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Finisher got basement start

By Aaron Paitich, Special to the Star Tribune, 02/17/12, 6:38PM CST


Lakeville North's Blake Winiecki overshadowed by other South Suburban stalwarts

Division I hopeful Blake Winiecki has had a high-scoring senior season at Lakeville North. Bruce Bisping • bbisping@startribune.com

In hockey parlance, Blake Winiecki is a finisher: a goal scorer's touch and knack around the net, soft hands, seeing-eye shots.

But for the Lakeville North senior, it all started in an unfinished basement.

"From day one, just shooting and stick-handling down there," said Winiecki, who quietly amassed 22 goals and 25 assists through last Saturday's victory over Rosemount. "I think I've just always had a good touch around the net, to just put it in the areas where the goalie isn't."

Winiecki began skating at age 3. He was brought up in the Lakeville system, where his father, Tony Winiecki, coached him and his buddies for eight seasons. While the formal coaching stayed on the ice, the fun continued down in the Winiecki's rather large basement, complete with a net and plenty of open space.

"Me and my dad would just play in my basement when I was younger," Blake said. "We would be down there all night."

The basement's half-finished now, symbolic of Blake's skill development, age and potential career in the sport.

Division I schools Michigan Tech, Minnesota State Mankato and others have shown interest. Like most potential college players, Winiecki will most likely play junior hockey before anything else. He hopes to be selected in this year's USHL draft, but if not, there is also the North American Hockey League.

At 6-2 and 190 pounds, Winiecki's size and physical presence have never been an issue. He has paired with fellow senior Evan Peterson to form the Panthers' top line.

In a South Suburban Conference with Mr. Hockey candidates Justin Kloos, Michael Zajac and Will Merchant, Winiecki has been as consistent as any the past two seasons.

"It's fair to say he's been overlooked," Panthers coach Trent Eigner said.

Eigner, in his first year at Lakeville North, took the head job this summer knowing a little about Winiecki. He had previously evaluated Minnesota Hockey's Select 16s and 17s to get an initial look, but also received scouting reports from friends and colleagues.

"He was exactly what I had heard," Eigner said. "With a kid like Blake, a lot of what you hear has to do with goal scoring, and that's definitely what he has a gift for doing."

Winiecki doesn't care about any lack of attention.

"I don't feel like I've been overlooked," he said. "I know I don't get as much publicity as a lot of other players do. It doesn't matter to me. I know that I just need to play my game and just do what I need to do to help my team."

He is focused on ramping up the team as sections approach. He tallied 25 goals and 27 assists last year as a junior, helping the Panthers to a Class 2A state tournament berth, a feat Lakeville North has managed the past two seasons with victories over rival Lakeville South.

Lakeville North has struggled in conference play this year but split two games with Lakeville South. Barring any major upsets in the Class 2A, Section 1 tournament, the two teams will meet again.

Winiecki, a finisher from an unfinished basement, said, "We'll be ready."

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