“He wasn’t going to quit. He’s in it for the team, not himself.” Eagles senior defenseman Nick Leivermann said about Casey Mittelstadt, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year. Photo courtesy of Carlos Gonzalez
The truth is, Eden Prairie hockey standout Casey Mittelstadt said, it’s been a bad season. He’s not really into it and neither are many of his teammates. In fact, he preferred the experience in Green Bay of the U.S. Hockey League.
He is speaking, of course, about ABC’s “The Bachelor,’’ which other Eagles players come over to watch each Monday night.
“In Green Bay more guys watched and that’s why I started,” said Mittelstadt, who played 16 games in the USHL last fall before the start of the high school season. “But a few of us still hang out and watch.”
Reality television dating game shows aside, Mittelstadt is happy to home for his senior season. He could have remained with Green Bay. He could have played for the Gophers. But he wanted to stay with longtime teammates and chase one last state championship dream.
Three tough games in as many days remain. Eden Prairie, the No. 1 seed in Class 2A, rolls into Thursday’s quarterfinal against defending champion Wayzata on a 15-game winning streak. Mittelstadt, a center and projected first-round NHL draft pick, averaged three points per game during the surge.
“He was marked every night by players and coaches trying to take away his game and in the end, he made himself, his teammates and every team he played better,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said.
No one did it better than Mittelstadt, the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
Mittelstadt, 6-1 and about 200 pounds, dazzles with his playmaking, an accurate, quick shot and even quicker feet. NHL scouts value him as an authentic competitor. He leads the Eagles with 22 goals and 47 assists.
Yet success this season took time. The Eagles labored through a 2-4-2 stretch to finish December. Altered line pairings triggered a resurgence. Mittelstadt began centering sophomore wings Jack Jensen, who verbally committed to the Gophers, and Spencer Rudrud, an intellegent player.
Confidence bloomed, Mittelstadt said, as Eden Prairie scored victories two days apart against rival Edina and on statewide television against Stillwater on Hockey Day Minnesota. He stole the host Ponies’ show with two goals.
In the section final against Holy Family, Mittelstadt got checked and crashed hard into the boards. Though shook up, he kept battling and later scored.
“He wasn’t going to quit,” Eagles senior defenseman Nick Leivermann said. “He’s in it for the team, not himself.”
Randolph, an advocate for players finishing their senior high school seasons, is excited to see Mittelstadt on television again this week.
“Two years ago he had a hat trick up here and in the handshake line I told him, ‘Don’t you leave high school,’ ” Randolph said. “We had him up here again this year and afterward I told him, ‘Thanks for coming back. You’ll never regret it.’ ”
The Star Tribune’s Metro Player of the Year were chosen based on nominations from metro-area coaches, conversations with a panel of coaches and staff observations.