Nick Swaney has been watching Lakeville South alumni Justin Kloos play for the Gophers and Kyle Osterberg for Minnesota Duluth. He identifies both as important role models for youth and high school hockey players in Lakeville.
“Everyone looks up to them and wants to be in their footsteps someday,” said Swaney, a sophomore forward at Lakeville South. “It’s great to have guys from my hometown playing college hockey.”
After committing to Minnesota Duluth a couple of weeks ago, Swaney is one step closer to doing just that himself.
Swaney was playing Bantams for Lakeville South at the beginning of last season until the high school’s tryouts. He felt he had a good shot to make the varsity team, and he was right.
“At first it was a little bit of a jump, but I got used to it and had a good season,” Swaney said. “Looking to have a better one this year, though.”
For a freshman — or a player in any year — Swaney put together an impressive season. The winger averaged a point per game; his 25 points led the Cougars. He is regarded as a hard-working, aggressive forward with natural goal-scoring ability.
He’s always hungry for points.
“I want to capitalize on all the scoring chances I can and set up my teammates as best as I can,” he said.
His intriguing campaign as a ninth-grader was followed by a strong Elite League debut this fall. The rising star had 12 goals and eight assists in 12 games against the state’s top talent.
It wasn’t all positive, however. Swaney’s Elite League season was cut short when he went down to block a shot. The puck shattered his shin pad and broke his kneecap.
“It wasn’t good,” he said.
Swaney was out for about six weeks but was able to skate again on Thursday to start preparing for his sophomore season. The time off wasn’t entirely depressing either. Swaney visited Minnesota Duluth three weeks ago and received an offer.
He couldn’t pass it up. The campus, facilities, team and coaches felt too good to be true. He hopes to one day be somebody Lakeville’s youth players look up to.
But first things first: Swaney is focused on this season. He has a strong cast of players around him.
Co-captain Patrick Lauderdale centered Swaney last season before breaking two ribs. Lauderdale has a high hockey IQ with good anticipation, playmaking and scoring ability that should help the Cougars put up points.
“He just knows where to move the puck all the time,” Swaney said.
Co-captain Drew Byers likes to jump up in the play and spearhead Lakeville South’s attack from the back end. Junior goaltender Daniel Swail has had a strong offseason.
The Cougars came up short of reaching the state tournament last season. Swaney is hoping for a different outcome this March.
“I think we have a good chance,’’ Swaney said. “That’s always been a goal of mine — to play in the state tournament in front of a huge crowd.
“I think that would be awesome.”