Pioneer Hockey History
[ 1961 1962 1963 1964 1965 1966 1967 1968 1969 1970 ]
--- Historical rosters and scores researched by Jim Just ---
A Short History of Hill-Murray HockeyPioneer hockey embarks on its 50th season in 2009-10. One year after Hill High School opened its doors in 1959, varsity athletic programs began and student athletes have been donning the green and white jerseys ever since. If round numbers signify anything, here are three: by the end of season 50, roughly 500 young men will have participated in Pioneer hockey and their combined efforts will have won approximately 1,000 games.
Since the late 1960s, Hill-Murray teams have enjoyed on-ice success unparalleled in the St. Paul area and among the best in all of Minnesota. Twice a state champion before private schools were integrated into the high school league in 1974, Hill-Murray teams have since won four more state championships and many more section and conference titles.
The trophies are but one part, though, of the larger community that is Hill-Murray hockey. In addition to the friendships forged by players and coaches over the years, the program has been a constant source of entertainment to students, parents, and other members of the Hill-Murray community and greater St. Paul, who have responded with enthusiastic fan support. Thanks to their efforts, Pioneer hockey continues to hold a special place in the unique pastime that is Minnesota high school hockey.
Pioneer hockey began at the all-boys Hill High School in 1960-61. The first ever game against St. Cloud Cathedral was shortened to two periods because the Cathedral bus had trouble getting to the game, and, like many to follow, ended with a Hill victory, 3-0. Not many indoor rinks existed in the Twin Cities at the time, so most games were either at the Minneapolis Auditorium, outdoors at Hill High School, or, in a few years, at Aldrich Arena as they are now.
The State High School League did not allow private schools to compete in its tournaments until 1974-75, but private schools fielded strong teams and hosted their own state tournaments held at Minneapolis, Wakota Arena, Duluth, and Aldrich Arena. Duluth Cathedral, Cretin, Blake, Benilde, St. Paul Academy, Hill and later Hill-Murray would play and often beat top public schools during the regular season.
Hill played in the Central Catholic Conference, in which it would be a member until 1976. At the time, the CCC and Minnesota Independent School League hosted an eight team postseason tournament called the Minnesota Prep School Tournament. Hill improved to 3rd in the CCC thus qualifying for the tournament in 1962.
In 1964, Hill played in its first postseason championship game, losing to Blake 4-2. The next year, the team had its finest season to date, going 20-3-2 with the school's first standout, Bill Klatt, leading the way to a CCC co-championship with St. Agnes. In that year, the MN Prep School Tournament was replaced by the State Catholic Tournament, which matched the top six teams from the CCC against outstate powers Duluth Cathedral and Crookston Cathedral. Hill made the final again, but lost in double overtime to Duluth Cathedral. The next day, they played MISL champion Blake to a 0-0 tie at Williams Arena in the Twin City private school championship game.
The program made strides during the ‘60s, but really reached elite status after the arrival of Andre Beaulieu as coach prior to the 1968 season. The Pioneers won the new Independent State Tournament in 1970 as Hill and 1972 as Hill-Murray. Their run was interrupted only by a 4-2 loss in the 1971 championship game to their nemesis at the time, Blake. The 1971 team finished the regular season at 23-0-1, including victories over MSHSL tournament entries Alexander Ramsey and St. Paul Johnson. That collection of players stands out even among the many stars in the program's history, with four future D1 defensemen and the state's leading scorer, Pat Conroy.
Terry Skrypek became the coach in 1973-74, and in 14 years as head coach, his teams amassed a 325-44-3 record. One year after Skrypek took over, Hill-Murray joined the State High School League. Backstopped by future Olympian Steve Janaszak, the team allowed 33 goals in 27 games and qualified for the state tournament at the Met Center. In what would become a recurring theme, they lost to Grand Rapids in the semifinal, but defeated Bloomington Lincoln the next day to win third place.
Hill won the CCC outright for the first time in 1970 and never relinquished the title. They were part of the Minnesota Independent School Hockey League for one year only in 1977 before joining the St. Paul City Conference. For the decade, the school won every conference and region championship, winning all four independent regional games and going 20-0 in Section 3 play after 1975. The Section 3 streak would be stopped at 26 games in 1981, the first time in 20 years that Hill-Murray did not play in a postseason state tournament.
Jeff Whisler became the first former player to coach the Pioneers during the 1987-88 season and coached in two state championship games during his four year tenure. Also that year, Hill-Murray joined the very competitive Twin Cities Suburban conference, and went 13-1 to finish in a familiar position atop the standings.  Craig Johnson, one of the school's best all-time players, played his first of three seasons in green and gold in 1988, and later enjoyed a long professional career in the NHL and Europe.
Hill-Murray was again dominant in the five years from 2010-2014, with two second-place state finishes, one third, and two upset losses in the section final during that span. The 2010 state semifinal was one of the all-time classic tournament games. Featuring two teams with a combined total of three previous losses, Hill-Murray outshot Minnetonka 24-9 over the first three periods, but lost in the seventh. At the time, it was the third longest game in tournament history.
Zach LaValle, who played four and a half seasons of varsity hockey and was captain for the last two, set the school's all-time assists and points records during the 2013 season. In 2012, linemate Jake Guentzel became the first Pioneer to record 50 assists in a season. Just five years later, Guentzel would have a major role in the Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup run.
In 2014, Stillwater defeated Hill-Murray for the first time in postseason play, signaling the start of a new section rivalry. That was also the last hockey game played at the Fairgrounds Coliseum. In subsequent years, Aldrich Arena hosted section finals to boisterous capacity crowds. Since 1962, Aldrich has been home to many high school teams, but by 2011, Hill-Murray was its lone regular season tenant. In ensuing years, Pioneer hockey members organized the construction of new varsity and JV lockerrooms and displays celebrating players' accomplishments, making Aldrich a true home-ice venue for the Pioneers.
This era featured many excellent goaltenders. Brimsek winners included Joe Phillippi (2008) and Jake Begley (2017), and John Dugas (2013) and Remington Keopple (2020) were runners-up. Tim Shaughnessy (2011) was Pioneer Press player of the year.
The Classic Suburban Conference was renamed the Metro East in 2014-15, but St. Thomas Academy continued to be Hill-Murray's primary conference rival. In 2008, both schools won state championships, and in 2011 and 2013, each team finished the season ranked #1 in their respective class. Following that, STA opted up to Class AA, but it took until 2020 for the schools to play head-to-head in the championship bracket of the state tournament. Hill-Murray won 3-2 in an overtime thriller, then won the state crown a day later with a 4-1 win over Eden Prairie, the sixth state championship in the program's 60 year history.
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