Duluth Marshall's George Grannis, left, works past Blake's Joe Miller. Grannis scored twice and added two assists as the Hilltoppers beat the Bears 6-2. Photo by Loren Nelson, legacyhockeyphotography.net
At a time when more and more hockey players are committing to Division I colleges before ever playing a high school game, Duluth Marshall senior forward George Grannis is something of throwback.
Grannis is Minnesota high school hockey’s version of golf’s Rickie Fowler (Best Player Without a Major Championship) in that he has yet to commit to a Division I school. Not that it won’t happen – he’s entertaining several offers and potentially waiting for several more.
For now, none of this is college commitment stuff seems much of a concern for Grannis, harkening back to a time when most if not all of the state’s best players committed to colleges after their final high school seasons. Grannis scored two goals and added two assists in the Hilltoppers’ 6-2 victory over Blake on Saturday afternoon and afterwards seemed singularly focused on Duluth Marshall’s finish to the regular season and prospects for the playoffs.
“I am just kind of talking it in as it comes and not really worrying about it too much,” Grannis, who as of early Saturday night ranked fourth in the state with 46 points (28 goals, 18 assists), said about managing his college future. “I am just taking it with a grain of salt. Now I just have to worry about finishing off the Hilltoppers’ season strong.”
Grannis certainly did his part to make that strong finish happen against the Bears in front of more than 600 fans at a buzzing Blake School Ice Arena. A third-period play that ended with Grannis scoring a shorthanded goal effectively encapsulated the mismatch between the senior- and junior-dominated Hilltoppers and freshman- and sophomore-laden Bears.
First, Grannis stole the puck from a Blake player in the neutral zone. Then he beat two Bears defenders on his way to a breakaway opportunity against Blake goaltender Aksel Reid. Grannis shot high and wide after making his deke, but the play wasn’t over. Not yet. Grannis plowed over a Bears player near the net, stealing the puck and circling in front of goal yet again. This time Grannis coolly whipped a backhander over Reid’s shoulder, putting the Hilltoppers ahead 6-2.
“We got exposed tonight,” Blake coach Greg May said after the Bears, a small school (enrollment 523) opting up to the Class 2A playoffs, dropped to 10-5-1. “They played like men against us. The purpose behind their play was much different than the purpose behind our play today.”
Like Blake, Duluth Marshall, with a grades-nine-through-12 enrollment of 282, is a Class 1A school that has opted up to play in Class 2A. That means, for the Hilltoppers to reach the state tournament, they must potentially beat the likes of Class 2A, Section 7 powers Duluth East and Elk River, among others with enrollments well over 1,000.
“I feel like there is a lot of pressure on Duluth East and Cloquet and Elk River to win,” said Grannis, whose father, David, is a St. Paul native who played at the University of Minnesota and was a fifth-round NHL draft pick by the Los Angeles Kings. “I feel like us kind of being a smaller school, a smaller team, we don’t really have that kind of pressure so we can kind of go in and work hard and do our thing. I really thing that gives us an advantage coming into the playoffs.”
Grannis, fellow forward and Michigan Tech commit Levi Stauber and a deep corps of puck-moving, hard-hitting defenseman (including Levi’s brother Willy) put the Hilltoppers squarely in a darkhorse role come playoff time. They did take longtime section frontrunner Duluth East to overtime before losing in late December. More recently, though, the Hilltoppers have been in the midst of a January swoon that included losses to Cloquet, Champlin Park and Wayzata.
“We have been struggling lately, and I think this game could kind of pull us out of the doldrums a little bit,” Duluth Marshall coach Brendan Flaherty said about the Hilltopers ((12-6-1), who at times this season have cracked the top 10 in Class 2A in the state coaches’ poll. “I think we got back more to a gritty team effort here today.”
Grannis supplies a heavy dose of that grit. A standout in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League last fall, Grannis has scored six shorthanded goals this season. No matter the situation, once Grannis gets the puck, good luck getting it back.
“He protects that puck about as well as anyone we’ve had in many, many years,” Flaherty said.
Duluth Marshall defenseman Nolan Krenzen (10) finds himself surrounded by Blake's Gavin Best (left), Blake Weyerhaeuser (right) and Landon Peterson (25). Photo by Loren Nelson, legacyhockeyphotography.net
Senior forwards George Grannis and Levi Stauber each scored two goals as Duluth Marshall rolled past Blake 6-2 on Saturday at Blake School Ice Arena in Hopkins.
Grannis, who has ranked among the state’s top 10 scorers for most of the season, also had two assists to boost his season point total to 46 points on 28 goals and 18 assists. Stauber, who has committed to play at Michigan Tech, has 14 goals and 20 assists for 34 points.
Duluth Marshall’s high-scoring duo was at its best in the third period when Stauber scored on a power play and Grannis added a shorthanded goal as the Hilltoppers (12-6-1) turned a two-goal advantage into a blowout.
Both private schools have small enough enrollments to play in Class 1A, but both opt up to play in Class 2A. This season’s playoffs will be Blake’s first in the big-school division. The Bears (10-5-1) got a first-period goal from freshman Tristan Broz to make it 1-1. Blake’s Jackson Saunders scored on a breakaway to electrify the near-capacity crowd in the second period, pulling the Bears to within 3-2.
John Ribich added a goal and an assist for Duluth Marshall, ranked No. 15 in the Class 2A coaches' poll, which was coming off Friday night’s 2-0 loss to Wayzata. Hilltoppers goaltender Alex Busick made 22 saves on 24 shots.
Blake’s Aksel Reid stopped 36 of 42 shots.
The MN Hockey Hub polls are for entertainment purposes only.