Forty years since my favorite upset

Posted March 6, 2013 at 4:27 pm


Has it really been 40 years?

Every time March 3 rolls around, I am reminded of my all-time favorite sports upset.

You can have the U.S. Olympic hockey win over the USSR in 1980, Buster Douglas flooring Mike Tyson, and Villanova shocking Georgetown.

I give you: March 3, 1973. Region high school hockey final. Henry Sibley 3, South St. Paul 2.

Even after four decades, the image remains as clear as ever in my mind.

John Albers moves in down the center of the ice. Flicks a wrist shot. The puck ripples the upper left corner of the net. The clock shows 1:14 left in the third period.

It was the goal that put my alma mater, Henry Sibley High School of Mendota Heights, Minn., in that state’s renowned State Hockey Tournament for the first time.

It was a stunning victory over the Warriors’ most bitter rival, neighboring South St. Paul. That year, South St. Paul was considered to have by far the best hockey team in the state. The Packers were undefeated, ranked first in the state, and had beaten Sibley convincingly the two previous times they met.

The region final, however, was different. Twice, Sibley took a one-goal lead, and twice, South St. Paul tied it. Then Albers scored his historic goal, the Warriors fought off SSP’s last-ditch efforts to tie things again, and suddenly, improbably, my school was going to State.

The implications were huge. My pep band friends and I would get free admission and be able to represent our school during the sold-out tournament. All games of the tournament were televised, so our school would be represented to a statewide audience.

There was one other bonus. Earlier that season, during a Sibley loss to SSP, I remember standing at the top of the stands, behind the last row (still my favorite perch at either Roughriders or Saints games).

I was a sophomore that year, and a small one, so I could easily have been mistaken for someone in seventh or eighth grade.

Standing near me were a couple of girls from South St. Paul, probably seniors. They watched me cheering out loud when Sibley did something good.

One of them, reaching down deep for her most demeaning voice, said to the other, “Aww. He’s got his little heart set on it.” It was all she could do to avoid patting me on the head at the same time.

So maybe you can imagine my joy, a month later, when Sibley avenged itself and handed the Packers their only loss of their season.

That upset will always rank No. 1 in my mind. And even though the Warriors quickly lost at State, I’ll never forget what it was like to be part of it for the first time.

After all, I had my little heart set on it.