Each year we try to summarize the season in one article. In theory, if you read one piece, you could read this one and get a pretty good lens on what happened in Minnesota hockey. The year 2020 brought the state of hockey to its knees, not once but twice. The Coronavirus halted hockey for four months - once at the end of the youth season and another as the season kicked off.
Here is a look at some players, teams and moments that caught our eye and our lens from January to December. Our staff saw over 1,000 games, captured over 250 via live stream and countless photos, tweets, and fun interviews. Here is a squirt-sized taste.
Hermantown Bantam AA
Even without a Bantam State Tournament to showcase his obvious talent on the biggest stage, Plante proved time and time again that he is the top bantam player in the state.
Plante led a loaded Hawks group to a 40-6-1 record, with three of the six losses coming by a single goal. The Hawks finished the abbreviated season at No. 2 in the NOW Rankings, and Plante ranked as the team's leading scorer with nearly 200 points.
Perhaps the best evidence for Plante's selection came this fall during the Upper Midwest High School Elite League play. The sophomore racked up 12 goals and 30 points in 25 games in the UMHSEL, putting together one of the best seasons by an underclassman in the league's storied history.
Honorable Mention: Finn Brink (Osseo Maple Grove), Beckett Hendrickson (Minnetonka), Ben Miller (Woodbury), Wyatt Olson (Osseo Maple Grove), Drew Stewart (Minnetonka), Teddy Townsend (Eden Prairie),
Zam Plante was selected as YHH's Bantam Player of the year in spring of 2020.
White Bear Lake Peewee AA
Some players stand out in off-season tournaments while skating for one team, but only a select few have managed to be the best player on multiple squads over the course of a weekend.
Fondrk notched 14 goals and 22 points while skating for FCA during this past summer's The Big One Invitational, helping FCA to the 2007 Division championship game. Minutes after a title-game loss, Fondrk dried his skates, switched sweaters, and hopped on the bench for the 2006 Eastsiders for their championship game. He would go on to score twice in a second final, and ended up scoring all four of the Eastsiders' goals during the semifinals and finals.
Before the summer season, Fondrk powered White Bear Lake to a record of 47-6-2, with the Bears outscoring their opponents 349-127 over that span. Fondrk earned Tournament MVP honors after scoring eight goals in four games during the Big Pumpkin Invitational and helped the Bears to a semifinal appearance in the famed Spirit of Duluth tournament.
Honorable Mention: Cole Bumgarner (Shakopee), AJ Francisco (Hermantown), Logan Hensler (Woodbury), Andrew O'Neill (Fargo), Cullen Potter (GB Jr. Gamblers), Henry Sampair (Mahtomedi) and Parker Trottier (Edina) and Mason West (Edina).
Conrad Fondrk, White Bear Lake
Moorhead Squirt A
Wyatt Cullen was so much more than the best player on the best Squirt team last winter for the Spuds. Wyatt one of the best players at his 2008 birth year in the off-season and was a standout at the U of M NOW Prospects Combine propelled Wyatt from one of the best to the best.
Wyatt poured in eight points in four games to help the Spuds to the YHH Squirtacular championship last January, earning the MVP award. He's a goal scorer when necessary, but what sets him apart is his command with the puck to make the right play in all three areas of the ice.
Honorable Mention: Beau Christy (Hermantown), Joey Cullen (Moorhead), Boomer Demars (Mahtomedi), Nolan Fitzhenry (GB Jr. Gamblers), Gavin Godbout (Woodbury), Beckett Shillings (Woodbury), Dean Stevens (Minnetonka), Tony Timmerman (GB Jr. Gamblers)
Wyatt Cullen, Moorhead Red
There were a lot of great female performances in Minnesota this past year. Edina standouts Whitney Horton (Sue Ring-Jarvi award) and Uma Corniea (Goalie of the Year) each had great seasons for their respective Hornet teams. We saw some great youth players in the off-season hockey like Hannah Graves (Hermantown), Jaycee Chatleain (Centennial) and Haley Hanson (Blaine).
But one girl just kept coming back to us as the best...Peyton Hemp.
After winning gold in the U-18 World championships in Bratislava, Slovakia last January, she came back to help lead Andover to their first ever state title over arch-rival Edina. The feisty YHH Player of the Year had 57 points in 26 games for the Huskies last season and 173 in three seasons.
World champion and state champion Peyton Hemp
First State Title
Mahtomedi hockey has had it's share of close calls at the youth and high school levels. The Zephyr boys team hadn't won the "big one" and were largely overlooked by pundits in their twelfth state tourney appearance. Warroad, Hermantown and St. Cloud Cathedral were seeded above them.
After a comeback win over fifth-seed Delano, the Zephyrs stared down a semifinal state tourney demon, one they had never gotten past against Warroad. Like a champion, Mahtomedi did what no other team at their school could do, win a semifinal, an impressive 5-1 win over the Warriors.
In the final, after leading powerhouse Hermantown for almost the entire game. The Hawks scored with :22 left to tie the game. It was only the second time in 42 shots that star goalie Ben Dardis was victim of a goal in the game.
Senior Collin Hagstrom scored three minutes into the extra frame to lift a burden off of an entire hockey program and take his team to a title only twenty guys knew was possible three days prior.
Adam Johnson gave Mahtomedi fans a lot to celebrate in March
American International College
Hampered by labored breathing and lack of energy during the first few practices of his college career, Otto was diagnosed with Stage IV Hodgkins Lymphoma in 2018. Otto's mother had also battled cancer before her son's diagnosis, and the family braced for another harrowing experience with the disease. Buoyed by a positive attitude and steeled resolve, Otto made it his mission to get back on the ice.
Nine hundred sixty-three days later, after 12 rounds of chemotherapy on Dec. 16, 2020, Otto made his first appearance with AIC in a 4-1 win over Army, and is now a fixture in the AIC lineup.
Honorable Mention: Will Francis (Cedar Rapids), Sean Gerzewski (Grand Forks), Nolan Mickelson (Apple Valley).
Burnsville's Eric Otto
St. Thomas Academy
After longtime co-head coaches Tom and Greg Vannelli stepped down, and after graduating 12 seniors from a 2018-2019 team that went 25-5-1, St. Thomas Academy was in a precarious position to start the 2019-2020 campaign. Relying heavily on young talent, the Cadets sat 5-7-2 midway through the regular season. Worse yet, they had recorded just nine goals in those seven losses.
A 6-0 win over Tartan on Jan. 14 sparked a run for the Cadets, who won 10 of their last 11 and were saddled with the fifth seed in Class AA, Section 3 playoffs. After three upset victories in section play, the Cadets topped No. 1 overall seed Andover in the quarterfinals of the Class AA State Tournament and took eventual state champion Hill-Murray to overtime in the semifinals.
St. Thomas Academy coach Trent Eigner guided his Cadets to a Class AA State Tournament appearance after starting the 2019-2020 season 5-7-2.
Best BHS Game
Blake 4, Benilde-St. Margaret's 3 (OT)
How many times does a young hockey player dream of scoring on a penalty shot to win a big game? How often does a Squirt or Peewee rollerblade around a driveway or street, whacking a tennis ball toward a makeshift net while muttering play-by-play to themselves?
Blake's Gavin Best got the unique chance to play out that scenario during the Class AA, Section 6 finals, earning a penalty shot after being hauled down on a breakaway in overtime. Adding to the cacophony of noise from both school's support sections were the students and fans of Chaska and Eden Prairie, who were slated for the second game of the evening at the University of Minnesota's 3M Arena at Mariucci.
Best's forehand shot slipped past Benilde-St. Margaret's goaltender Carson Limesand for the game-winning goal, sending the Bears to their first state tournament appearance as a Class AA program.
Blake players and student section go nuts after Gavin Best's penalty shot goal in overtime of the Section 6AA final.
Best GHS Game
Andover 4, Minnetonka 3 (OT)
While the Andover girls also took home the top spot in this category last season, the Huskies' win over the Skippers in the Class AA State Tournament semifinals was too good to pass up as the category's representative.
Minnetonka scored with 1:03 remaining in the third period, giving the Skippers and their Division I talent-laden defensive core a premium chance at escaping with a win over the tournament's No. 2 seed.
After a controversial body-checking penalty was assessed to Minnetonka's Lacey Martin, Andover lined up for a face-off in the Minnetonka zone. Peyton Hemp hovered near the top of the circle, hollering instructions to her linemates and the defenders behind her. A few seconds later, Hemp tied the game, sending the contest to overtime, where Gabby Krause scored the game-winner 18 seconds into the extra session.
Given the level of drama, the spotlight, and all the implications that go along with a state semifinal, the comeback by the Huskies ranks as one of the most exciting sports experiences I've witnessed.
Andover's Gabby Krause (18) scores the game-winning goal in the Huskies's overtime win in the Class AA State Tournament semifinals.
Dardis put together one of the best seasons by an underclassman in recent memory between the pipes, posting a record of 23-8 while leading Mahtomedi to its first Class A state championship.
Dardis concluded the year with a goals-against-average of 2.03 and a save percentage of .933 in addition to seven shutouts. The now-junior was at his best in the postseason and especially the state tournament. Dardis stopped 29 of 30 shots in the Zephyrs' semifinal win over top-seeded Warroad, then followed that performance with 40 saves on 42 shots as the Zephyrs upset Hermantown in the state title game 3-2 in overtime.
Ben Dardis (far left) celebrates after his Mahtomedi Zephyrs edged Hermantown in the 2020 Class A State Tournament championship game.
Come on Tony, it is getting old! We are sick of YHH telling us how great the Mustangs are.
The critics of the Breck girls program have little to argue their success. What can't be ignored is their three straight class A state titles and in each of those years they defeated the class AA champion (Edina '18, Edina '19, Andover '20). Last year, they boasted two solid lines led by Ms. Hockey winner Olivia Mobley and Ally Qually and young guns Sadie Lindsey, Ava Lindsay and Hannah Halvorsen.
Breck was deep on the blue line (Elly Klepinger, Josie Lang and Malia Couser) and had one of the best young goalies in the state in Sarah Peterson.
In the state tournament, the Mustangs outscored their three opponents 23-2.
For the second straight year, Breck Girls are our choice for best team. Any questions?
2020 Ms. Hockey Olivia Mobley
Elk River's black jerseys have the drip this year...
Elk River Bantam AA
We see hundreds of jerseys each year. Many at the high school level are the same look every year that will grow on you. Edina pulls off the green breezer thing with a ton of style each year. If you like orange, look no further than last year's winner Moorhead. This year's winner was unveiled at the Blue Ox the week before our second "pause". Elk River showed up in Moorhead with a state of the art black, red, white design with a brand new art deco Elk. It's like someone in the association said, "let's shed the Elks Lodge elk and get a badass elk."
Honorable Mention: Blaine HS (Hockey Day), Brainerd Youth (Grey), Minneapolis HS (Hockey Day), Shakopee Youth (Red), St. Louis Park PWAA (Orange), Warroad HS (Hockey Day), White Bear Lake PWAA (Orange) and Windom HS.
This Bear uniform checks all the boxes...