Hill-Murray won the state title last season, but there chances this season are in limbo as they were potentially exposed by an opponent during the section finals.
Nine Members of the Hill-Murray High School Hockey Team filed a lawsuit Tuesday morning against the Minnesota State High School League with the hopes that they will be able to play their state quarterfinal game against Wayzata Wednesday at 11 a.m. or possibly on Thursday.
The team was forced into quarantine Monday when it was discovered that a member of White Bear Lake’s team tested positive of Covid-19 within the 48-hour window of exposure guideline set by the Minnesota Department of Health and followed by the MSHSL to members of the Pioneers. The teams played last Wednesday, with Hill-Murray winning 5-0.
According to the complaint, “after the conclusion of Hill-Murray’s sectional championship game against White Bear Lake High School, a player from the White Bear Lake High School Hockey Team allegedly tested positive for COVID-19. The positive test was communicated to Hill-Murray, MSHSL, and the Minnesota Department of Health though despite numerous requests, nothing in writing has been received by Hill-Murray.”
Because Wednesday’s quarterfinal game against Wayzata was less then the minimum recommended quarantine, it would mean the Pioneers would be unable to compete in the tournament and Wayzata would advance.
But coaches in the tournament came to Hill-Murray’s aide, requesting that they be allowed to play. Wayzata even offered to play the Pioneers on Thursday and at a different venue if needed.
Part of the lawsuit was a breakdown of the game in question. According to a video review conducted by the plantiffs, the player who tested positive was on the ice for 15 minutes and 15 seconds. The most time a Hill-Murray player was on the ice at the same time as the positive player was six minutes and 18 seconds (there were two players). But when it came to exposure (within 3 feet), there was only 24 seconds of exposure between all Hill-Murray players to the potentially infected White Bear Lake player (it is unknown if the player was infected at the time of the game, the lawsuit states). The complaint also states that the potentially infected player wore a mask during the entire game, as did Hill-Murray players.
According to MSHSL guidelines, Hill-Murray would be able to resume play on Thursday, thus disqualifying them from playing Wednesday morning against Wayzata. The complaint states that if the boys are unable to compete, they will suffer irreparable harm. The complaint states the potential of loss opportunity and income for players. Former state tournament legend and 1980 Olympian Neal Broten signed an affidavit supporting the team. Broten won a national championship at the University of Minnesota, a Gold Medal with the 1980 Olympic Team and a Stanely Cup with the New Jersey Devils. But his fondest memories are of him playing in the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament. In his affidavit, Broten states:
“My fondest memory of my entire hockey career is playing in the Minnesota State Boys High School Hockey Tournament and having the opportunity to represent my hometown in that tournament. The experience of playing in the State Hockey Tournament is more special to me than any of the other accomplishments. I will never forget that experience and I cherish those memories. Had I not participated in the State Hockey Tournament, I likely would not have had the career I was lucky enough to have. Without intervention from this Court, these high school boys will be unfairly denied an opportunity to play in the State Hockey Tournament, which is an opportunity they have trained for and dreamed about their entire lives. Denying these high school boys the opportunity to play in the State Hockey Tournament is unjust and I can’t think of a worse way for some of them to end their hockey careers. That result is not fair to these high school boys and I ask for this Court to allow them to play in the State Hockey Tournament.”
Fred Bandel was an NHL scout for 25 years until recently and also signed an affidavit explaining the importance of players being able to compete in the state tournament and further their plying careers. He said the tournament “presents an exceptional opportunity to see some of the top draft eligible high school prospects against top competition in a high-stakes, high pressure environment. This is an extremely important evaluation as this high-level game play and pressure is not always present during the course of the regular or conference season as there is a wide disparity among high school teams, often leading to non-competitive games. The Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament offers a better evaluation of prospects as both the competition level and stakes tend to be considerably higher allowing for a truer platform for which to evaluate prospects prior to the NHL draft in late June. Without intervention from this Court, these high school boys will be unfairly denied an opportunity to play in the State Hockey Tournament, which is an opportunity they have trained for and dreamed about their entire lives.”
The complaint argues that the MSHSL’s Covid-19 guidelines are overly “harsh, strict, and are not the least restrictive means to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the instant case.”
The complaint states that while the plantiffs appreciate the MSHSL’s efforts to stop the spread of Covid-19, that allowing Hill-Murray to reschedule the game to Thursday complies with the guidance to slow the spread.
The complaint ultimately requests the court enjoin the MSHSL from preventing the players from competing in the state hockey tournament.
This story is ongoing and will be updated once more is known or a decision is made.