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Shepard guided by destiny

By MN Hockey Hub staff, 09/23/12, 4:20AM CDT


Grand Rapids native was pushed toward crease starting in his daycare days

Team North goaltender Hunter Shepard of Grand Rapids holds his ground as Team Northeast's Colin Hernon of Bloomington Jefferson, left, and A.J. Rupert of Mounds View swat at the puck. Photo by Katherine Matthews

Hunter Shepard

Hunter Shepard was meant to be a goalie.

As a kid growing up in Bovey, a small community about 10 miles northeast of Grand Rapids on Highway 169, Shepard had his first goalie glove at the age of 2.

His favorite NHL player was Patrick Roy. And, as it turns out, the house where he lived was just down the road from the home of Adam Hauser, former Greenway standout and the backstop of the 2002 University of Minnesota national championship team.

Call it coincidence. Call it fate. Either way, playing at any other spot on the ice besides in the blue paint would have felt strange for the Grand Rapids junior.

“I went to Adam’s mom’s daycare, and he always let me use his pads and stuff and he’d shoot on me in the driveway, and that’s kind of how I got into being a goalie,” Shepard said after stopping 28 shots in a 4-1 Team North victory over Team Northeast on Sunday, Sept. 23. “We had a basement where I’d play floor hockey when I was younger, and I’d put on catcher’s leg pads and a glove and play. That’s how it started and it just kind of worked out.”

Shepard’s teammates would agree. As a sophomore last year, he posted an 8-2-0 record with a .908 save percentage in his first season of high school competition. In his first varsity game, he recorded a shutout against Forest Lake.

This year, Shepard will be the only returning goalie on the Thunderhawks roster with varsity playing experience, meaning he’ll get most of the starts as the go-to guy for Grand Rapids.

But the anticipated role doesn’t seem like anything new to Shepard, who is used to loads of playing time.

“I was always the only goalie on my team until my second year of bantams,” Shepard said. “I played two years of squirts, two years of peewees and one year of bantams where I played every single game.”

His success as the only goalie was remarkable. In both peewees and bantams, Shepard helped Grand Rapids make deep state tournament runs that culminated with a pair of runner-up finishes.

Shepard hopes that this high school season can result in another trip to the state tournament for him and his Thunderhawks teammates.

“We have a group of guys that have to stuck together, and we’re all good friends,” he said. “We obviously have high expectations. Ever since we lost in bantams, it’s been our goal to get back to state.”

That goal drives Shepard to continuously improve. Playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League is part of the way he gets better, but his work ethic and love of the game are the real driving forces behind his development.

“All the way up I’ve never been given anything. I never made the advanced teams, never made Team Minnesota or any of that stuff,” Shepard said. “If I would have done all that, I might think I’m good enough. But [the desire to get better] burns deep down in me.”

“I never thought sitting there and letting the puck hit you was very fun. I like to make the big saves.”

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

Team Northeast's Derek Olmschenk ready for anything

Football, hockey . . . Derek Olmschenk is fine with either. Or both.
Finesse, fights . . . Olmschenk will play it any way that is required.
It seems the Cretin-Derham Hall junior, a linebacker/tight end on Friday nights and defenseman/enforcer in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League on the weekends, can adapt to most anything. 
The 6-foot-3½, 218-pound Olmschenk even excels in the classroom, where he is taking three honors classes (math, science and Spanish) and totes a 4.3 grade-point average.
“Right now I want to play hockey in college,” Olmschenk said when asked whether hockey or football is his preferred sport. “But I’m definitely open to anything right now. We’ll see what happens.”
Wait and see. That’s the way Olmschenk approaches most everything. In the Elite League, that means if a game is a typical high-speed, end-to-end affair, he is perfectly comfortable making crisp outlet passes and serving as a human roadblock at the blue line when the play returns the other way.
And if tempers should flare and a punch or two should be thrown (as happened on Sunday during Team Northeast’s matchup against Team North at Mars Lakeview Arena in Duluth) that’s OK, too.
“Sometimes I feel like, because I’m bigger, (opposing players) want to prove themselves, maybe,” Olmschenk said. “So they like to come after me. But I feel like I hold my own pretty well. It doesn’t bother me.
“If they want to hit me that’s fine. I can take it. It’s part of the game.”
Olmschenk was involved in a few of the many scraps that erupted during Team North’s 4-1 victory. He also played his typical puck-moving, crease-clearing game.
Sounds a lot like football, when the only time he isn’t on the field is when the Raiders are on offense and his blocking skills aren’t required.
“They use me as much as they can,” Olmschenk said about his football coaches. “I’m pretty sore waking up Saturday morning, but once you get on the ice and just get the blood flowing it’s fine.”
Olmschenk, who had six assists in 25 games last season, played football on Friday night in Hastings, then drove straight to Duluth. After a few hours of sleep, he was on the ice for an 11:30 a.m. game against Great Plains.
Olmschenk’s weekday schedule is just as jammed. Football practice ends around 6, then it’s a rush for home, where he dives into schoolwork and then bed for some much needed downtime.
“I try to finish all my homework by 10,” Olmschenk said. “It’s just important to make sure I get enough rest and I get enough fluids and food to eat.”
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Statistics, Summary

Game Recap

Hunter Shepard of Grand Rapids made 28 saves and 10 players registered a point as Team North eased past Team Northeast 4-1 on Sunday, Sept. 23, in a penalty filled Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League matchup at Mars Lakeview Arena in Duluth.
Jack Forbort and Meirs Moore of Duluth East, Adam Johnson of Hibbing and Westin Michaud of Cloquet scored goals for Team North.
Wyatt Ege of Elk River scored the lone goal for Team Northeast.
Fourteen penalties were called in the second period, and nine of them were the result of a melee with 2 seconds remaining. Team Northeast’s Jake Wahlin of White Bear Lake and Team North’s Alex Toscano of Duluth East were among the combatants, and each received a game misconduct for fighting.
Shepard, a junior, made 11 of his saves in the final period to help secure the victory for Team North, which went 2-0-1 over the weekend.
Rory Davidowski of Totino-Grace made 31 saves for Team Northeast, which suffered its fourth straight loss.
-- Loren Nelson, MN Hockey Hub editor

Three Stars

1. Hunter Shepard, Team North
Shepard, a junior from Grand Rapids, didn’t stand out because of spectacular plays as much as he did for the unspectacular ones. Simply put, Shepard controlled the game from the crease. He deflected pucks into the corners, he allowed very few rebounds and he came up big when he had to.

2. Meirs Moore, Team North
The experienced Duluth East defenseman scored a goal on a nice shot from the point, but his impact was felt in more areas than just the score sheet. Moore was poised in all three zones, made the smart plays when he had to and ended up being a big factor in Team North’s win.

3. Derek Olmschenk, Team Northeast
After playing twice on Saturday and on both sides of the football for Cretin-Derham Hall on Friday night, Olmschenk was a rock on the backend for Team Northeast in its weekend finale. And if his smart play on the blue line wasn’t enough, he also showed that he could dominate the physical side of things, too.

-- Zack Friedli, MN Hockey Hub staff

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