Hunter Shepard watches a puck through traffic during Grand Rapids' game against Forest Lake. Photos by Shannon Merritt; PhotosPLUS
Hunter Shepard hadn’t ever played in a high school game before stepping between the pipes for Grand Rapids against Section 7AA foe Forest Lake on Friday night.
After his showing, the Rangers are probably wishing he would have waited a few days to get his Thunderhawks career started.
“Certainly, Shep played pretty well,” Thunderhawks coach Bruce LaRaque said. “For a young sophomore to play that well, it’s good to see.”
Shepard stopped all 16 shots Forest Lake threw at him, backstopping Grand Rapids to a 6-0 win. While he didn’t see a ton of shots, many of them were good chances in the penalty filled contest.
“I was pretty nervous coming in,” said Shepard, who starred on the Grand Rapids Bantam A team a year ago. “I just do the same thing I do every game – go out there and try to stay focused.”
Focus was likely a difficult thing to keep in the opening period, as he only saw three shots. But Shepard managed to stay sharp entering the middle frame, making ten of his saves in the second period alone.
“Shep played awesome,” junior defenseman Jake Bischoff said. “Sophomore goalie, first start – he’s a gamer. I’ve played with him all the way up [through youth hockey], and he’s led us to a couple state championships. He’s been a great goalie for us.”
With the accolades pouring in from his teammates and coaches, the modest Shepard was quick to divvy out praise to others.
“It was team effort,” Shepard reiterated several times. “The defense blocked a lot of shots, and they kept them to only 16 shots on net.”
Shepard, who grew up stopping shots from his dad in the driveway, wants to build upon his first start.
“I just want to keep getting better as the year goes on,” Shepard said. “My positioning and quickness are my strong points. As a team, we want to get better all the time and hopefully make a run at the state tournament.”
Jake Bischoff is having a pretty good week. The junior blueliner not only has four assists through the first two games of Grand Rapids’ season, but he also made a verbal commitment to play for the Gophers, his favorite college team growing up, on Thursday.
“I’m so blessed and happy to be a Gopher,” said Bischoff, who tallied 31 points in 27 games as a sophomore last year. “I’m glad [the process] is done.”
Playing for Minnesota runs in the family, as Bischoff’s father, Grant, was a standout for the Gophers from 1987-91.
“I’ve grown up a Gopher fan my whole life,” Bischoff said. “Ever since I was a kid, I’ve been wearing maroon and gold cheering on the Gophers.”
The mobile, consistent defenseman will look to make an instant impact in Dinkytown, playing for coach Don Lucia, also a native of Grand Rapids. But perhaps what sets Bischoff apart from other talented players are the intangibles.
“Jake is a great kid and a great leader,” Grand Rapids head coach Bruce LaRoque said. “He has phenomenal skill. He loves to play, loves his teammates and it’s been one of his dreams to commit at the ‘U’.”
Even with one of his dreams coming true, Bischoff is still hungry to complete another dream – a trip to the state tournament. He and his Thunderhawk teammates have a long road ahead of them, but with a leader like Bischoff and tons of talent, they will be a definite contender come March.
Grand Rapids built a three-goal lead just 5 minutes, 20 seconds into the game, Hunter Shepard stopped all 16 shots he faced in his first varsity start and the Thunderhawks rolled to a 6-0 win over Section 7AA rival Forest Lake at the IRA Civic Center on Friday, Dec. 2.
The Rangers (0-2-0) were playing the second of back-to-back games, having lost Thursday night in overtime to Roseville, 4-3.
Grand Rapids was led by senior forward Nate Mondry, who tallied four points (one goal, three assists). Six Thunderhawks recorded multi-point games, including all five goal scorers.
Grand Rapids opened the scoring just 45 seconds in when a Travis Underwood one-timer beat Rangers goalie Brian Levorson blocker-side. Curtis Simonson scored his first of two goals just a half-minute later on a point-shot through traffic, and David Horsmann knocked home a power-play marker before the six-minute mark to put the game solidly in Grand Rapids’ possession.
From there, the game was heavy on penalties and light on flow – the two teams combined for 36 penalty minutes, making for a lot of special teams play for both clubs.
Mondry, Simonson and Avery Johnson scored in the final two periods, and University of Minnesota recruit Jake Bischoff was steady at the blue line, blocking at least five shots and dishing out two assists.
Levorson finished with 18 saves for the Rangers, who have a few much-needed days off before they host St. Michael-Albertville on Tuesday.
The Thunderhawks (2-0-0) will travel to Virginia to play the Blue Devils on Tuesday in their first road test of the season.
1. Nate Mondry, Grand Rapids
Mondry was the biggest offensive weapon for the Thunderhawks, finding the scoresheet four times. Not only did he contribute where it counts, but he and linemates Nick Koerbitz and Travis Underwood were persistent on the forecheck all night, breaking down the Forest Lake defensemen while creating tons of chances.
2. Hunter Shepard, Grand Rapids
While he didn’t see a lot of rubber, Shepard did everything he could in his first high school hockey game. He stopped all 14 shots, several of which were through traffic or backdoor plays, and looked very comfortable on his way to the shutout.
3. Jake Bischoff, Grand Rapids
While he only had a modest two assist, Bischoff was a force all night. In addition to the points, he had five or six shots, several blocks in the defensive end and displayed his hockey sense consistently in all three zones.