Family support added to the pressure - and fun - of playing in the state tournament for Hill-Murray's Seamus Regan, right. Photos by Tim Kolehmainen, Breakdown Sports Media
Editor's note: A special state tournament-related Father's Day story written in the style and tone of Tourney Time. Read the book for more about the many father-son combinations who have played in the tourney over the years.
Two generations of Hill-Murray hockey players with the last name Regan also carried “O.” as their middle name in tribute to their Irish ancestry. Until recently, going “oh-fer” in state tournament championship games also binded them.
Frances Regan helped the Pioneer girls win the 2015 state title and cousin Bo Dolan hoisted the boys’ championship trophy with the 2008 team. But the Regan males couldn’t muster any March luck.
That all changed in March as Seamus O. Regan won a previously elusive state title.
“It was a thrill one cannot describe for all of we Hill-Murray Pioneer Regans,” said Sean O. Regan, Seamus’s father. “Not to mention, a relief.”
Pat and Mike O. Regan played on the first Hill-Murray state tournament team in 1975, and Pat went again the following season. Younger brother Sean got there in 1979 and 1980, the latter an undefeated team until falling against Grand Rapids in the championship game.
Sean skated with Dan Dolan and later married “Doley’s little sister” Mary, merging families whose paternal ancestors hailed from the County Cork and County Tyrone on opposite ends of the Emerald Isle. (Mary’s father, Ralph Dolan, was operations manager at KSTP when the television station began broadcasting state tournament games in 1979 and elevated the event’s profile.)
In 2002, Seamus, the youngest of Sean and Mary’s three children, was part of the pro-Pioneers crowd at the Xcel Energy Center watching cousin Garrett O. Regan. After a Hill-Murray goal, a panning television camera caught Sean repeatedly raising his 2½ month old son toward the rafters in celebration. Little Seamus wore a green outfit that read “Future Pioneer” across the chest.
TV analyst Lou Nanne “took notice and commented, ‘Look at that. Now that’s what it's all about,’ ” Sean said. “Thankfully, he made no comment about Seamus’ irresponsible father nor the frantic mother worried about young Seamus' safety.”
Garrett and the 2002 team placed second, joining uncle Sean as victims of the Regan state tournament curse.
Sean said the Regans and Dolans alike “celebrated hard” in 2008 when Bo Dolan and the Pioneers won the state championship. Then in 2015, Frances finally made the Regan name synonymous with champion in Hill-Murray annals.
Just one last account needed squaring -- a Regan male champion.
Darby O. Regan, Sean and Mary’s first son, played with the varsity much of the season but wasn’t on the state tournament roster as a junior in 2013 when the Pioneers took second. And the following season ended with a section final loss to Stillwater.
Seamus represented the last chance for the current generation of Regan males. He wore No. 20 just like older brother Darby and cousin Bo Dolan. As a sophomore, Seamus played in the 2018 state tournament. Hill-Murray missed the cut in 2019 and entered the 2020 tournament with the unremarkable No. 5 seed.
But attributes such as tenacity and tradition were on the Pioneers’ side. Of the 40 players on the varsity and JV rosters, 11 were offspring of former players.
These sons of Pioneers dumped Moorhead 5-1 in the quarterfinals and outlasted semifinal opponent St. Thomas Academy 3-2 in overtime.
Before the championship game against Eden Prairie, Sean advised his son, a team captain, “that game will be a blur. I suggested he go out, look around and take it all in the first few laps of warm-ups. Because you’ll remember that night for the rest of your life. Then I told him to just get to playing the game you’ve long played and play to win.”
Seamus, a defenseman, and the defensive corps rallied despite the pregame loss of fellow blueliner Joe Palodichuk to illness. The remaining quintet held the Eagles in check throughout a 4-1 victory.
“Seamus and the whole Pioneer team performed, outworked and outscored Eden Prairie ... and the Pioneers left no doubt which team deserved to hold up that championship trophy,” Sean said.
Afterward, Seamus visited with almost 50 relatives, ranging in age from tearful grandparents Don (whose wife, Jean, died in 2018) and Ralph and Peggy to Garrett’s pair of newborns. Those youngsters were at the Xcel Energy Center to watch their cousin, just like Seamus watched Garrett 18 years earlier.
“The Hill-Murray family tradition comes with pressure,” Seamus said. “But it’s so rewarding when your family is there to congratulate you.”
Frances was there, having returned from school in Chicago to support her brother. Sean joked, “Frances still isn’t sure there's room for two state champions in the house.”
Sean added, “Darby may have been more excited than Seamus over Seamus’ tourney victory. Come tourney time, neither Darby nor I will ever be able to change our own outcomes. But at least Seamus’ win does give us both something else to think about. For me, after 40 years, maybe I’ve inched closer to getting over having lost the 1980 championship.”