by Wes Jirovec, 3/8/22, 6:00pm CDT
The Minnesota State High School Hockey tournament continues to be one the most popular youth sports events in the country, and for good reason. Families and communities from all over the state gather in Saint Paul to witness the quest for a state HS title in MN’s signature sport. And after being restricted to a basically empty arena for last year’s tournament games, it’s already become clear that the Xcel Energy Center will be packed with enthusiast fans all week.
But besides the entertainment and experience of the state tournament, our staff is very fortunate to have a number of athletes, and their families, to support and root for. We are proud to have a program record 43 MAP South athletes participating in the 2022 State Tournament (full list below). And if you needed any more reasons to catch the action at The Tourney, here’s a few storylines to give you someone else to cheer for.
There are three noteworthy sets of brothers taking the ice together at the X, and each pair is as exciting as the next. Cretin-Derham Hall’s top two scores are senior Drew Fisher (59 points in 27 GP) and junior Jake Fisher (52 pts. in 27 GP). If CDH (#2 rank in Class AA) is going to make it to Saturday’s Championship, the Fisher boys will be heavily involved.
Minneapolis has their own dynamic duo in senior forward Jack Hanson (52 pts. in 28 GP) and junior D-man Joel Hanson (16 pts. in 28 GP). The Hanson bros both log big minutes for the 612 squad and know how to make plays with and without the puck.
Lastly, Prior Lake has a deadly combo as well in the Rice brothers. Senior forward Sam (40 pts. in 21 GP) and junior forward Joe (17 pts. in 28 GP) are both impact players for the Lakers thanks to their versatile skill sets and high IQs.
The Mahtomedi Zephyrs are back in The Tourney after a one-year absence following their 2019-20 Class A State Championship victory. That Maht team benefitted from a strong group of skilled and tenacious forwards like tourney heroes JD Metz and Adam Johnson.
The current roster has some dangerous forwards as well. Juniors David Wolsfeld (46 pts. in 28 GP) and Charlie Drage (37 pts. in 28 GP) make for a deadly 2-1 punch on the Zephyrs top line. They’ve both been a tear since the start of section playoffs. Senior Brent Gulenchyn (35 pts. in 28 GP) and junior Jonny Grove (29 pts. in 28 GP) have also provided appropriate firepower throughout the year. Look for these boys to help light the lamp for the Class A #3 seed Zephyrs.
Holy Moly What a Couple Goalies
If it’s not skaters that get your motor going, we’ve got a couple studs between the pipes to look out for. CDH’s senior Marko Belak finished second in the entire state in both save percentage (.938) and wins (23). He was also just named a finalist for this year’s Frank Brimsek award given to the state’s top goaltender. There’s plenty of reasons why CDH could claim this year’s Class AA title. But Belak’s consistency in net is arguably the strongest one.
The #2 seed in Class AA is Hill-Murray, who have a monster net-minder themselves. Junior Jack Erickson took over as starter in January and didn’t look back. A 16-1-1 record to along with a .930 save percentage and 1.39 GAA are tremendous marks considering the level of competition in Hill’s schedule. Jack is also coming off a 25-save shutout versus White Bear Lake in the 4AA Section Final. So needless to say, the kid’s hot right now.
You might overlook Prior Lake and New Prague this year since they both made it through their respective Section Playoffs as #4 seeds. But both of these groups were not reliant upon miracles to make to this year’s tournament. There are legit difference makers on both rosters. The Lakers are currently on a 11-2 run since mid-January and benefit from a deep senior class that includes the aforementioned Sam Rice, forward Riley Dueber (29 pts. in 28 GP) and D-man Jackson Anderson (30 pts. in 26 GP).
New Prague’s regular season schedule includes a number of AA matchups, which have provided a lot of adversity to help bring this team together at the right time of the year. They have a nice group of two-way forwards that look to spark a big upset on Wednesday. Junior John Schmidt (26 pts. in 28 GP), senior Will Andersen (25 pts. in 27 GP) and sophomore Willy Seymour (21 pts. in 28 GP) lead the way.
The Comeback Kid
This last storyline is one that’s especially impactful on a personal level for our staff. Nate Hardy is a senior for Hill-Murray who’s thoroughly enjoying the ride as the Pioneers’ top line center (27 pts. in 20 GP). You’ll see him taking the opening face-off on Thursday night against Lakeville South. What you might not know is the incredible story of a young man who has persevered through a health concern that threatened to end his hockey career.
Nate is currently one of the top contributors for Hill. His game is a unique blend of high-end awareness and vision to go along with strong athleticism and crafty puck skills. These attributes are due entirely to Nate’s work ethic, coachability and passion for his craft. The amount of work he’s dedicated toward his development over the years is a tremendous story on his own. But a curveball was tossed his way in December of 2018 when he was diagnosed with blood clots, a very dangerous condition in any contact sport. However, he was able to find suitable medication to allow him to continue to play (Hardy was a member of the 2019-20 State Champion roster).
Then in the Fall of 2022, Nate’s condition with the clots worsened and he was shut down by doctors and told he couldn’t play again. This was a devastating blow to someone who was so in love with the game and had a bright future ahead. But following this new diagnosis, Nate and his family continued to seek additional opinions and get further testing done to see if his condition would improve. He never stepped away from his workout routines and stayed hopeful.
And as fate would have it, a new assessment this past December got Hardy cleared to return to action. And thanks to his continued efforts towards on and off-ice workouts, his transition back into game shape wasn’t very difficult. He’s second on the team in points per game (1.35) and has been a key factor at both ends of the ice. Now, Nate’s on a mission with the top-seeded boys in green. And considering what he’s had to work through, he’s not a kid to bet against.
|Lakeville South HS||ERNST||JACKSON||Forward||Fresh.|
|Lakeville South HS||MILLER||ELI||Forward||Jr.|
|Lakeville South HS||OHLUND||JACK||Forward||Jr.|
Fisher was selected as a finalists for the Mr. Hockey award.
With 40 points in 21 games, Rice is a deadly offensive threat for the Lakers.
Wolsfeld leads the Zephyrs in scoring with 46 pts. in 28 games played.
|New Prague HS||ANDERSEN||WILL||Forward||Sr.|
|New Prague HS||HANZEL||MAX||Forward||Soph.|
|New Prague HS||SCHMIDT||JOHN||Forward||Jr.|
|New Prague HS||SEYMOUR||WILLY||Forward||Soph.|
|Prior Lake HS||ANDERSON||JACKSON||Defense||Sr.|
|Prior Lake HS||BOYCE||PARKER||Forward||Jr.|
|Prior Lake HS||DUEBER||RILEY||Forward||Sr.|
|Prior Lake HS||RICE||JOE||Forward||Jr.|
|Prior Lake HS||RICE||SAM||Forward||Sr.|
Cretin-Derham Hall: Sam Holm, John Kovarik, Luke McCarthy, Kevin Odlaug, Gabe Rasmussen, Cooper Smith, Rory Smith, Jake Sondreal, Zach Sondreal
Hill-Murray: Axel Begley, Dylan Godbout, Luke Hause, Brady Ingebritson, Ben Karr, Anthony Madigan, Ben Miller
Lakeville South HS: Ashton Dahms, Mason Johnson, Tyler Lafferty, Austin Stoneking, Aidan Willis
Mahtomedi HS: Nick Beiersdorf, Ben Dardis, Grant Dardis
Prior Lake HS: Alex Bump, Will Emerson, Ben Mickett, Matthew Pavek, Ben Pfannenstein, CJ Sheffield