Thirty years after winning their first state boys hockey championship, the Hill Murray Pioneers are back and looking to wrap up their fourth state title since private schools were allowed to join the Minnesota State High School League in 1974. But first, let's go back to the beginning.
Hockey began at the Maplewood based school in 1960. At that time, it was known as Hill High School. The school would adopt its current name after merging with Archbishop Murray in 1971. Private schools were not allowed to join the MSHSL so they had their own state tournament. They lost to Blake in 1964 and won a couple of Independent State Championships in 1970 and 1972.
In their first league sponsored season in 1974-75, the Pioneers made the most of the opportunity, winning their first 16 games before falling to Edina West. They qualified for their first trip to state by beating Forest Lake, White Bear Lake, Park of Cottage Grove and White Bear Mariner. Hill-Murray made it's first trip to the St. Paul Civic Center and faced Duluth East in their first game. Tom Conroy would be the answer to a trivia question as he became the first Hill-Murray player to score a state tournament goal, assisted by a fellow who would later coach the Pioneers, Jeff Whisler. The Pioneers beat the Greyhounds 3-1. Unfortunately, their road to the championship would end in the semifinals with a 2-0 loss to Grand Rapids. But lo and behold, the Pioneers came back in the third place game, beating the Bloomington Lincoln Bears. They broke a 2-2 tie with three third period goals to receive their first MSHSL trophy.
Since their first trip to state, Hill-Murray made five more excursions to the arena with the clear boards. Their highest finish was second in 1980, losing to the Grand Rapids Indians (now Thunderhawks) in the championship game.
The 1982-83 season would be a stellar season for the Pioneers as they went through the season unbeaten and without a tie en route to their first state championship. They also had a high powered offense as they scored in double figures in 10 of their 28 games. The Pioneers came back to beat Bloomington Kennedy in the quarterfinals, led by Tony Curella's hat trick and game winning goal with :43 left in regulation. They beat the Henry Sibley Warriors in the semifinals 3-1 and the Burnsville Braves (now Blaze) 4-3 on Jim Jirele's game winner with 3:12 left.
Since their unblemished season in 1983, Hill-Murray has qualified for the state tournament 18 times with two state titles in 1991 and 2008. They finished second six times, including last year's loss to the Benilde-St. Margaret's Red Knights. This year, the Pioneers are the number one seed in the Class AA tournament, facing the Eastview Lightning in the quarterfinals. Can the Pioneers add a fourth state championship trophy? Find out next week at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.