Something to provePublished 7:00pm Friday, March 8, 2013
There’s something about tournament time that always seems to bring a little magic into the air.
Just ask any member of the 1992-1993 Packer boys hockey team. That squad entered the postseason as a No. 7 seed, but it rallied in the section tournament to beat Rochester John Marshall 7-4, Albert Lea 9-3 and Owatonna 2-1 in OT to earn a trip to the state hockey tournament.
“We always played with a chip on our shoulder because we were out in the farm land and Minneapolis was considered hockey central,” said former Austin captain Conrad Ray, who is now the head golf coach at Stanford University. “It was our version of Hoosiers.”
On the 20-year anniversary of their state trip, the 1992-1993 Austin Packers boys hockey team will be recognized Friday, March 22 when the Austin Bruins host the Bismarck Bobcats at 7:05 p.m.
The Packers finished with a regular season record of 12-9-1 overall that season and they weren’t close to Owatonna (21-3 overall) in the two regular-season meetings. But they brought their ‘A’ game in the section title game, which was one of the final hockey games played at the Met Center in Bloomington.
Austin tied the game against the Huskies at 1-1 in regulation and Ray nailed the game winner in OT, when his power play slap shot from the blue line found a way to get to the back of the net.
“I still tell people that was the best sports moment of my life. I’ve never been so tired as I was after that game,” Ray said. “I always remember coaches told me to put it on the ice, but I always wanted to slap it top shelf like the pros did. I ended up putting it down and it ricocheted off of like three skates and two sticks and went in. I think that Rob Haedt still calls a tip in, but I’m calling B.S. on that.”
The Packers all shaved their heads for team unity in the postseason and the group was very close to each other. Steve Nimitz, who was a captain on the team, said he still looks back on that improbable run to state. He has used facebook to keep in touch with some former teammates and exchange stories.
“It was huge,” he said. “There was a group of us that had been together through all of the years. We still talk about it to this day,” he said.
Nemitz, who works in accounting and finance in Shakopee, Minn., also has a lifetime of bragging rights thanks to the win over Owatonna. It just so happens Nemitz coaches youth hockey with three guys — one from Mankato West, one from Albert Lea and one from Owatonna — who all played against the 1992-1993 Packers.
“It’s a small world,” Nemitz said. “We beat Owatonna in the section finals, so I still talk a little crap to the guy from Owatonna sometimes. We weren’t favorites that year. We had a hot goalie in Sean Clennon and it all came together at the right time. The year before we actually had a little more depth, but didn’t finish as well.”
After all of these years, Ray and Nemitz haven’t gotten hockey out of their system as they still play once a week.
When Austin began play at the state tournament, which was held at the St. Paul Civic Center, it lost 9-0 to Elk River, but upset top ranked Apple Valley 2-1, before finally falling to the Cloquet Lumberjacks 11-3. Cloquet featured Jamie Langenbrunner, who was drafted by the Dallas Stars, played on two NHL championship teams and is playing in his 17th NHL season with the St. Louis Blues.
“I always brag that we held Langenbrunner to four points, so he didn’t have that good of a game against us,” Ray said.
Austin Bruins owner Craig Patrick said he wanted to pay some respect to great team from Austin and he figured the 20-year anniversary would be a good time to do it.
“We’ve called Austin home for three seasons now and this seemed like a great time to commemorate a significant achievement by a team that came before us,” Patrick said. “That team broke new ground, becoming not only the first Austin team to make it there, but also the first southern Minnesota team not from Rochester to do it.”
Austin High School never held a pep rally for the team when it went to state and classes went on as scheduled on the first day of the state tournament. Students were told they could go to the game if they had a note from their parents.
Austin Activities Director Lisa Quednow-Bickler, who was a senior at Pacelli in 1993, remembers attending the hockey games back then and she’s glad the team will get its proper recognition Friday.
“We’re so happy the Bruins are doing this,” she said. “It’s unfortunate the policy was what it was at the time. Now we give a sendoff to our teams who make it to the state tournament. It’s important the kids know we are behind them and, at the same time, they aren’t just playing for a championship. They’re representing our city.”