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Hastings defenseman Matt Koch looked for a teammate as he moved the puck across the Woodbury blue line in the second period of a 9-3 Raiders victory Tuesday night. Photo by Jeff Wheeler • jwheeler@startribune.com

Elite defensemen typically log a lot of ice time for their hockey team. Hastings senior Matt Koch is one of those guys.

"He plays probably half the game for us," coach Russ Welch said.

After his commitment to play college hockey at Air Force, Koch looks forward to increasing his workload, both on the ice and in the classroom. He's come a long way already, so there's no reason to doubt him.

"I've worked really hard to get to where I'm at," said Koch, who has six goals and 16 assists this season. "I remember when I was a Peewee I couldn't even do a push-up. I've gotten a lot farther than that."

Koch, a two-year captain after being voted in as a junior last year, said he is looking forward to Air Force for three reasons: the school is outstanding, the hockey team is a good fit and career prospects are very good upon graduation.

"It sets me up for the future," Koch said. "Obviously the NHL has been a goal of mine forever, but it's a reality check. I might not make it there. Getting an education is important."

Koch is a top-20 student at Hastings, which holds a total enrollment of 1,452 students. With his 3.9 grade-point average and an ACT score of 29, he figures Air Force to be a good fit.

"I've always really excelled at school. I work hard and do my homework," Koch said. "Grades have never been an issue for me. And knowing that Air Force is a math-science school -- I'm very good at math and science."

Koch's classroom IQ translates well on the ice.

"My intelligence is pretty high. I understand the game for the most part," he said. "I'm patient. I'm not a flashy player but I do the little things right."

Koch will play a year of junior hockey next season. He will try out for a chance to play in the United States Hockey League or join a team in the North American Hockey League. He's a three-year starter for Raiders varsity.

The Raiders got off to a strong start in the Suburban East, but four consecutive losses presented a speed bump they think they'll overcome.

"We have some kids that can really skate and we can play physical," Welch said. "Those are probably the biggest attributes we have. We move our feet and we're not afraid of anybody."

The first line of Andrew Bussey, Mark Huneke and Zach Mellick leads the team in scoring. Bussey's intelligence and puck-handling skills have helped him to 12 goals and 23 assists. Huneke, a speedy skater and talented scorer, leads the Raiders in goals with 21. The junior exploded with four goals and two assists in Tuesday's 9-3 victory over Woodbury.

Mellick, a big linebacker for the football team, plays power forward for the hockey team. With soft hands to go with his size, Mellick has recorded 13 goals and 21 assists.

Section seedings will be made on Sunday. Eagan, Cretin-Derham Hall, Eastview and East Ridge will all pose tough obstacles. But with a college decision now a weight off their captain's shoulders, the Raiders look to make a run.

"I think if we hit the playoffs and we bring our energy and exciting play, I think we'll do pretty well," Koch said.

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