Apple Valley Girls Hockey Wins First Ever State Championship
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On February 24, 1995, over 3,000 fans packed into Aldrich Arena in Maplewood to see a first: Apple Valley was a part of history as the first ever girls hockey state tournament began.
The inaugural 1994-95 season included 24 varsity girls hockey teams from around the state. Apple Valley came into the four-team state tournament undefeated, finishing the season with a record of 24-0-1. The other three teams included Stillwater Area, South St. Paul, and Henry Sibley. Although it was decided that the small Aldrich Arena be the site of the original girls hockey state tournament, it didn’t take away any of the excitement.
“It was filled to the brim, people were up against the glass,” said former Apple Valley hockey player Michelle Gustafson. “It was unbelievable–I never played in a scenario like that again, even in college.”
Even though the Eagles made it back to the state tournament in 1998, it wasn’t quite the same. That year’s state tournament was held at the Minnesota State Fairgrounds Coliseum, a much bigger arena that could hold upwards of 5,000 people. “We probably had around 2,000 people there but the atmosphere wasn’t the same,” said Gustafson.
The first game of the tournament took place between Stillwater Area High School and Apple Valley. Things didn’t start out well for the Eagles, as they found themselves down 2-4 after two periods. Head coach Chuck Scanlon told his players that they were going to win the game 6-4. The team didn’t disappoint, coming back to win the game–as Scanlon predicted–6-4.
After already winning a nail-biter in the semifinals, Apple Valley was set for a rematch against South St. Paul, a team they had tied earlier in the season. The entire game was close, with neither team pulling away. It wasn’t until the final few minutes that it started to sink in what they had just done.
“In the last minute and a half it felt like there was a stoppage of play every 10 seconds,” said Gustafson. Apple Valley’s dream of becoming the first ever girls hockey state champions had finally come true.
The 1995 girls hockey state tournament drew attention from all over the country. Hockey legends Herb Brooks and Lou Nanne were in attendance, along with the president of the North Stars, Walter Bush. Even the Smithsonian Institution wanted to feature the 1995 Apple Valley girls hockey team as part of their “Hometown Team” exhibit. “It was a big deal and we had a really good team,” said Coach Scanlon.
Today, there are almost 130 girls varsity hockey teams in the state of Minnesota. The state tournament is now held at the Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild, which holds over 18,000 people. There is a new champion every year, but there is only one team that was crowned first.
Even after 21 years, the 1995 Apple Valley girls hockey team’s legacy lives on.