Slept-On Skaters Worth a Second Look: The Lake Conference
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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.
Carson Hauger out of Hopkins is a guy who I think could have a very bright future between the pipes for his program. In his first season as the full time starter on varsity, Hauger shined, posting impressive numbers across the board in spite of the Royals’ inconsistent play throughout the year. His 5-13 record in the net is admittedly dismal, but a .907 save percentage and three shutouts indicate Hauger has barely scratched the surface as to what he’s capable of. Now entering his junior campaign for Hopkins, Hauger has all but cemented his starting status thanks to last season’s excellent numbers. Now, he and the Royals will look to up their win total and put on a show this coming winter.
St. Michael-Albertville bottomed out its conference thanks to a 5-19-2 record, but there are plenty of pieces to build off this coming season, including forward Caleb Waller. The top returning scorer on the Knights roster brings 48 career varsity points to the table, including the 37 he put up last season in what proved to be a breakout junior campaign. A generous star to say the least, Waller’s 37 points came to the tune of 13 goals and 24 assists, a selfless play style that allowed the puck to be spread out consistently to plenty of Knight skaters. No single athlete is going to turn this STMA program around, so having a pass-first player like Waller leading the charge is an ideal situation to be in.
The Buffalo Bison were able to string together a winning season in 2022-2023, finishing with a 13-11-2 record despite only averaging 2.62 goals per game. Fortunately for the Bison though,was more than happy to pick up the slack, and put up a season at goalie for the ages. Varner was magnificent in 2022-2023, starting all 26 games for his team and posting a winning record to go with allowing only 2.68 Goals Per Game and a .908 Save Percentage. Despite a sputtering attack, Buffalo was able to win plenty of games last season, and Varner was a big reason for this. If the Bison can ignite their offense and keep Varner at 100 percent, there is no telling how good this team could be.
The Eden Prairie Eagles had an even 13-13-1 record in 2022-2023, but their team is chalked full of talent. A star liketends to take the majority of the spotlight on this team, but two skaters I have kept my eye on are Isaiah Paulnock and Andy Earl. The primary goalie for the Eagles last season, Paulnock shone in his debut year as the main starter. He started all but three games in 2022-2023, flashing the leather en route to an 11-12-1 record, .908 Save Percentage, and a razor thin 2.26 Goals Per Game allowed. Paulnock should be back for another winter, and his senior campaign should turn some more heads. On the offensive side of things, Earl is set to be Townsend’s second fiddle this winter, a position reserved for anyone who can keep up with the University of Minnesota commit. Last season, Earl was right there with his superstar teammate, posting 28 points on 10 goals and 18 assists. The 5-foot-10, 175 pounder possesses a handy set of skills that keeps defenses on their toes, as any given team has to account for him AND Townsend. This Eden Prairie team feels poised for a breakout season, and with skaters like Paulnock and Earl supporting a guy like Townsend, the Eagles could be flying high.