The Wright Call

By Dave Wright

February 4 was an interesting and instructive day for the Cretin-Derham Hall boys’ hockey team. In the afternoon, the Raiders got the word that they—and the rest of the state—were hoping to hear. The Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) announced tentative state tournament dates for all winter sports. The schedule will start with Alpine skiing championships on March 10 and conclude with the boys’ basketball title games on April 9-10.

The good news for the CDH boys that day was that there would be a hockey title to pursue (the state tournament is set for March 30-April 3 at Xcel Energy Center). The bad news came a few hours later when the Raiders suffered their first loss of the season, a 3-2 squeaker to Stillwater.

CDH head coach Matt Funk found out afterward that the players had called a meeting on their own after the loss. The captains didn’t discuss with him what was said, but their performance on the ice spoke for them. “We had one of our best practices the next afternoon,” Funk said.

The resilience of youth showed the next game as CDH, led by a pair of goals from Jake Fisher, defeated Roseville 3-1 to improve to 7-1 overall.

COVID-19 played havoc with everybody’s game schedules this year. One of the casualties of the last-minute scramble for games is that some longstanding rivals will not face off this season. For example, this is one of the rare times that Saint Thomas Academy and CDH are not meeting on the ice. Funk and STA coach Trent Eigner will attempt to remedy that by playing twice next season, starting with the season opener, though Funk mused that the Raiders and Cadets might still meet this year at the state tournament.

Two days later, IMG Academy, a traveling high school team based in Florida that’s loaded with future Division I college prospects, came to town and handed the Redhawks their first loss, 73-53. “We didn’t play that well,” Johnson reflected. “It was a bummer, but a team like IMG points out your warts.”  

Minnehaha Academy coach Lance Johnson saw his boys’ basketball team break fast out of the gate, winning its first four games by a margin of 178 points (349-171). Game five was a tougher one as Minnehaha, the top-ranked team in Class AAA, took on AAAA power Wayzata. The Redhawks won 70-63, but Johnson was not pleased with several aspects of the game. “Wins are great, but I look at how we play overall,” he said.

Two days later, IMG Academy, a traveling high school team based in Florida that’s loaded with future Division I college prospects, came to town and handed the Redhawks their first loss, 73-53. “We didn’t play that well,” Johnson reflected. “It was a bummer, but a team like IMG points out your warts.”  

While it could be argued that a loss to a road team that was playing its 22nd game of the season is merely a blip on the radar, Johnson focused on the bigger picture. “I’m not afraid to lose a game,” he said. “The only bad loss is one that you don’t learn from.”

The Redhawks had a couple of days to mull things over before welcoming AAAA Edina to their gym on February 9. Minnehaha led by seven at the half, before kicking into high gear to win going away, 87-48. Senior Chet Holmgren, who is at the top of everybody’s college recruiting list these days, led the way for the Redhawks with a season-high 26 points.  

“We played very well all night,” Johnson said. “The shots just didn’t fall in the first half.”  

Johnson was thrilled to hear there will be a state boys’ basketball tournament this winter, after last year’s event was canceled due to the pandemic. To that end, he plans to prepare his team to be tournament tough. Last Saturday, the Redhawks did something few Twin Cities high school teams do—they headed to the Iron Range to play a 5-1 Hibbing squad. Later in the season, Minnehaha also has dates with highly ranked Hopkins, Minneapolis North and Chaska.

No MIAC playoffs this winter; spring maybe

The news was not totally unexpected, but it was still unpleasant. The NCAA announced there will be no postseason tournaments for any Division III college sports teams this winter. The MIAC had previously announced there would be no postseason competition for its teams. For Saint Thomas, in its last go-around in the league, that means their basketball and hockey teams will have to settle for seeking regular-season titles. That is, if they can play games at all.

As this was being written, the Tommies were 2-0 in men’s basketball and had two games postponed due to COVID issues. The women’s hoopsters had won both games they had played, with one game called off.

Their hockey counterparts have not been as fortunate. The men won their opener 5-1, but their next three games never happened. The women were hoping to play for the first time on February 13.

As for spring sports, the MIAC’s baseball and softball teams have been given the OK to have indoor practices. At press time no games had been set up yet at U.S. Bank Stadium, but a schedule is supposed to be available in March. MIAC commissioner Dan McKane said he expects a decision to be made by the powers that be by early next month.

Central grad Lissimore gets high honor 

Recognition from peers is about as good as it gets. Lisa Lissimore was one of the pioneers of girls’ high school basketball in Minnesota, helping pilot Saint Paul Central to become one of the powers in the early years of girls’ high school hoops in the late 1970s. From there, she went to Grand View University, where her on-court exploits led to her being inducted into that school’s athletic hall of fame.  

For the past three-plus decades, she has been a steady force as an associate director at the MSHSL, overseeing several state tournaments, corporate sponsorships and the league’s hall of fame program.  

This summer, she will become the honoree as the Section 5 Citation Award recipient from the National Federation of State High School Associations. She will be recognized at the NFHS meeting in Orlando.

“You don’t do this to win awards,” Lissimore said in a MSHSL press release.  

Perhaps, but it’s nice when you see someone honored who truly deserves it.

RIP Ralph McDonough 

On the night of December 12, 1979, the fellow calling in the score of a Saint Paul City Conference hockey game to the Pioneer Press had to repeat the result twice before the voice on the other end would believe him.  

Yes, the caller said, the final score really was Humboldt 6, Cretin 3. The newspaper man chuckled, “I bet Ralph will sleep well tonight.” That was in Ralph McDonough, who coached Humboldt hockey for 13 years and baseball for 11.  

For most of those years, the Indians (as they were then known), were not blessed with an overabundance of talented athletes in those sports. Still, McDonough got the best out of them and, to use a baseball phrase, they were often a tough out.  

Such was the case on that December night when a forward with the unlikely name of Beanie Kolnberger tore up the Raiders by scoring four goals. 

McDonough was a Saint Paulite from day one, attending Saint Agnes for high school and Saint Thomas for college. As was commonly the case at the time, he also taught at Humboldt, specializing in English and Latin. When his recent death was noted on Facebook, many of the comments were from former students who called him one of their favorite teachers.  

Season records don’t always tell the effect a great coach can have. Such is the case here. Former major-league umpire Tim Tschida crossed paths with McDonough when he was starting out as a young official. Here’s what he wrote online: “Ralph personified everything a high school teacher and coach should be. He never complained about being outmanned…and his players respected him and us officials.”

Dave Wright can be reached at dwright53@msn.com.