The Minnesota high school boys hockey state tournament celebrates its 75th year this season. Over the past three-quarters of a century, the tournament has grown into one of the most popular and highly-touted high school state tournaments in the country, rivaling the likes of Texas football in its prominence.
That, of course, is due largely to one group of people: the players. Without the household names ranging from Phil Housley to John Mayasich to T.J. Oshie — the state tournament, and Minnesota high school hockey in general — wouldn’t be the spectacle it is today.
So, to commemorate the 75th edition of Minnesota’s own personal version of March Madness, the Pioneer Press put together a list of the 75 greatest players to play Minnesota high school hockey.
Without further ado, let the countdown, and the arguments that are sure to ensue, begin:
75: Herb Brooks
School: St. Paul Johnson
Last year of high school hockey: 1955
About him: This list starts with the man whose statue is located in downtown St. Paul. Brooks scored three goals in the 1955 state tournament, including two in the state title game to lead the Governors past Minneapolis Southwest 3-1, earning Johnson its second state title in three seasons. Brooks went on to play for the Gophers before competing on two Olympic teams. Soon after his second Olympic appearance in 1968, Brooks went into coaching, and most know how that worked out.
Brooks is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame.
74: Sandy Smith
Last year of high school hockey: 1986
About him: A nod to hockey journeymen everywhere, one of Brainerd’s all-time greats went on to have a prolific pro career for a player who never played in an NHL game.
After tallying 90 points in four seasons at Minnesota-Duluth, Smith bounced around from the minors to European Leagues. He recorded 297 goals and 310 assists in 634 games as a professional.
73: Bob Paradise
Last year of high school hockey: 1962
About him: The hard-nosed defenseman was a three-sport star who was offered a professional baseball contract by the Boston Red Sox before he chose hockey.
After leading Cretin to two private school state tournaments in 1961 and 1962, Paradise played his college hockey at St. Mary’s College in Winona and then played in the 1968 Olympics.
Known for his physicality, he played the better part of six NHL seasons. Paradise is in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame.
72. Kyle Rau
School: Eden Prairie
Last year of high school hockey: 2011
About him: Rau became this decade’s poster boy for playing your senior season of high school hockey in 2011.
In the third overtime of the Class 2A state title game, he dove for a loose puck hovering in the crease, batting it into the net to give Eden Prairie a 3-2 victory over Duluth East to wrap upr the Eagles’ second state title in two seasons. It was Rau’s fifth goal of the tournament.
He tallied 69 points in 25 games to earn Mr. Hockey honors. Rau went on to play for the Gophers, captaining the U to a Big Ten title as a senior.
Rau has spent most of his pro career in the American Hockey League.
71. Matt Hendricks
Last year of high school hockey: 2000
About him: A tough guy with skill to spare, Hendricks was the key cog in Blaine’s 2000 state title team. He tallied 53 points in just 21 games in that senior campaign, including a pair of goals in the Bengals’ state semifinal win over defending state runner-up Hastings.
Hendricks had a productive four years at St. Cloud State, leading the team in goals as a junior with 18.
The veteran has displayed impressive staying power in his pro career, playing 599 NHL games and counting.
70. Doug Zmolek
School: Rochester John Marshall
Last year of high school hockey: 1989
About him: Zmolek helped Rochester John Marshall return to prominence in the late 1980s, leading the Rockets to consecutive state tournaments in 1988 and 1989. In the latter season, John Marshall fell 5-4 to Bloomington Jefferson in the title game, a contest in which Zmolek scored twice.
After an electric high school career, the Minnesota North Stars drafted Zmolek No. 7 overall in the 1989 NHL draft. He played three seasons for the Gophers, earning All-American honors as a junior.
Zmolek played 467 NHL games, tallying more than 900 penalty minutes.
69. Erik Johnson
School: Academy of Holy Angels
Last year of high school hockey: 2004
About him: Johnson starred in his two years of high school hockey, recording 34 points from the blue line for the Stars as a sophomore before leaving Minnesota to play for the National Team Development Program.
It seems like he made the right call, as St. Louis selected Johnson No. 1 overall in the 2006 NHL draft.
Still, Johnson played a year of college hockey for the Gophers before entering the NHL. He won a silver medal at the 2010 Olympics and has been an all-star in his 10 seasons in the NHL.
68. Damian Rhodes
Last year of high school hockey: 1987
About him: The first goalie to make the list, Rhodes produced one of the more memorable section tournament runs in state history. The junior goalie sparked Richfield’s upsets of Edina and Minnetonka en route to the 1986 state tournament.
Rhodes played four years at Michigan Tech before going pro. He played 309 NHL games, recording 99 wins.
67. Dave Maley
Last year of high school hockey: 1982
About him: Maley will go down as one of the state’s ultimate winners. He captained Edina’s state championship team in 1982, won an NCAA championship with the Badgers in 1983, then won a Stanley Cup with the Montreal Canadiens in 1986.
Despite the lack of a prominent pro career, his winning pedigree earns Maley a spot on this list.
66. Robb Stauber
School: Duluth Denfeld
Last year of high school hockey: 1986
About him: Stauber led Duluth Denfeld to the 1986 state tournament, where he tallied 97 saves and a .93 save percentage to guide the Hunters to a third-place finish.
In college, Stauber starred with the Gophers. In his sophomore season, Stauber became the first goalie to win the Hobey Baker award as the best player in college hockey.
Stauber played in 62 NHL games.
65. David Tanabe
Last year of high school hockey: 1997
About him: Tanabe was an elite defenseman for the Hill-Murray team that finished fourth at state in 1997, recording 12 goals and 14 assists as a junior.
It was after his junior year when Tanabe left Hill-Murray to play for the National Team Development Program in Michigan. Tanabe was the first player from that program to be drafted in the first round of the NHL draft, going 16th overall to Carolina in 1999.
Tanabe spent one year at the University of Wisconsin before turning pro. He played nine NHL seasons before his career was cut short by a concussion.
64. Rob McClanahan
School: Mounds View
Last year of high school hockey: 1976
About him: The Olympic hero got his start in Mounds View, leading the suburban school to the 1976 state tournament, where the senior tallied four goals and four assists in three games as Mounds View lost in the consolation title game.
That wasn’t the last time McClanahan would shine on a big stage. After helping the Gophers win the 1979 NCAA championship, McClanahan went on to star for the 1980 Olympic team, scoring five goals in seven games for the miracle squad, including the game-winner in the gold-medal game against Finland.
McClanahan recorded 101 points in 224 NHL games.
63. Steve Christoff
Last year of high school hockey: 1976
About him: Christoff had one of the more memorable state tournament runs in 1976, notching five goals and four assists to lead Richfield to a runner-up finish in his senior season, a fitting cap to a stellar high school career.
His winning didn’t end there. Christoff starred for the Gophers in his sophomore and junior seasons, scoring 143 points over those two seasons. He scored a goal and assisted on Neal Broten’s game-winner in Minnesota’s win over North Dakota in the 1979 national title game.
Christoff scored two goals and had an assist during the U.S.’s run to the 1980 Olympic gold medal before turning pro.
He was one of the best players on the North Stars’ run to the Stanley Cup Finals in 1981. Christoff played 248 NHL games, notching 141 points.
62. Jack McCartan
School: St. Paul Marshall
Last year of high school hockey: 1953
About him: You won’t find Jack McCartan’s name in any state tournament record books. St. Paul Marshall was not a good hockey school. But it had a great hockey goalie.
McCartan proved as much in his post-high school career. He went on to start for the Gophers in two sports, earning All-American honors in both hockey and baseball. On the diamond, McCartan was the third baseman for the Minnesota team that won a national title in 1956.
Still, his greatest achievement was yet to come.
McCartan was the starting goalie in the 1960 Olympics, and it was his play in net that sparked the U.S. to a gold-medal run. The netminder was particularly heroic in wins over Canada and the Soviet Union. McCartan was named the tournament’s best goaltender.
He played 12 career NHL games.
61. Craig Johnson
Last year of high school hockey: 1990
About him: Johnson was a three-year standout for the Pioneers, totaling 137 points over his sophomore, junior and senior seasons. He played on the 1987-88 Hill-Murray team that finished as the state runner-up.
He was just as productive playing for the Gophers in college, where he recorded 132 points in three seasons.
Johnson played in the 1994 Olympics, then went on to play 554 games in the NHL, tallying 173 career points.
— The Pioneer Press put together a small selection committee of Minnesota hockey experts representing high school, college and professional hockey. The selected committee is largely responsible for the printed list.
— While this is a list centered on those who played Minnesota high school hockey, a player’s high school career was only part of the equation. How a player performed after high school — in their college, professional and national team careers — factored heavily into the equation. This list is meant to rate player’s careers as a whole.
— Players on this list had to have played Minnesota high school hockey, but were not penalized for not staying in high school through their senior seasons, which, with the changing times, is becoming less and less common for the game’s elite players.
— For the purposes of this list, Shattuck St. Mary’s was not considered a Minnesota high school hockey program since its team plays a junior schedule.