahnomen's last loss came against Dawson-Boyd in the 2011 Prep Bowl by a 35-20 score. The Indians have not lost since then, with Saturday's victory extending their streak to a current state-best 28 in a row. (The state record for consecutive wins is 76 by Stephen-Argyle from 2003 to 2008).

More numbers cast a bright light on how dominant Mahnomen has been this season. In 14 games, the undefeated Indians outscored their opponents 638-57; that's an average score of 45-4 ... with eight shutouts.

Saturday's game was largely the Pavek and Lefebvre Show, with sophomore quarterback Tom Pavek rushing 24 times for 179 yards and two touchdowns and classmate Kody Lefebvre scoring two TDs on the ground and leading his team with eight tackles.

Dawson-Boyd quarterback Joey Lee set two Prep Bowl records with 51 pass attempts and 27 completions. The previous records were 44 by Ryan Hulke of Nicollet in 1999 and 26 by Chris Meidt of Minneota in 1987.

Blackjacks receiver Michael Lee (Joey's cousin) set a Prep Bowl record with 12 receptions, topping the record of 11 receptions by Eric Hennen of Minneota in 1987. Dawson-Boyd also set a team record for pass attempts with 52; the previous mark was 46 by Nicollet in 1999.

POINTS, POINTS AND MORE POINTS

In the Class 3A Prep Bowl, there were touchdown runs of 68, 67, 35, 48 and 69 yards. There were touchdown passes of 52, 35 (three times), 37 and 28 yards, plus a kickoff return of 64 yards for a score.

The result of that dynamite-enhanced indoor track meet was a 48-44 victory for St. Croix Lutheran over New London-Spicer. It was the Crusaders' second state title in three years.

The 92 total points set a Prep Bowl record. The previous mark was 91 (Triton 70, Luverne 21, 2A in 2006, and Cromwell 49, Lanesboro 42, nine-man in 2010). The teams also combined for 971 yards, with St. Croix Lutheran gaining 572 and New London-Spicer 399.

"There are so many aspects to the game of football and you saw them all today," said Crusaders coach Carl Lemke. "Passing, running, kicking. It's just an exciting time to be around football."

Hans Klingenschmitt led the Crusaders with 22 carries for 177 yards and a touchdown and Trever Koester ran 20 times for 139 yards and two scores. David Ponath completed five of six passes for 155 yards and three TDs.

"We knew they were a really explosive team and they would be tough to contain," Ponath said. "But we knew if we did our jobs and just executed we would hopefully win."

New London-Spicer's Ryan Vraa completed five of 11 passes for 125 yards and three touchdowns, while Adam Essler rushed 21 times for 194 yards and two scores.

This question was posed to Lemke: Was there a sense that the last team to score would win?

"That says it all. We were hoping we could hang on."

TOURNAMENT TIDBITS

--I issued my 20,000th Tweet on Saturday, and it held special significance in relation to the end of the Metrodome. Follow @MSHSLjohn to see it.

--Total Prep Bowl attendance was 31,848, the largest total since 2008 and a great way to go out at the Metrodome.

--Diet Coke Count: 5 for the day, 45 for the fall state tournaments.

BY THE NUMBERS

*Schools/teams John has visited: 219
*Miles John has driven in the Toyota Camry: 5,822
(*During the 2013-14 school year)
Follow John on Twitter: @MSHSLjohn
Good Morning From The Metrodome And Prep Bowl XXXII11/29/2013
The last weekend of high school football in the Metrodome is underway. We’re starting the day with the nine-man state championship game between Grand Meadow and Underwood, two teams that have never won a state football title.

We will continue with three more games today, followed by three games on Saturday as we wrap up 32 years in the Metrodome.

The games are being televised by KSTC Channel 45 and webcast on a pay-for-view basis by prep45.com.

Follow me on Twitter @MSHSLjohn for scoring updates, photos and assorted ramblings from the Prep Bowl.

PREP BOWL MATCHUPS

Friday
10 a.m.: Nine-man/ Underwood (10-3) vs. Grand Meadow (12-1)
1 p.m: Class 2A/ Minneota (13-0) vs. Chatfield (12-1)
4 p.m.: Class 4A/ Hutchinson (12-0) vs. Holy Angels (7-5)
7 p.m.: Class 6A/ Eden Prairie (11-0) vs. Rosemount (11-1)

Saturday
10 a.m.: Class 1A/ Dawson-Boyd (12-1) vs. Mahnomen (13-0)
1 p.m.: Class 3A/ St. Croix Lutheran (10-2) vs. New London-Spicer (10-2)
4 p.m.: Class 5A/ Brainerd (12-0) vs. Owatonna (12-0)