St. Louis Park senior forward Bauer Neudecker (Jeff Wheeler, Star Tribune)
His St. Louis Park team was leading the game 6-1 when Bauer Neudecker showed his coach what type of hockey player he is.
Neudecker, among the state leaders in goals and points, had assisted on four of the Orioles’ goals. Late in the game, two Bloomington Kennedy forwards broke away, anticipating an easy goal.
His team’s big lead didn’t matter to Neudecker. He quickly skated in front of one of the forwards and neutralized the scoring threat.
“He brought the same amount of enthusiasm and speed that you’d probably see if it was going to be a breakaway in a section game,” coach Colin Hohman said. “There’s a lot more to what he’s doing than scoring.”
The senior forward, with 39 goals and 34 assists, will finish the regular season as one of the top three high school players in Minnesota in goals and points. As a team, St. Louis Park finished with a 17-7-1 record heading into the Class 2A, Section 6 playoffs beginning next week.
Neudecker, one of 10 finalists for the Mr. Hockey Award given to the state’s top senior, is quick to share his individual accomplishments with his teammates, and said the Orioles have emphasized unselfishness this season.
“We want to do it more for the guys next to us than ourselves,” Neudecker said. “Stuff like winning the battle, winning it for our teammate has changed a lot since years in the past.”
During a losing streak last season, St. Louis Park coaches thought the players were focusing on themselves too much. They removed all the nameplates in the locker room.
The nameplates went back up at the start of this season, without last names. Instead, each player’s number was on the locker with the words “Big Team, Little Me.”
It’s an homage to Hohman’s high school coach, Wally Chapman, who used it when Hohman was a player at Breck. The mantra stuck with Hohman and he decided to bring it to his team in his first year as St. Louis Park’s coach.
The Orioles have bought in, too.
“It really resonated with them because it’s such a simple expression,” Hohman said. “It tries to get them to understand that the team’s goals come before the individual.”
Neudecker is the motto personified, defenseman Shea Pekarek said. The two are captains together. Neudecker has focused on putting the team in a position to be successful.
He said that has been the biggest change from last year. Neudecker has always trained hard but the players are no longer self-centered as they were at times last year.
“Everyone’s making the plays and no more selfishness,” he said. “It’s helping me a lot and it’s helping the team a lot.”
If a teammate is in a bad spot, Neudecker will help out despite how difficult it might be. If a teammate needs a passing lane, Neudecker will work hard to get open, Pekarek said.
“That really helps out the team as a whole,” Pekarek said. “He’s just a big contributor putting people into place.”
Junior goalie Atticus Raasch, another captain, said he thinks Neudecker’s team-first attitude is what makes him a great playmaker.
“He’ll do whatever it takes to win,” Raasch said. “The team’s success and everyone around him working hard pushes him to work hard as well.”
After he graduates, Neudecker plans to play in the North American Hockey League with the Fairbanks Ice Dogs. He stands out to his coach by training and repeatedly working on his skating, stick handling and shooting.
Last winter Neudecker decided to get a job as a attendant at an outdoor rink in St. Louis Park. In his mind, it meant more time practicing, putting in those extra hours to make sure he could catch an opposing player breaking away in a blowout game.
“He really does try to do the little things all over the ice to help the group be successful and reach our goals,” Hohman said. “It really is an incredible amount of time he puts in.”
Mike Hendrickson is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune.