By Bob San
Sun Press Newspapers
Sam Huff was a wide-eyed young lad attending the 2012 state boys’ hockey tournament game between Maple Grove and Hill-Murray at the Xcel Energy Center. It was an experience that has made a lasting impression on Huff and provided motivation for him as a future Maple Grove hockey star.
“I was there. I remember it just like the back of my hand,” Huff recalled. “An 11 o’clock game playing Hill-Murray, one of the top teams in the tournament. A packed house of 16,000-17,000. Half of Maple Grove showed up and most of the school went. That was in the back of my mind. Ever since freshman year it has driven me to go back there—not just for us but for the whole city of Maple Grove.”
Fast forward to 2017 and Huff is one of the captains and the top scorer on the Crimson hockey team that will head into this week’s state tournament. The Crimson edged Centennial 4-3 last Thursday in the Section 5 championship game at Aldrich Arena to earn the school’s second trip to the X.
For Huff and the Crimson, it is a dream come true and the realization of a vision Huff had on that March day in 2012 at the X.
“We set different goals but definitely with the team we have coming into this season, to not make the X would be a big disappointment,” Huff said.
Now that they are there, the Crimson want to make a statement and put Crimson hockey on the map.
“I was telling the guys, it’s bigger than us, bigger than Maple Grove hockey,” Huff said. “The 2012 team was the first team that broke through to get to the state tourney. They didn’t get the results they wanted but we want to be that team that really propels this program to the next level. We want to go in and make a statement and like coach said, put Crimson hockey on the map. It will be a great experience but we don’t just want to go there, play Thursday night and see what happens. Our goal is to go there and win a state championship. With the way we are playing we know we are capable. We have a lot of young guys coming up. This [going to state] should be perennial thing for Maple Grove.”
The Crimson enter the state tournament knowing they can play with and beat any team in the state, even though they have been pretty much left out of the state top ten rankings most of the season.
“All year we were the underdogs in the state,” Huff said. “No one gives us the credit we deserve. We have six losses but five were to top ten teams and we beat No. 1 and No. 3 at the time. Playing the hard schedule we played, I think we played the fifth or sixth hardest schedule in the state, obviously you expect to lose a couple games. To have a 22-6 record going into the state tourney with the schedule we played that’s not something you hang your head about. We know how good we are, we know what we can do. We are just waiting for the big stage to show everybody.”
The stage doesn’t get any bigger for Minnesota high school hockey than the state tournament at the X. The Crimson are ready.
The Crimson’s success certainly earned them some respect as they receive the No. 4 seed in the state tournament. They open against fifth-seeded Grand Rapids (20-7-1) Thursday, March 9 at 8 p.m. The winner advances to the semifinal when it will play either top-seeded Eden Prairie or unseeded defending champion Wayzata Friday, March 10 at 8 p.m. The state championship game is Saturday, March 11 at 7 p.m.
“We are not going to be getting much sleep this week,” Huff said. “We will just take it day by day. Once that day comes we will take it all in and see where it takes us.”