As I bounce in and out of local hockey barns, attending well over 50 games every season on average, I’m often asked by my scouting friends representing National Hockey League teams, Central Scouting, D1 and D2 colleges and junior teams which players I’m most impressed with.
It likely helps that I’m a former player and have strong connections with the local teams, including the coaches and players themselves. I’ve been covering local high school, youth and college hockey for over 45 years, so having veteran eyes helps a bit.
Anyhow, here’s an insider’s look at what I’m hearing from the scouts about a few local players I’m bullish about:
Hermantown super-sophomore Joey Pierce. All eyes are on Pierce – the NHLers, Central Scouting, the D1er’s. Everyone likes the power forward’s non-stop motor, grittiness, heavy and quick shot and scoring ability around the net. The kid’s an elite college prospect, who I expect will commit to the Bulldogs sooner than later. I expect him to play at the next two levels.
Hermantown junior Blake Biondi, an elite forward and Bulldogs commit. Scouts rave about his pure goal-scoring talent, and I’m hearing the pro guys talk more about his strong, disciplined 200-foot game the more they watch him play. Biondi sees the ice as well as any player I’ve watched in the last dozen or so years. No doubt his experience playing against international competition has taught him how best to feed off the play and help to bring out the best of his linemates, and to patiently wait for the game to come to him as he slides into open space in the offensive zone. I’m especially impressed by Biondi’s foot speed and quick, accurate shot. He’s a purrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrre goal-scorer.
Cloquet sophomore Mason Langenbrunner. I’ve been raving about the Jacks’ fuzzy-faced defenseman all season. Ditto scouts at all levels, including the D1er’s who are eager to collect his commitment. Mark this down: Mason Langenbrunner will be a top-four defender at the next two levels. His size (6-foot-3), budding strength, and elite focus and determination off-the-charts for a 10th-grader. He’ll someday be Cloquet’s first defenseman to be an NHL regular, following three Jacks forwards including his dad, Jamie, Derek Plante and Corey Millen.
Finally, Duluth East senior forward Ricky Lyle is a player who continues to draw second and third looks from scouts at all three levels. Scouts like his powerful explosion to and battle for the puck along the walls, and his compete in the dirty areas in the offensive zone. I also like his character, unmatched grit and leadership. He’s the sleeper D1 recruit in northeastern Minnesota. I’d offer him in a New York minute.
Hermantown and Duluth East will hook up against the top-ranked teams in their respective classes this weekend, as the Class 1A, second-ranked Hawks travel to St. Cloud Cathedral on Friday night and No. 4 Duluth East plays host to unbeaten and defending Class AA state champion Minnetonka at 3 p.m. Saturday at beautiful Essentia Duluth Heritage Center. Hermantown will host ‘Tonka a week on Saturday, Jan. 12.
Psst: Hermantown won’t step up to 2A, as rumored.
Barring an upset, Duluth Denfeld figures to advance to the Section 7A semifinals, where as the likely No. 3 or 4 seed will meet defending champion Hermantown or probable No. 2 seed Greenway. The Hunters already upset Greenway on ‘da Range earlier this season.
Hermantown has launched a Hawks Blue Line Club, and former Hawks head coach and guest speaker Bruce Plante, of course, had attendees rolling on the floor in laughter at a recent post-game alumni event held at Skyline Lanes. By the way, Plante was an outstanding high school goaltender and first baseman at Cloquet. He was the most popular player on all those Jacks’ varsity teams, and is legendary for making the team’s yellow school bus road trips more bearable.
My Hockey Bests-of-the-Best:
- Toughest local high school player I’ve covered in my career, pound-for-pound: the late Steve Anderson (Duluth Denfeld power forward)
- Most polite, respectful local high school player I’ve covered in my career: Gary Fritch (Duluth Central defenseman)
- Most raw talented local high school player I’ve covered in my career: Barney Irwin (Duluth Central power forward)
- Best local barn I played in and covered a game in: Pine Valley Ice Shelter (da’ Barn), Cloquet
- Best local broadcaster: the late Marsh Nelson, Mr. Sports in the Twin Ports (KDLH-TV and Radio)
- Best local newspaper sports columnist: Bruce Bennett (Duluth News-Tribune)
- Best local high school referee: (tie) brothers Jack and Mickey Farrell
- Best local high school public address announcer: the late Harvey Solon, who coined the phrase, “Puck out of play”
- Best local hockey retail store: Stewarts Wheel Goods
- Best wooden hockey stick: Wally
- Best local high school pure-scorer: Phil Hoene (Duluth Cathedral)
- Best local high school pure-defender: Randy “Tank” Norgaard (Duluth Central)
- Best local barn food: Duluth Arena polish sausage bustin’ out of a rye bun
Howie Hanson is a contributor to CBS 3 Duluth’s coverage of boys high school hockey throughout the season. Hanson’s views and opinions do not reflect those of CBS 3 Duluth. Watch for his weekly article every Thursday evening as part of our Thursday Night Face-off coverage.