Mound’s Jack Brandstetter advanced the puck against Litchfield this year. Brandstetter leads the team with nine goals and 20 points. Photo by MARLIN LEVISON • firstname.lastname@example.org
Stepping onto the ice, Jack Brandstetter and Ben O'Borsky certainly pass the eye test.
Each stands roughly 6-4 and weighs in the neighborhood of 190 pounds. They skate well, pass better and are rarely outworked.
So it seems logical that, with the size coaches yearn for and desire you can't teach, the Mound-Westonka seniors would attract a steady stream of coaches and scouts to Mound's Thaler Arena.
Until this year, however, that has not been the case. Considered sleepers by the state's elite hockey minds, Brandstetter, a left wing, and O'Borsky, a defenseman, are just now beginning to generate a buzz.
"The thing about both of them is that they have good size, move well and have good skill sets," Whitehawks coach Doug Runke said. "And there's a lot of room to develop. Unlike a lot of smaller players at this level, they haven't come close to reaching their high-end yet."
As a program, Mound-Westonka, a Class 1A team, is not generally associated with hockey excellence. But things have been looking up in recent years. The Whitehawks are 8-6 after Saturday's 5-2 loss to Class 2A power Wayzata -- a game in which they acquitted themselves well -- and are considered a team on the rise.
It's only natural, then, that as the team's record improves and its profile stands out more, exposure follows. Brandstetter and O'Borsky are far from the only talented players on the Whitehawks' roster, but their genetic gifts are making scouts re-check their notes.
"We had a scout come to our first game of the season to watch Hibbing's Adam Johnson," Runke said. "But while he was here, he said he noticed a couple of big dudes on our team that moved really well. He told a few people and they sent somebody to check them out. We've even had a couple of NHL scouts stop by."
With the proliferation of do-it-yourself blogs and social media, it's rare in Minnesota hockey for talented amateurs to skate unnoticed. While Brandstetter and O'Borsky are intriguing, the consensus is that both have some work to do if they want to play beyond the high school level.
"When I look at these kids, the words 'development' and 'project' come into the reports," said Bill McCarthy, a longtime local hockey coach and Ottawa Senators scout. "I think they're about 65 percent along the way of where they could be."
Of the two, Brandstetter is more polished. With above-average speed, a long reach and an healthy dose of grit, he leads the Whitehawks in scoring with nine goals and 20 points. Better yet, he relishes the chance to hit nearly as much as he likes to score. He knows that the key to his future is a willingness to throw his body into opponents.
"My size helps me tremendously," he said. "In the corners, working down low, driving to the net. I've got another level I'm working towards."
O'Borsky is the classic example of a late-bloomer. A three-sport athlete through his sophomore year, his Mound-Wesontka coaches moved him from forward to defense this season, hoping to take more advantage of his size.
"I went through a bit of a growth spurt about three or four years ago and I was kind of lanky," O'Borsky said. "I've kind of filled out now."
With O'Borsky a part of the defensive rotation, the Whitehawks are allowing less than three goals a game.
"I really like defense," he said. "I'm still working on things like positioning and decision making, but I think it's going pretty good."
For both players, a shot at playing hockey at the college level is a goal that is starting to seem much more reachable.
"Playing hockey at a higher level has always been a dream of mine," O'Borsky said.
Brandstetter echoed that desire.
"I would love to be playing Division I hockey someday," he said.
Their brightened futures, however, will have remain in the background while they attempt to help Mound-Westonka to its first state tournament berth since 2001.
"Future hockey is a nice option," O'Borsky said. "But right now, I'm just focused on what we need to do this year."