After finishing their practice,Wild players fist bump the Litte Falls players. Photo by Helen Nelson
Advancing to the boys' hockey state tournament has its perks. Then again, sometimes it's all in who you know.
Case in point: the stories Grant Opperman and Joey Hanowski will cherish for years to come.
Hanowski and his Little Falls teammates heard the sound of skates, sticks and pucks hitting the ice when they arrived Wednesday morning for their Class 1A quarterfinal game at Xcel Energy Center. Imagine the surprise when they found injured Minnesota Wild players Mike Lundin, Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Mikko Koivu going through light rehabilitation drills.
The three pros chatted cordially and gave Flyers players fist-bumps before exiting to the locker room.
"I mean, we're at the Taj Mahal of any rink around and then we see that," Hanowski said. "The game didn't go like we wanted [a 7-0 loss to St. Thomas Academy], but you couldn't ask for a better start."
Opperman, who plays for Breck, had his brush with fame last fall at Consol Energy Center in Pittsburgh. Penguins President and CEO David Morehouse, Opperman's brother-in-law, has an office there.
"He took me into the locker room and my jaw dropped," Opperman said.
Morehouse later directed the Oppermans to an off-ice practice shooting area where they met up with NHL superstar Sidney Crosby.
"We go back there, and there's Sid the Kid in goalie pads and we take a couple shots on him," Opperman beamed. "It was unbelievable."
Opperman is ranked by NHL Central Scouting as the 162nd-best North American draft-eligible skater for the 2012 class. Having family in an NHL front office means nothing, he said. For now, anyway.
"I'll play [in the NHL] hopefully," the Dartmouth recruit said. "But I shadowed [Morehouse] on a game day. Maybe someday I'll be a GM. It's extremely nice to have that connection."
St. Thomas Academy's Tom Novak celebrated his second period goal with the bench during the Class 1A quarterfinal against Little Falls at the 2012 State Tournament. Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune.
Cadets youngster draws lofty comparison
This kid's all right -- and he has been all season.
A year ago, St. Thomas Academy freshman Tom Novak watched the Cadets win the Class 1A championship in overtime from the Xcel Energy Center seats. Wednesday, he propelled the Cadets into this year's semifinals with two goals and two assists in a 7-0 quarterfinal victory over Little Falls.
Novak had no time to be nervous; his first goal came 38 seconds into the game.
"I never thought I would score a goal for this team at state," he said.
He should have.
Novak enters Friday's semifinals with 42 points, which has earned him a spot on the team's first line.
The four points Wednesday are surely a highlight, but Novak has been the hero before. He scored the overtime game-winner Jan 21 against Breck -- the team St. Thomas Academy will face in the semis.
Cadets coach Greg Vannelli said he hasn't seen a freshman make this kind of impact since Jordan Schroeder, who led STA in state tournament scoring in 2005 before embarking on a college career with the Gophers and becoming an NHL draft pick by Vancouver.
"Every once in a while you get a guy that you don't have to tell a lot to," Vannelli said. "It's just instinctive for them. That's the way he is."
Name that tune
As a Notre Dame alum, Breck coach Les Larson is rather fond of the Fighting Irish fight song.
"That really gets me going," he said.
But the Mustangs on Wednesday played Duluth Marshall, which also has the same tune as its rouser.
"I only wanted to hear it in between periods," Larson said.
Sign here, please
Matt Colford's young cousin came to the X with a yellow and blue sign for her favorite Breck player:
"23 SCORE FOR ME"
He did -- twice -- in the Mustangs' 7-0 victory over the Hilltoppers.
Not as they planned
The prettiest goal of the day probably shouldn't have happened.
From his knees, Hermantown's Jared Thomas got a pass off to Chris Benson, who whiffed on a shot at the net but turned around and buried a second attempt at the play.
"It kind of looked a little weird," Thomas said. "But a goal is a goal, and being at the state tournament makes it even better."
1. Andrew Commers, St. Thomas Academy
Scored two first-period goals on his way to a five-point game in a 7-0 victory over Little Falls.
2. Jake Zeleznikar, Hermantown
Big defenseman assisted on three first-period goals vs. Lourdes.
3. Jack Kenney, Breck
Made 18 saves in shutout victory over Duluth Marshall.
225 Goals this season for Breck, a program record.
38, 33 Seconds, respectively, it took for St. Thomas Academy and Hermantown to score in their openers.
2 Five-minute major penalties called through three games.