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Hard work rewarded

By Aaron Paitich, Special to the Star Tribune, 06/16/12, 1:33PM CDT


Bound for RPI, St. Thomas Academy's Andrew Commers relies on gritty approach

Andrew Commers, just graduated from St. Thomas Academy, has had to push hard to get a spot at RPI, and he doesn’t expect to let up when he begins the next chapter of his career. Photo by Peter Bretzman

Andrew Commers' work ethic and qualities would fit nicely in a lunch pail, but a hockey bag will do.

Buzz words used to describe the freshly graduated St. Thomas Academy hockey captain include grinder, fast, gritty and scrappy. Rounding out the power forward's personal profile: Enjoys blocking shots and likes to work in the corners.

Doesn't exactly sound like a dream job, but that's what it's become for Commers, who made a commitment one month ago to play college hockey for RPI beginning next season.

He's a workhorse. His father has observed that quality in him his whole life. "He's a typical oldest child," dad said. "He's very focused. When he puts his mind to something, he's going to get it done."


A perfect example: When he saw upperclassmen such as Christian Isackson, Justin Crandall and good buddy Zach Schroeder earn their way onto Division I hockey teams, Commers established the same goal for himself. And he got it done.

While Commers is undoubtedly thrilled, all he could do was sing the praises of others who aided him around the rink. Schroeder, for one, was a role model at St. Thomas Academy. He just finished his freshman season at RPI, where the two will be reunited with the same sweaters next fall.

Coming up through the Edina youth hockey system with Louie Nanne, the Edina senior-to-be and Gophers commit, Commers found a mentor in Marty Nanne, the son of hockey legend Lou Nanne and Louie's father. Marty coached him for nearly 10 years.

"He's pushed me every year throughout my hockey career," said Commers, who scored 46 points in 31 games this past season. "He's always been there for me, too. He's just a great person."

And those two goals he scored in the 2011 state championship victory? He couldn't take much credit for those.

"I got pretty lucky," he said. "My linemates were really helping me out there in that final game. I remember Petey Krieger made some great passes. Same with Alex Johnson."

Commers left the Edina youth program to attend St. Thomas Academy, where his father and grandfather both attended, as a ninth-grader. He split time between JV and varsity as a freshman, gaining an immediate respect for coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli.

They have back-to-back Class 1A state championships to show for their efforts.

"They really teach you what hard work means," Commers said. "That's what really got me going. They showed me what hard work can do to pursue your dream. That's what I look at -- hard work. That's what's going to get you places."

That's exactly what Commers brings to the rink every day, and now he's going places.

Commers started talking to some schools after his junior season with the Cadets. He journeyed out east for a hockey camp to try and garner some exposure. While several schools were interested, they wanted to see what he could do in at least one season of junior hockey.

He has nothing against juniors, but that didn't fit his plan. Commers sees himself pursuing a business management degree that he'd like to put to use in the family business. With more and more college hopefuls getting some junior hockey experience before stepping on an NCAA rink, he knew it would be a tall order.

"I knew I needed to work even harder, because for me to be able to go straight in, I'm going to have to be playing my best," he said.

Then RPI stepped in. After having Commers out for a visit, the school offered him a spot on the team for the 2012-2013 season. He jumped at it.

But with four forwards leaving the college program and another four entering, Commers will not just be handed a spot in the everyday lineup.

"At RPI, it's all about who's working the hardest and who's showing up to play," he said. "I feel I'm just going to have to bring my A-game every single day to get into the lineup and play."

Sounds like a perfect fit.



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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