Slept-On Skaters Worth a Second Look: The Central Lakes
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Over 100 teams across the state of Minnesota lace up their skates and go to war on the ice every winter, but nonetheless, some programs tend to have more of a draw than others. Many Class AA dynasties like Minnetonka…
Over 100 teams across the state of Minnesota lace up their skates and go to war on the ice every winter, but nonetheless, some programs tend to have more of a draw than others. Many Class AA dynasties like Minnetonka and Edina are household names now, practically synonymous with the word hockey, but what about the dozens of other teams that have to clash for the spotlight? In this new series here at Prep Hockey, I will be taking a hodgepodge approach to giving well deserved recognition to guys who have fallen under the radar for one reason or another. These lists will consist of top dogs, fringe starters, and skaters who are trying their absolute best to ball out in less-than-ideal circumstances. That being said, let’s dive right into it.
of Willmar pieced together an impressive 2022-2023 campaign in spite of his team’s struggles, cementing himself as the top offensive option on the Cardinals entering his senior year. Last season, he put up 33 points on 21 goals and 12 assists, and his physical on-ice presence tends to deter smaller defenders from crashing down on him. Gregory is listed at 6-foot-2 and weighs in at 225 pounds, making him the strongest guy on the ice more times than not. His physical prowess is an asset, as it allows him to bull his way to the net and bury the puck without having to fear any big hits from opposing defenders. Gregory also quarterbacks the Willmar football team, and his smarts on the gridiron certainly seem to translate to the ice. All in all, this guy should have himself an excellent senior year for the Cardinals, and will be among my players to watch this upcoming season.
Teagan Dodge of Sauk Rapids-Rice has the name of a star, and he certainly plays like one as well. Captaining an undermanned Sauk Rapids team that won just eight games last year, Dodge led from the front, racking up 44 points on 26 goals and 18 assists, a figure that doubled the next highest scorer on the Storm. Dodge has been a contributor on this varsity squad since his freshman year, and it shows. Whether it is talent or leadership, this guy is an absolute asset to have on the ice, and it’s clear he’s given this program his absolute best from the jump. Dodge and the Storm will enter this winter with one more season together, and odds are, it will be to the tune of many more points.
The River Lakes Stars may be graduating their top scorer, but it looks like Blake Schultz is more than ready to step up and take that role by the horns this coming winter. Last season, Schultz excelled as an underclassmen, finishing second on his team with 39 points on 13 goals and 26 assists. The Stars offense stayed churning thanks to Schultz and company, but it will be without a handful of its top guys this coming winter, meaning the forwards who are left need to step up collectively. Schultz surely has his work cut out for him, but if he can string together a 40+ point campaign and improve his already versatile skillset, this team should find themselves winning plenty of games this coming winter.
The Brainerd Warriors have been steadily trending upwards for a few years now. After back-to-back six win seasons that saw them struggle in all areas of the game, this team pleasantly surprised me with a 11-13-3 record that featured a couple of barnburners against solid teams in Class A. Clearly, the Warriors have a little more fight in them now, and much of that success can be credited to their offense, a unit that saw a vast improvement from years prior. Two budding stars on this unit I think will make some waves are forwardsand Kade Stengrim, two skaters who may look different, but share the same goal. Johnson is the older, smaller and more experienced athlete, listed at 5-foot-9 and weighing in at 150 pounds. He is a fast twitch oriented guy on the ice, and his blazing speed paired with a solid shot helped the guy rack up 48 points on 21 goals and 27 assists, a figure that leads all returning starters for Brainerd. Conversely, Stengrim is the bigger, bulkier and greener version of his teammate, but that’s not to say he doesn’t have his own unique talent. This guy has next-level size, and he uses his 6-foot-3, 190 pound frame to fight for loose pucks and exert his will on the defense. Stengrim is a little younger than his position mate, but he still put up an impressive 36 points on an even 18 goals and 18 assists, an impressive achieivement considering he was an underclassmen at the time. Brainerd has been steadily trending upward as a program these last few years, and with Johnson and Stengrim set to lead the charge, this team just might be due for a breakout season.