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 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
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