Film recalls epic Duluth East-Apple Valley overtime hockey game – The Rink Live
Editor’s note: This story was originally published by the Duluth News Tribune on April 6, 2021
In the early hours of March 9, 1996, an Apple Valley High School junior defenseman scored on a slap shot just inside the blue line – finalizing the Eagles’ 5-4 win over Duluth East in fifth overtime of a semifinal game at the Minnesota Boys Class AA State High School Hockey Tournament at the St. Paul Civic Center.
Aaron Briner of Monticello, Minn., is a sportsman whose background with hockey leans toward pick-up plays of the starter variety. He was among the Minnesota hockey leaders who stayed up late to watch the Finals, as he did every year.
“I don’t have a magical memory of it,” he said in a recent phone interview. “I was at home watching it, nothing special. The memory, for me, is just watching all those tournaments.
Twenty-five years later, Briner, inspired by sports documentaries including ESPN’s “30 For 30,” has turned to the longest running state hockey tournament game as his muse. His film “Marathon On Ice” is an hour-long documentary about the game, featuring old footage and more than 20 interviews with former Minnesota players, coaches, announcers and other hockey minds. It should be available for streaming on avenue18productions.com at the beginning of the month.
Duluth East (23-2), the defending Class AA champion that year, was the favorite heading into the 1996 tournament. The Associated Press pre-game screenings noted the Dave Spehar duo, the state player of the year, and teammate Chris Locker, who was also an all-state player.
The Greyhounds had outscored their opponents 177-39, and goaltender Kyle Kolquist had a 1.70 goals-against average.
“Still, a loss of Duluth East to anyone but Apple Valley would be a major surprise,” according to the AP. “And even an Apple Valley victory in the game (in the semi-finals) would be a surprise.”
Apple Valley (24-1) was the third team in the tournament, supported by senior goaltender Karl Goehring.
Throughout regulation play, the Eagles’ goals were all tied by Greyhound goals – and Duluth East never led. Longtime sportswriter Kevin Pates covered the game for the News Tribune – and called the first three periods “punch-counter-punch”.
Then overtime, after overtime, after overtime, after overtime, after overtime.
Apple Valley’s Aaron Dwyer, a senior defenseman, described the game winner in an interview published in the 2017 edition of the Minnesota Boys High School State Tournament Guide.
“(He) was shot from the right spot,” he said. “(Chris) Sikich was under the net, and I think he was trying to cross it. He bounced off a few guys’ sticks, and he came right at me. I was just inside the line blue above the top of the circle. I took a slapshot, and it went down and in.
After the game, the Eagles’ Brad DeFauw reportedly went to the hospital to be treated for dehydration. Locker of the Greyhounds was diagnosed as being in the early stages of shock – also dehydration.
Apple Valley won the tournament; East defeated South St. Paul in the match for third place.
The following season, Apple Valley and Duluth East faced off again in the regular season.
“I get chills just thinking about it,” Apple Valley center Erik Westrum, who scored three goals in the historic game, told Pates. “There were 16,000 people, you play on adrenaline, and the game goes on and on. I think you cherish the moment more now because back then the moment passed too quickly.”
But there was more to the story than just an epic back-and-forth between two legendary teams.
Pates revisited a controversial storyline in a follow-up report.
“The longest tournament game of all time – 93 minutes, 12 seconds – will sadly not be remembered for its excellent goalkeeper, or East’s last minute goal in regulation time, or for the comeback from the wave by the sold-out crowd,” he wrote. “He will be remembered for the goal that wasn’t.”
Duluth East clearly won the game, Pates wrote, on a Dylan Mills slapshot with 3:55 left in second overtime. In fact, Matt LaTour tipped the puck. Either way, officials didn’t see it.
Shawn Roed did. The current Duluth East activity director was a new teacher and coach at his alma mater and had a seat in the stands that night near the goal judge.
“When LaTour scored the goal that wasn’t meant to be, we stood up; the game was over,” he said.
But the game continued.
“So the rest of the game, in the back of our minds – they didn’t show the replay – ‘did that come in or did we see something? “, Roed said.
That was the question of the tournament – and beyond. Pates wrote that an informal poll of spectators unanimously agreed the puck went in the net.
Spehar said at the time that those rebounds were all part of hockey and that Apple Valley was to be commended.
“But they kept showing the replay,” he added. “They must have played it 100 times on KMSP. I don’t know what they were trying to show. It was enough to see it once to see that it was inside.
It was this aimless storyline that added to the lore of the game, Roed said. This comes up every time the Greyhounds qualify for the state tournament.
And it’s something Briner considered in his documentary, though he proceeded with caution in case it was still raw material decades later.
“It was a bit tricky at the start – the goal that was disallowed,” Briner said. “I wouldn’t have (asked about it) five years ago.”
“Marathon on Ice” is Briner’s feature debut. He’s a sports fan who’s created a few “workout documentaries,” as he calls them. One is about a beer softball league and the other is about a vacation in San Diego.
About 18 months ago he decided to try his skills on a larger scale. His stipulation that he must be local, to facilitate access to interviews, aligned with the upcoming 25th anniversary of the hockey game he watched his senior year of high school.
Briner started with school athletic directors, then moved on to gamers — like East’s Locker, Spehar, Mills, Ryan Coole — and their VHS tapes and albums. He interviewed six or seven players and a coach from both teams, including Mike Randolph. He got Wally Shaver, the play-by-play announcer, and Anthony LaPanta, who is the voice of the Minnesota Wild.
When Briner secured an interview with the game’s color commentator, one of the biggest names in Minnesota hockey, it took on weighted importance.
“We knew it was real,” he said. “You can’t go to Lou Nanne and interview him and not follow through.”
Nanne is a former top University of Minnesota defenseman turned U.S. Olympian who played for and then coached the Minnesota North Stars.
Roed, who helped connect Briner with former players, said he had seen clips from the film.
“It was such a special game,” he said. “The players, coaches and officials involved put on an incredible show. It brings back passion and memories.
What: Documentary “Marathon on Ice”
Available to stream