Mike McFeely column: Moorhead's best hockey team ever?
You hear the whispers on the east side of the Red River about this edition of the Moorhead High School hockey team. Best Spuds team ever. And you think: Whoa. Best ever? Better than teams that had players like Matt Cullen, Jason Blake and Ryan Kr...
You hear the whispers on the east side of the Red River about this edition of the Moorhead High School hockey team.
Best Spuds team ever.
And you think: Whoa. Best ever?
Better than teams that had players like Matt Cullen, Jason Blake and Ryan Kraft? And Josh Arnold, Troy Bagne and Jason Gregoire? And Joe Cullen, Mark Cullen and Ryan Frisch?
Matt Cullen is playing in the NHL, and has for years. Ditto Blake. Mark Cullen and Joe Cullen are currently playing in the American Hockey League, the Triple-A level minor league. Others played in the high minor leagues.
It is saying something -- no, it is saying a lot -- to say this is the best Spuds team ever.
So you call the coach of those great Spuds teams of the 1990s and you ask: Is this team the best ever?
And Terry Cullen (vacationing in Florida, thank you very much), won't exactly say yes, but won't exactly say no, either.
"It might be," said Cullen, who resigned in 1997 to concentrate on his business and watch his kids (Matt, Joe, Mark and gymnast daughter Annie) play their games. "It's hard to say. It's tough to compare players from 10 years ago to players today. It always is, in any sport. It's challenging because you have to ask whether the teams the kids now are playing against are as good or better than the teams we played against. Who knows? We had some good players, they have some good players. Comparing them is not something I'm into doing."
Which is probably the proper way to approach this question. These are, after all, just high school kids playing hockey. But like all comparisons of great teams from different periods of history, it's fun. And, with the Spuds opening play in the Minnesota state tournament today as one of the favorites, it's worth chewing on.
Even Cullen doesn't completely pooh-pooh the talk. He is good friends with Spuds assistant Terry Shercliffe and said the two, while not going down the checklist of every player, have batted the subject around from time to time. Cullen and Shercliffe run a summer camp together. They've worked with most of the current Moorhead players.
"I don't doubt that this might be the most talented group ever. Just look at what they have. Two outstanding goaltenders (Spencer Deutz and Derek Hittle), depth at defense, depth up front. It is a very skilled team," Cullen said.
That might be most apparent on defense, where even the best of Cullen's teams in the '90s would have trouble matching the current group. Juniors Brian Lee and Jon Ammerman are considered blue-chippers. Lee has already signed with the University of North Dakota. Both players were members of the United States' Under-17 Select Team that won a gold medal in an international tournament in Slovakia last summer.
Lee was named the tournament's outstanding defenseman.
"That's a pretty big mouthful," Cullen said. "For two players from the same high school team to be on that team, that is something. During my time, Jason Gregoire and Troy Bagne made that team (in different years), but Matt, Joe and Mark never made that team and they are all playing at a high level right now. And other great players like Krafty never made that team."
We need to take time here to point out this timeless hockey adage -- one hot goalie can stop even the most talented team. And if the Spuds happen to run into said goalie tonight against Elk River -- or in the semifinals or title game -- all the chatter about this being the best team in Moorhead history might have to be considered just that -- chatter.
But if this collection of Spuds returns home with the school's first championship banner -- finally, finally, finally -- it should make all the talk moot. A championship team trumps any other team, right?
Cullen, whose five state tourney teams finished a heartbreaking second three times and third twice, will be rooting from Florida for that to happen.
"It would make me feel really good," he said. "I mean, I like to think I had a little bit to do with building the program. I would be extremely happy for these kids if we can get by Elk River and keep going through the tournament. This is a really nice group of kids in particular, some really nice boys. Hopefully they can do it."
Readers can reach Mike McFeely at (701) 241-5580 or firstname.lastname@example.org