Adam Johnson, right, helped Hibbing reach the state Class 1A tournament in 2011 as a sophomore. Photo by Helen Nelson
Several of the state’s most talented players -- including recent NHL draft pick Jake Bischoff of Grand Rapids, last season's state Class 2A championship game hero Grant Besse of Benilde-St. Margaret’s and scoring phenom Adam Johnson of Hibbing -- will give Hockey Day Minnesota an abundant supply of star power for the Jan. 19 outdoor games at Pokegama Lake in Grand Rapids.
Eagan will play Hibbing and defending state Class 2A champion Benilde-St. Margaret’s will play Grand Rapids. The matchups were officially announced on Tuesday, June 26. Times of the games haven’t been announced.
"It’s difficult to think of another Hockey Day that has had this much individual interest in terms of talent," Benilde-St. Margaret's coach Ken Pauly said. "I think what makes this unique is both games feature some real high-end kids."
Hibbing coach Mark DeCenzo said Tuesday that Johnson, an upcoming senior who made a verbal commitment to play at Minnesota-Duluth after his sophomore season, is expected to return to play for the Bluejackets.
Johnson scored 59 points (28 goals, 31 assists) last season after bursting on the state scene as a sophomore with 85 points (42 goals, 43 assists). His 169 career points puts him on pace to join some of the state’s elite all-time scorers with 200 or more points.
“He’s got the full skillset,” DeCenzo said about Johnson, a highly rated pro prospect entering last weekend’s NHL Draft. Neither Johnson or Besse, another Minnesotan considered to be a potential NHL pick, were selected in the draft.
Pauly had said weeks ago that the Red Knights were scheduled to play Grand Rapids in a Hockey Day matchup, and the speculation was that Hibbing and Eagan would meet in the other matchup.
Eagan coach Mike Taylor served as an assistant under DeCenzo when they were in Apple Valley.
“That will be fun,” DeCenzo said about matching up against Eagan. “We are real good friends and we still are constantly in touch. It’s not going to be a case of the teams not knowing anything about each other. He knows my team as well as I do.”
Eagan lost four Division I players, including Mr. Hockey nominees Michael Zajac and Will Merchant, from last season’s state Class 2A tournament team. But the Wildcats return 20-goal scorer Zach Glienke (20 goals, 14 assists) and two more standout forwards in Cullen Willox (30 points) and Will Peterson (24 points).
Besse, who has committed to play at Wisconsin, will return after scoring all five goals for the Red Knights in their 5-1 state title game victory over Hill-Murray. He will be rejoined by linemates Dan Labosky, who has committed to play at Colorado College, and T.J. Moore. All three will be seniors.
Bischoff, a 6-foot, 180-pound defenseman who has committed to play at Minnesota, was selected in the seventh round (185th overall) by the New York Islanders. He is expected to play his senior season with the Thunderhawks starting in the fall.