David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996.
Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for SportsEngine. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.
Domination at hockey’s youth levels doesn’t guarantee future success.
We know this because Gordon Bombay scored a stunning 198 goals during his 1972-73 Pee Wee season, yet never sniffed the big time as a pro. All this is well-documented, if completely fictional, in the iconic 1990s movie The Mighty Ducks.
One of my favorite scenes from the movie is an interaction between Bombay (played brilliantly by Emilio Estevez) and real-life NHLers Mike Modano and Basil McRae.
McRae: You’re Gordon Bombay, right?
Bombay: You remember me?
McRae: Sure, from Pee Wees.
McRae (aside to Modano): This guy used to rule in Pee Wees.
Modano: Oh yeah? I heard you were a farmer.
Undaunted by the thousands of Pee Wee phenoms who have flopped at higher levels, just like Bombay, we feel confident we have identified five newcomers to the state high school scene who will be just fine mixing it up with the big boys this season. Matter of fact, all five of the players listed below already have been more than holding their own playing in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League this fall.
Koumontzis grew up playing in the intensely competitive Edina Youth Hockey system, where he was a standout on Edina’s Bantam AA team in 2013-14. He headed west to play for the Phoenix Jr. Coyotes U16 team for a couple of seasons, committed to play for Arizona State in January 2016 and suffered a serious back injury that knocked him out for much of last season.
Koumontzis reappeared on the Minnesota scene this fall, and for those unfamiliar with his play, he’s been a revelation. Playing mostly on a Team Northeast line with Mason Nevers of Edina and Will Hillman of Blaine, Koumontzis has been the Elite League’s unquestioned MVP so far. He has a league-best 41 points (13 goals, 28 assists) in 16 games.
The 5-foot-9¾, 183-pound Koumontzis is an excellent skater with above average speed. He’s tenacious on the forecheck and is equally good as a playmaker or scorer. Almost every time he is on the ice he’s leading the forecheck, creating havoc in the corners and in front of the net, and sniping laser-guided shots.
Another already loaded program gets a welcome gift from the summer Santa. The 5-11¾, 186-pound Konin played last season for high-powered New Hampshire prep school Kimball Union. He scored five goals and added 14 assists in 38 games as a defenseman, but is projected to play as a forward for last year’s Class 2A state runner-up Eden Prairie.
Lining up as a winger, at times with Minnetonka’s Killer B’s Jack Bayless and Bobby Brink, Konin has scored five goals and added three assists through 16 Elite League games for Team Southwest.
His defenseman roots are apparent when Konin works the corners, as he’s not afraid to bang his lanky body around and often skates out of the mayhem with the puck. With Eden Prairie, he could serve as an outstanding complement to superstar center Jack Jensen or serve as a checking center, shutting down the opposition’s top players on the Eagles’ second line.
Braccini put up Bombay-like numbers for Buffalo’s Bantam AA team last season, scoring 78 goals and amassing 140 points in 45 games. Jake has a twin brother, Tyler, and the Flying Braccinis could very well become the most potent brother scoring combination since a set of twins named Jack and Nick Poehling led Lakeville North to an undefeated season and the Class 2A title in 2014-15.
Jake Braccini was named the Youth Hockey Hub’s Bantam Player of the Year after last season, and in early September, he committed to play at Minnesota. He’s been playing for Great Plains in the Elite League this fall, and has a goal and three assists through 13 games.
The 5-10¼, 193-pound Braccini has elite speed, is a slick stickhandler and possess a wicked shot. He’s the most highly touted player to suit up for Buffalo since … well, ever.
Meet the next great Hermantown forward. The son of former Warroad and Minnesota-Duluth standout Joe Biondi, Blake scored 81 points (42 goals, 39 assists) in 38 games for Hermantown’s Bantam AA team last season.
The 5-11, 174-pound Biondi figures to join the likes of former Hermantown greats Ryan Sandelin, Jared Thomas, Adam Krause and Drew LeBlanc when current Hawks standout forward Tyler Watkins, a senior, passes the baton after this season.
Biondi, playing for the Elite League’s Team North this fall, has six goals and six assists in 15 games this season, just a couple of points behind Watkins’ total.
Back in the late 1960s, an undersized forward by the name of Mike Antonovich was leading Greenway to unprecedented heights. The Raiders won two state titles with the spectacle-wearing Antonovich skating through would-be defenders' legs and pelting the back of the net with pucks.
Now another irrepressible forward has captured the imagination of the hockey-crazed Iron Range. The 5-4, 128-pound Troumbly scored 84 goals and added 89 assists in 38 games to lead Greenway’s Bantam A team to a 30-8-0 record last season.
Troumbly, who in early April committed to play at St. Cloud State, has scored a goal and added six assists for Great Plains in the Elite League this fall.
Tag(s): Two-Man Advantage