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'The Hammer' headed north

By Loren Nelson, Editor, 04/26/12, 11:21PM CDT


Hard-hitting Hill-Murray defenseman Blake Heinrich commits to play for UM-Duluth

Hill-Murray defenseman Blake Heinrich, left, led the Pioneers to a runner-up finish at the state Class 2A tournament in March. Photo by Helen Nelson

Blake Heinrich

Hard to believe, but the Blake Heinrich that was part Hill-Murray defenseman, part wrecking ball at the state Class 2A tournament in March was a kinder, gentler version of the Pioneers junior.

“Once those new rules came in, I kind of toned it down a little,” said the 6-foot, 185-pound junior, referring to Minnesota State High School League rules implemented in mid-January that called for stiffer penalties for boarding, head contact and checking from behind infractions.

Heinrich “The Hammer” didn’t just garner statewide attention during the state tournament with his array of open-ice hits. He also raised his stock with college recruiters as the Pioneers reached the state title game, losing 5-1 to Benilde-St. Margaret’s. 

On Wednesday, April 26, Heinrich committed to play for Minnesota-Duluth.

“I talked to UMD before the state tournament, too,” said Heinrich, who also took an unofficial visit to Minnesota State and had heard from Ohio State and Wisconsin. “I definitely got more interest after the state tournament."

Heinrich, who scored 11 goals and added 24 assists in 31 games last season as Hill-Murray’s lone defenseman with previous varsity experience, said he liked the small-college atmosphere at UMD. Hill-Murray, which opts up to play in Class 2A, has an enrollment of 705. Heinrich grew up in the far north metro suburb of Cambridge.

“I liked how it is a smaller school,” Heinrich said. “Like (Hill-Murray), with the smaller classes. I just like the town, too. It is not very big.”

Heinrich will likely join another former Hill-Murray defenseman, Chris Casto, when he arrives in Duluth. Although that might not be for a couple of seasons. 

Heinrich said he is still deciding where he will play next season (he’s been drafted by the USHL’s Sioux City Musketeers) but is “leaning toward coming back” to Hill-Murray. Heinrich said the UMD coaching staff has told him they will support whatever decision he makes, and that he will likely play a year of junior hockey in 2013-14 before heading to Duluth.

“I think the most obvious thing is he’s a physical force out there,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said. “Very phsycial, very tough. That seems to be his calling card. 

“I think there is more to his game than just that. I think that is what Duluth sees. There is a lot of upside.”

While Heinrich’s game seems suited for the college game, he managed to maintain his punishing style after the rule changes while also avoiding the penalty box. Heinrich did not receive a major penalty and was called for 14 minutes in penalties in the Pioneers’ final 15 games.

Heinrich also starred for Team Northeast in the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League last fall, scoring four goals and adding eight assists in 24 games. He was selected to play for the Minnesota Red team in the league’s season-ending Bauer National Invitational Tournament. 

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2011-12 Minnesota High School Division I Recruits

Name High School Year Pos. College Verbal Commit
Spencer Bell Maple Grove Senior F Wisconsin Yes
Grant Besse Benilde-St. Margaret's Junior F Wisconsin Yes
Jake Bischoff Grand Rapids Junior D Minnesota Yes
Michael Brodzinski Blaine Junior D Minnesota Yes
Andrew Commers St. Thomas Academy Senior F RPI Yes
Jordan Gross Maple Grove Junior D Notre Dame Yes
Jake Guentzel Hill-Murray Junior F Nebraska-Omaha Yes
Blake Heinrich Hill-Murray Junior D Minnesota-Duluth Yes
Christian Horn Benilde-St. Margaret's Senior F Minnesota Yes
Adam Johnson Hibbing Junior F Minnesota-Duluth Yes
Justin Kloos Lakeville South Senior F Minnesota Yes
Dan Labosky Benilde-St. Margaret's Junior F Colorado College Yes
Vinni Lettieri Minnetonka Junior F Minnesota Yes
Eli May Eagan Senior D Minnesota State Yes
Will Merchant Eagan Senior F Maine Yes
Lou Nanne Edina Junior F Minnesota Yes
Grant Opperman Breck Senior F Dartmouth Yes
Judd Peterson Duluth Marshall Senior F St. Cloud State Yes
Matt Pohlkamp Brainerd Senior F Bowling Green Yes
Jake Randolph Duluth East Senior F Nebraska-Omaha Yes
Charlie Sampair Hill-Murray Senior F Minnesota-Duluth Yes
Joe Schuldt Minnetonka Senior D Michigan Tech Yes
Eric Schurhamer St. Thomas Academy Senior D Maine Yes
Dylan Steman Maple Grove Senior F Michigan Tech Yes
Jared Thomas Hermantown Senior F Minnesota-Duluth Yes
Dom Toninato Duluth East Senior F Minnesota-Duluth Yes
Hunter Warner Eden Prairie Sophomore D Minnesota State Yes
Sam Wolfe Eagan Senior D Maine Yes
Michael Zajac Eagan Senior F Princeton Yes