1-2-3 Sports! Special Edition: STATE-BOUND

Last week I traveled back to Minnesota to watch my niece become the first person in my family to play in the State High School Hockey Tournament. Because this essay includes stories about folks under the age of 18, names have been changed. 

Where the dream begins…


I bought the plane ticket home on February 11. One day before my niece and her team, Breck, would play in the section final. One day before knowing whether or not she would be the first of my family to play in the Minnesota state high school hockey tournament in its 75 years of existence. The flight was for February 19. I hadn’t yet asked my boss if I could work remote. You don’t jinx these things.

Do not doubt it: the State Tourney (as it’s known to locals) is the most revered sporting event in Minnesota. More than a Super Bowl, a Final Four, or World Series appearance by a local team. More than a big University of Minnesota football game (a once a decade type occurrence). Each of those would be a bigger deal nationally, but Minnesotans hold no sporting event as close to their collective soul as the State Tourney. The boys tournament regularly draws over 100K spectators over the four days.

Despite the explosion of club hockey, select teams, and an increase of high school hockey alternatives, the State Tourney matters. It’s broadcast on local TV. It’s streamed online. Recaps are on the front page of the sports section throughout the tourney. There are over 400 high school hockey teams in the state boys, girls, varsity and junior varsity.

Seeking some local intel, I called my mom the morning of the section final. When I asked what she thought about her granddaughter being one game away from the State Tourney, her response was so matter-of-fact.

“Oh, they’ll win. They killed ’em last time.”

Despite my mom’s certainty, on that last window in the series of offers before I finally entered the card number and paid for the flight – after all those options for priority seating, seat selection, checked bag, and so on (“options” that are actually reminders that I am cheap and a sucker for the listed price of the flight that I know is a sham) – that one last option came up: flight insurance.

That was a yes this time. I also didn’t tell anyone but my brother that I was flying in. Call it a hedge. Like I said, you don’t jinx these things.

Her team was off to a fast start in the playoffs after a 20-6 regular season competing with the best teams in the state, 1A and the bigger 2A schools. Back in January, they beat the eventual 2A champs, Andover. Breck opened the playoffs with an 11-0 win over St. Francis/North Branch, and followed that with a 9-1 win over Minneapolis. They just needed to beat Orono, and the Mustangs were state-bound.

The flight was already purchased, so I couldn’t just pace around the house waiting for updates from John, my brother. So I went to a yoga class (I can hear John and my other brother, James,  laughing as they read that). Before heading into the studio, I texted my brother for an update.

I went into yoga with Breck up 4-2. A much closer game than my mom’s confidence assured. By the time “savasana was mine,” it was over. Breck pulled away and won 6-2 with my niece scoring the final goal.

$20 well spent on insurance. Jinx averted. I was headed home.

Secrets aren’t kept very well in my family, and so the day before flying back, I received a text from my oldest brother James:

I heard you’re coming into town for state tourney…awesome! Guess what…Joe’s big sled tourney is this weekend at the Super Rink, fri. 4pm, sat 7:30am, sat 2:30p. 

See ya tomorrow, no drinking lagunitas in st. paul…only premium

More hockey. Time with the brothers. Beers. I could hardly wait to get to BART and ride it to SFO the next morning.


When it’s real cold and clear, flying in a Minnesota sky is the bluest you’ll find. Something I’m sure every writer and wanna-be says about their home, but they are wrong. Minnesota blue skies are cerulean, endless over the plains. The sun shimmers off the snow blanketing hibernating fields and lakes below. If you’re in a window seat and look for it, you’ll see ice rinks shoveled off on the lakes and in backyards as you approach the airport.

The driver commented about my destination being The Saint Paul Hotel, St. Paul’s best attempt at our version of The Carlyle. I wasn’t wearing a suit and I had a beat up backpack on my lap. Not exactly St. Paul Hotel clientele. John had worked there throughout his early twenties. He had the idea of dropping my bags there and crossing Rice Park to the Xcel for the games. I was early, conveniently left out the detail that I wasn’t staying at the hotel with the lady working the bag check, and strode across the lobby to the hotel bar, The Saint Paul Grill.

Man, there is something so comforting about a great bar, and the art deco styled Grill is every drop of great. F. Scott Fitzgerald could’ve walked in that day, slid into a high-backed leather stool, ordered a rye from one of the five levels of booze, and leaned over to nose through the evening paper under one of the green reading lamps dotting the polished brass bar. I put in an order of onion rings and a pint of Surly. Best-case scenario.

My sister-in-law was on her way to meet me. John was at their son’s game. They would be late to my niece’s game. I was stunned. The State Tourney is a clear-the-calendar event in my book. But John helped on the bench for my nephew’s team, and he’d missed a recent game – a big game – while Breck was making its playoff run, and he wanted to be there for his son. Perhaps I also should’ve read my brother’s decision as a sign about Breck’s first round opponent from the southeast corner of the state, Luverne.

My sister-in-law darted into the bar with a cutting board sized sign with the number 34 and my niece’s name in blue and yellow. She was all nervous excitement. Red-faced cold from the walk over. She asked the bartender if it was okay to bring the sign in. The bartender told her no problem, then asked, “You were here with your husband and two kids last year. Sliders for your boy, right?” She nodded towards a high top in the corner. “You ate right over there. Such a polite boy. Long hair. Blond.” That’s professional bartender stuff right there.

Like most hockey families, my brother’s family had been downtown for a session of the boys’ tourney last year. The tickets for the opening quarterfinals and semis are broken up into two-game sessions: afternoon session and night session. They must’ve popped into The Grill before the night session. Now, they were about to watch my niece play in the mythologized tournament.

Only in the unexpected moments like this one at the bar do I realize how fast time is moving. Like rolling down the window on the highway. I’m going exactly as fast as I was a moment before, but the wind hits me, snatching the breath from my throat.

We shared the onion rings, and she told me how well everything had been going for my niece in her first year at Breck. The juniors and seniors on the team had been nothing short of my niece’s keepers, and the gap between 14 and 18 is so wide that it’s hard to even see across to the other side. She was emphatic in appreciation towards older players on the team. My niece was doing well while being challenged in school. She got into some advanced math program. She was playing a lot, pretty much from the beginning of the year. All indications were that the decision to go to school across town was had paid off in every way.

I had known most of this, but the details weren’t the important element; it was my sister-in-law’s excitement and pride and love for he daughter. It was all mixed up and boiling over. I couldn’t remember the last time just the two of us had thirty minutes to talk. Maybe at the cabin down by the beach when everyone’s either walking down to or up from the lake. We sat at a great bar, eating great onion rings, drinking great beer, waiting to watch her daughter and my niece play in the State Tourney.

I remember this is how life felt growing up. Best-case. I know that’s not true, but that’s how I remember it. Pristine. All of us ‘kids’ were around. All carefree and assured. Hearts unbroken. And then we grew up, and like most, we were humbled over and over with blunt reminders that best-case is the exception. A break that goes your way.

So to sit at that bar with my sister-in-law on a day like that, and to appreciate this moment as a best-case – I savored that conversation.

Turns out, we enjoyed the moment thirty seconds too long. We realized the time, paid the check, and dashed across Rice Park to the back entrance of Xcel, with The Ordway on our right and Herbie’s (named after St. Paul hockey deity Herb Brooks) on our left.

We immediately saw my parents in the lobby. Turns out my mom’s purse was too big, and since the 73 year-old retired Catholic elementary school teacher is obviously a domestic terrorist threat, they had to check the bag. That or she was trying to sneak in a mini bottle of pinot grigio. The latter wouldn’t shock me, come to think of it.

Their surprise was enthusiastic, but brief. “Phil! Oh, my,” my dad said. “Mon, it’s Phil. Awesome!” I should note that all of this was spoken without breaking stride towards the rink.

We missed less than one shift of the game. Less than a minute. Breck was already ahead 1-0. By the time we sat down, 2-0. After watching for another minute it was clear the game was over. All my nervous excitement deflated. It was a letdown. The tension was gone. We watched, but great plays and bad plays had no impact on the game. James showed up unannounced. John and his son joined a short while later in the first period. After scoring eight goals in the first period, Breck would not take another shot for the rest of the game.

When Luverne started to get chippy later in the game, James shrugged his shoulder for affect and said, “Hey, that’s hockey out on the prairie.”

The skill on the Breck team was impressive across the board, especially the puck handling and skating. Six players on the team are already committed to play D1. This year’s Ms. Hockey looked to be going 75% and gliding by everyone struggling to keep up. Simply too fast, too strong, too determined to be denied a path to the net.

I watched them tic-tac-toe the puck, toe-pull through defense, and blast missiles from the blue line, and it’s hard to believe Girls hockey only officially started in 1995 in Minnesota. My Roseville Raiders won the first title in a now absurd four-team tournament. This Breck team was not even the second generation of girls’ high school hockey, and they would have embarrassed the ‘95 Raiders. Hell, Luverne would’ve given Winny Brodt, Rhonda and Renee Curtain and the rest of my Raiders a game.

James and I marveled at our niece. She could more than keep up with the older players, that much was a fact. She simply did not panic with the puck – ever – even as the last player back in her defensive zone. When I played, I always had an urgency when I had the puck, the ominous countdown in my head. When that countdown was nearing zero, I’d panic and bang the puck off the boards or deep into the corner. My niece never conceded to just bang the puck off the boards. Instead, she created time with her skating or stick-handling and let a better option come to life. Then – snap – she’d send a cross-ice pass from her zone onto the tape of a streaking forward on the other side of the red line.

Her play dictated game time: she could speed the game up or slow it down. She was in control. My time on the ice was determined by players like her.

James and I – leaning into the empty seat between us – were biased, and we were awestruck. Flecks of praise and memories and seemingly crazy dreams suspended in the cavernous air above the rink.

“She’s in eighth grade!” we kept saying.

“She could still be at St. Odilia, you know.” (Note: St. Odilia is the elementary and middle school all of us Langs attended)

“Is there still a Catholic school hockey league? What was it called again? The Don Bosco conference? The Don Bosco Conference. Hey, Mom, remember the Don Bosco Conference?”

“How quick is her first step, Phil? I mean, come on!”

“Do you think she could play in the Olympics?”

“Oh, absolutely.”

John sat in the row above us. He smiled and said little. The weight of the moment didn’t settle after I returned to Oakland: us brothers sitting in the stands watching the kids play in a State Tourney. Best-case. The window rolled down on the highway, and we were humming along.


My memories of the State Tourney always include Grandpa and Dad. The setting: always the old Civic Center with the clear boards. Wally Shaver and Lou Nanne are the voices. The arena is evenly lit. The top row up in the corner just as bright as the center face-off circle. The pep bands blare, and what seemed like entire towns from up north – Duluth, Warroad, Roseau, Morehead, Cloquet – have descended on the Civic Center, ready for hotel parties and kicking some cushy, Metro Area ass.

But that linocut in my mind did not fit reproduction playing out on the rink before me between Breck and Luverne. As far as girls hockey has come in its 25 years as a high school sport, the fact of the matter is not a lot of fans attend, which is especially felt when games are staged in a 20,000 seat NHL arena. The boys sessions have been a rite-of-passage shared between generations since the first state tournament in 1945.

Still, this was the State Tourney and, regardless of how many empty seats there were and how lopsided the victory was, traditions are to be observed. A post-game burger and beer at McGovern’s is one tradition, thanks to Grandpa Malaske. So Mom, Dad, and the rest of us pulled our hoods tight and leaned into the night wind towards W. 7th and Chestnut.

It was a quiet Wednesday night at the bar. We sat framed in the front window talking favorite State Tourney memories. James knew his right away: he and Grandpa went to the Apple Valley – Duluth East 5OT semifinal classic in 1996. Dad remembered how he and Grandpa, his father-in-law, would always go to an evening session. Grandpa’s trick was drive over to whatever high school was closest his house that happened to make the tournament, and buy tickets direct from the school. Smart guy, my gramps. I remembered Ryan Kraft and Matt Cullen on those Moorhead teams. Or Dave Spehar of that same Duluth East Greyhounds team netting hat-tricks in the quarterfinal, semifinal, and championship games. The kid was the talk of the state one weekend in March. John and my sister-in-law made it habit to take off work, pull the kids from school for a session and mixing in the sliders from The Grill at the hotel.

“You don’t need the whole seat, just the edge.” Wally Shaver at his finest. 

Sitting there framed in the window and sharing memories with fries, it struck me how cyclical hockey is in Minnesota. That’s what keeps the game ingrained in all of those backyard rinks. A local pee-wee coach near where John lives was on those mid-90s Duluth East teams. My sister’s oldest daughter is coached by what must be the only Mr. and Ms. Hockey husband-wife coaching duo in the history of the sport. Johnny Pohl (Mr. Hockey 1998) carried a Red Wing team to the tourney. His wife, Krissy Wendell (Ms. Hockey 2000) did the same for Park Center. She later captained the national team, winning an Olympic silver medal in 2002 and a bronze in 2006. It wasn’t until days after that I remembered that Steve Sertich, a member of the 1976 Olympic team, coached me. He’s the father of a former teammate of mine and 2005 Mr. Hockey winner, Marty Sertich. Round and round we go.

And because we’re a family obsessed with nostalgia, telling each other the same stories to over and over again, I know each of us at McGovern’s at least considered this evening – watching my niece earlier and post-gaming at McGovern’s – a new favorite memory as it was still unfolding

The waiter asked if we wanted another round. Yes. The only answer was yes.



I was back on W. 7th St., Friday at noon meeting John, his wife, my nephew and a couple of his buddies at Cossetta (across the street from McGovern’s) for a small mostaccioli and half roll of garlic bread. Another tourney tradition. There were folks wearing hoodies from many of the 1A and 2A teams. Many high school girls in warm-ups were mulling about, too. Players, no doubt. The afternoon had more State Tourney buzz. The walk over to Xcel was much more pleasant. The sun was out and the temp was in the low thirties. I’d run a familiar loop from my parents’ house in the morning, passing by several backyard rinks, and pulled off the gloves after a couple miles.

Rochester Lourdes had pulled out a 2-1 overtime victory over South St. Paul in the quarterfinals. For Breck, the semifinal would surely be closer than the Luverne shellacking. Breck and Lourdes played early in the season, with Breck getting a home win, 5-4.

The P.A. announced the full rosters for the teams, with each player skating helmetless from the goal line to the blue line, right to the channel 45 TV camera. All of that teenage chaos – the nerves, the acne, the hormones, the fear, the false bravado, the sincerity – it all coalesced right into the lens and transmitted to homes across the state. The tradition has been going on since I can remember, but was made iconic by the All Hockey Hair Team videos over the past decade (if you haven’t seen these videos, then here you go and you’re welcome, but – my god, man – where have you been?). I was giddy to see what my niece decided to do when her name and number were called. Not to disappoint, she said hi to her younger brother.

The puck dropped, and right from the get-go John couldn’t sit straight. Folded arms with a foot propped up on the seat in front of him. Hunched back. We had to move seats after the first whistle to get above the Plexiglas. My sister-in-law was worried because she didn’t bring the sign to the second game. You don’t jinx these things.

“I’m so nervous,” he said. John wasn’t saying it to me, or anyone. He was just putting the words out there. Thankfully, the Breck student section was a collection of experienced State Tourney pros when it came to missing Friday class to attend a semis game. The theme: Hawaiian shirt Friday. They had fat heads for each player on the team, too.

The excitement was back. No goal thirty seconds into the game. In fact, a pair of early Breck penalties gave Lourdes plenty of opportunities early.

Just before the end of the first period, my niece assisted on Breck’s second goal. In fact, it was an 8th grade connection, as she connected with the other 8th grader on the team. The Hawaiian-clad student section chanted across the ice, taunting the Lourdes student section:

“SHE’S in EIGHTH grade!”


“SHE’S in EIGHTH grade!”


The score was 2-0, Breck, at the end of the first period. After a Lourdes penalty in the second, my niece was put out on the power play unit to run the point (for non-hockey folks, it’s like playing point guard on offense in basketball: the point on the power play can see the full play in front of her and is a key decision-maker on the ice).

The power play got off to a rough start, and Breck couldn’t get it back on track. With the puck just inside the blue line in the offensive zone, she was indecisive, waited too long and without moving her feet, had the puck poked away, causing Breck to reset at neutral ice. Lourdes then put together a solid fore-check, making it hard for her and the power play unit to even get it out of their defensive zone.

“Fix this,” my brother said. He wasn’t being a hardass sports parent. He was powerless, he knew it, and still grinded out every second of every shift. Willing good decisions and positive results into existence – it was all he and the parents had up in the stands. “Fix this” wasn’t a threat; that was a plea.

More than enough has been said about sports parents, so I’ll leave the only following on that topic: if you think the difference between your kid’s dreams and dreams for your kid is sequence, then good luck.  My brother and sister-in-law know the difference is not sequence.

The score was 5-1, Breck after the second. Again, the stress and excitement evaporated, and we were left watching another blowout-in-the-making in a mostly empty NHL arena.

Maybe I’d built up getting to the State Tourney because it would’ve been such a stretch to make it for any team I played on. This Breck team was close to reeling in a three-peat as 1A state champions, and there were already rumblings about it being time they move up to 2A. Getting to the State Tourney probably wasn’t even considered for this team. The team was loaded with talent evenly spread across each grade. That’s how sustained success is constructed.

Final score: 9-1. The championship matchup was announced over the P.A. Breck was to face Cloquet-Esko-Carlton on Saturday at 4 PM. I ran back out to 7th Avenue, jumped in my parent’s Suburban, and bombed north to the Blaine Super Rink. I was trying to make my other nephew’s 4PM opening sled hockey game in the Hendrickson Foundation Hockey Festival, and I was behind.


I ran into the Super Rink in Blaine 40 minutes late hoping to catch at least a few minutes of the game. First I needed to figure out what sheet of ice his team was on, not a small task. For one, The Hendrickson Foundation Festival was actually 55 teams competing in five tournaments taking place simultaneously: adult sled hockey, youth sled hockey, special hockey, hockey for the blind, and warriors (wounded, injured, or disabled veterans).  Second, the Super Rink is in fact eight rinks spindled around a lobby. Lastly, he plays on the Wild sled team. I think there were three teams named Wild in the tournament (all affiliated with the Minnesota’s N.H.L. team), so the bracket was minimal help. I was losing precious minutes, as I scanned the rinks for my newphew, or his brother.

I found my brother on the ice as a pusher on Rink 2, helping a player that doesn’t have the ability to use his arms to skate. There’s a push bar to the back of the player’s sled so the volunteer or coach can keep the player within the flow of the game.

A local high school pep band was in the stands blaring classics like “Magnificent Seven” and more contemporary hits like “Moves Like Jagger” for kids and families they didn’t know. I’ll say it again – pep bands are best heard in a hockey arena. All that brass and percussion bouncing off the cold concrete walls – it’s magic. The families in the stands clapping along, happy idiots yelling their faces off at their kids on the ice. They were grinding it out just like my niece’s parents. I was sucked into the moment, not realizing until five minutes later that my brother was just helping out as a pusher. This wasn’t his son’s team. It was obvious as soon as I put it together. My nephew played with the men’s team, and these kids on the rink were far from adults.

I figured out my nephew’s rink only to see the Zamboni rolling onto the ice. What a dick, I missed the entire game. Not to mention, adult sled hockey is a hell of a spectator sport. Talk about a high-speed, highly skilled, collision sport. Holy shit. Those are some bad dudes out there looking to mix it up.

I waited in the lobby. It was a was mob of people, half of which my brother seemed to know. This tournament, and that lobby in particular, was a celebration of hockey. Kinetic energy. The bartender was cracking beers. The big guy at the souvenir register had a one-liner for everybody. Folks were jostling for position around the brackets with a smile and a kind word, checking for results and next round opponents. The mounted TV’s were playing the 2A girls semifinal back at the Xcel.

For over a decade, sled hockey has been a major force James’ family. The sport has taken him and Joe across country, to cities big and small. They’ve traveled to tournaments in Boston, San Jose, Nashville, Chicago, Tampa, and St. Louis, among other cities. Joe met his closest friend – a brother, really – through the sled hockey. He busted his ass and last summer he was invited the U.S.A. Sled Hockey development camp. To be asked to wear that USA jersey is a culmination of a decade of hard, hard work.


James, a born coach, helped out coaching from early on and became president of Minnesota Sled Hockey. They have got the ball rolling on new sled hockey programs in towns across the Midwest. In 2018, they started the Boundary Waters Sled Hockey Combine, an annual summer training. James even convinced players from the National Team to help out at the camp (and have a couple late night beers at the campfire with him and the other organizers).

The work, passion, competitive spirit, community spirit, helping grow the game, and the fun – these are the materials of which legacies are built. James, Joe and their family are doing just that.

Joe now 18, is heading to college next fall. He grew up amongst these families and hockey. Like a lot of kids in Minnesota, hockey has been a constant in his young life.

I was ticked off I didn’t see him play, but it was still worth checking out the tournament. Remember my brother’s State Tourney memory – the 5OT semifinal thriller he and Grandpa were at? The Apple Valley coach for that game: Larry Hendrickson. He went on to start the Hendrickson Foundation, host of my nephew’s tournament.

I ended the long day in the family room. My brother, sprawled on the couch, and I was in the overstuffed chair with a creamy porter for a nightcap. We watched the end of Edina-Maple Grove semifinal. The game felt more important on TV. I didn’t have to look at the empty upper bowl. The camera work, slow-mo replays, player back-stories, the coach interview were all the same as ever, which is to say way above the expectation of a high school tv broadcast. This was N.H.L. level production and insight. Everyone involved was no-doubt overqualified.




I realized I could stream the championship game as I waited for BART at the San Francisco Airport. I watched the entire game as I rode under San Francisco, 100 feet underwater crossing the bay to Oakland, and in the Uber back to our house on Rose Ave. For all the truly awful consequences of technology, I had to give the developers their due that Saturday, because that video stream was rock steady, baby. Didn’t miss a frame the entire time.

As the starting lineups were announced, I found myself thinking back to something my John had mentioned during the Luverne game. He told me a story about a girl his daughter played with in some off-season select team league. My niece had played a lot of hockey with this girl. In the 2A quarterfinals, the girl had a bad turnover that led to the game-winning goal late in the third period. It was all over his face – the anguish for the girl. In his head, I know it, he was pleading his daughter would be spared a similar scenario. As foolish as it sounds – I mean, we’re talking about high school sports – a mistake like that in the State Tourney sticks to someone for more than day or a week.

My niece started the game over-amped. She wanted to make something happen, and forced two of those long, cross-ice passes she loves. The first time the color commentator said her name was to mention her second broken up pass. Cloquet-Esko-Carlton was playing a trap.

John and I had watched the last 10 minutes of C-E-C’s upset over Warroad in the semis, and it was obvious to him how well-coached the team was for the skill set amongst its players. John looked at C-E-C season record and noted how many close games they were in throughout the season. By tourney time, they were used to being in tight games. They were calm as Warroad hit the panic button. That, and the trap is lethal with a lead.

Quick explanation of the trap: on defense, the team clogs the neutral zone in between the blues lines. The team doesn’t forecheck the other team’s defense; rather, they just wait to break up a pass thrown into the very crowded neutral zone. A team isn’t going to score much playing the trap, but it makes it damn near impossible for the other team to score. So, once C-E-C got the lead against Warroad, they went to the trap, and Warroad couldn’t break it.

Breck was the more skilled team. The C-E-C coaches would admit as much. Rather than wait and hope to get a lead, C-E-C started the game against Breck in the trap. They wanted make it as ugly a game as possible. Keep it close as long as possible, and hope for a break.

My brother saw it within a couple minutes. He texted, “The D has to skate the puck out of their own end.”

My niece and the other defense were so used to breaking out of the defensive zone with passes that it took them half a period before they made the adjustment. Once they did, the scoring chances came.

My niece assisted on the first goal. She whistled a low shot from the point to the goalie’s blocker side. The goalie gave up a juicy rebound, and her teammate banged it home.

And then it happened. My niece scored in the state championship game in the State Tourney. The puck was tipped out to the top of the circle (a good break at the right moment). She dashed in from the right point, got her hips into it, and sniped a wicked wrister just inside the pipe under the blocker. She had an opportunity, and she capitalized. I saw it from an Uber in Oakland. I swear I heard her scream before anyone else celebrated. I swear I heard her. And that moment right before she let out that jubilation – that is the difference between expecting good things to happen and waiting to be letdown.

I blurted out “Oh my god!” in the Uber. Driver didn’t even look up at me in the rearview. No reaction.

The texts started bouncing amongst the family. My mom called, even though she’d lost her voice the day before to tell me. I told her I was watching. She couldn’t hear me, and I couldn’t understand a word she was saying, but she called right away. On the stream, Breck’s student section started up the chant:

“SHE’S in EIGHTH grade!”


“SHE’S in EIGHTH grade!”


The game was now 4-0, Breck. C-E-C couldn’t play the trap anymore. They had to try to score, and they were out of their game, instead having to play Breck’s game. By the end, Breck won 6-0.

Later that night, I asked John if he’d cried when he saw his daughter after the game.

“No, but I did come close when she scored.”

“Good! Savor it.”


The worst moment of visiting home comes when I  first sit down on the flight back to California. Conservatively, I’ve made the trip between San Francisco and Minneapolis over 100 times in the fifteen years I’ve been out here. I know the moment well.

I love living where we live, and can’t wait to get back to Natalie. She is home. But those minutes on the tarmac when I’ve left my people in Minnesota and I’ve yet to start my return to California – those minutes are empty and always, always, always shitty. I’m lost, nowhere. In those minutes, I’m susceptible to sending sentimental text messages.

Naturally, my niece was the recipient this time around. She was four hours from playing for a state championship:

Enjoy today. Enjoy playing the game you love with the teammates you love in front of a family that loves you. You were made for this game.

So I borrowed from Herb Brooks. Big deal; I’m a Minnesotan, and we’re talking hockey.

– Phil Lang, February 28, 2020



I texted James for the results in the Hendrickson tournament. Here’s his response:

Joe’s team won championship. joe had 3 assists, he played really good…really proud of his effort against the big boys. Took a couple punches in the championship hame from dirty Canadians, fat lip…and gave a couple back. 

Come on  – how good is that, eh?