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2018 Bantam Player of the Year Finalists

By Tony Scott, 03/13/18, 9:45AM CDT

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Joey Pierce scores on this shootout goal last Summer in the Bantam Elite League

Three Defensemen Headline this year's class

For the past five years YHH has chosen a Bantam Player of the year. The rules, unlike the Wiz Wyatt award, are simple...who was the best player we saw. Who had the biggest impact when they hit the ice?

Each of the five winners (see list below) has gone on to either play division one hockey or is committed to in the near future. Two of our finalists are already committed to play hockey in college (Brock Faber, Kyle Kukkonen). 

This year, unlike any other in the past - three of our finalists are Defensemen. We've had two blue line winners in the past (Ryan Zuhlsdorf, Edina and Ethan Frisch, Moorhead), a third is not out of the realm of possibility. All of our finalists lead their teams to the state tournament this week in Minneapolis and are legitimate contenders to win the award once it is announced later this Spring.

At the completion of our award ceremony later in the Spring, YHH will announce a list of top 50 players, many deserving players like Christian Galataz, Drew Holt, Jacob Jeannette, Justin Janicke and Jack Stark will be on that list.

Brock Faber - Osseo Maple Grove

Player: Brock Faber
Position: Defense
Team: Osseo Maple Grove
School: Maple Grove HS
Grade: 9
Parents: Jay and Karri

What more can be said about Brock Faber? He is a terrific athlete that has thrived after switching from a forward to a defenseman a year ago. One USHL scout said of Faber, "he's an elite skater that changes the game the second he hits the ice...he's a rare player." 

His resume of hockey accomplishments is about as polished as they come for a 2002 born player in the United States dating back to being chosen the Wiz Wyatt winner in 2014 as a Squirt.  This past Summer, he was one of 20 Minnesotans chosen to the USA Hockey Select 15 camp and will likely be one of 40 US players chosen to tryout for the National Team Development Program (NTDP) later this Spring. 

Brock and his defensive partner Henry Nelson have held down the blue line for the Leafbirds this year en route to a gaudy 49-3-2 record this year. Including 19 straight wins heading into this weekend's state tournament in Minneapolis. 

Luke Levandowski - Rosemount

Player: Luke Levandowski
Position: Forward
Team: Rosemount
School: Rosemount HS
Grade: 9
Parents: Steve and Suzie

Luke Levandowski has had a great season for Rosemount this year, recently helping lead the Irish to the state tournament in the Stillwater regional. In 57 games this year, he went over 100 points and nearly had 100 goals. Spectacular numbers considering more than half (30) of the games came against teams ranked in the YHH NOW Rankings top 15. 

A sleek skater with great hands and vision, Levandowski had several big games including an eight point game against Farmington in December. A USHL scout had this to say about Levandowski, "Luke has the type of game that translates well to the next level. He's a great playmaker and has a really nice scoring touch."

Kyle Kukkonen - Osseo Maple Grove

Player: Kyle Kukkonen
Position: Forward
Team: Osseo Maple Grove
School: Maple Grove HS
Grade: 9
Parents: Erik and Karen

Kyle Kukkonen is a winner. He wins on the ice, on the ball field and even in the classroom he touts some pretty high marks. Dating back to Squirts the winning percentage of teams he has played for has to be north of 80 percent. In the 2014, 2016 and 2018 seasons his team's  number of losses is less than 10 out of nearly 200 games!

After all of this winning, it is hard to detect any let up in his skill or hard work when he plays the game. In our opinion, his work ethic and hard work have improved since his Squirt and PeeWee days. An example many players could learn from when they hit a high-watermark in their youth or high school career. 

Headed into the weekend, Kukkonen and his band of brothers seek to cap off an illustrious career by winning the state title in Minneapolis.  Win or lose, knowing Kukkonen, it won't slow down his momentum toward a great career at his next level.

Luke Mittelstadt - Eden Prairie

Player: Luke Mittelstadt
Position: Defense
Team: Eden Prairie
School: Eden Prairie HS
Grade: 9
Parents: Tom and Dede

Luke Mittelstadt - the younger brother of Casey Mittelstadt - has carved out a great career of his own despite living in the shadow of older brothers Casey and John. Different than his brothers, Luke is a (not so shy) defenseman that may be the most skilled Mittelstadt. "Luke (Kooks) is a special hockey player, his hockey IQ is off the charts," said Eden Prairie head coach Niko Kapetonavic. "He consistently makes plays that no one else can see. "

In the past year, Luke has been the top defenseman on some great teams that have had great success. In the Fall, he played for Great Plains - a team that took second in the MN Bantam Elite League, the Minnesota Blades who won the USHL Fall Classic. And, this Winter he lead Eden Prairie to state and on the way had some big wins over rival Osseo Maple Grove and a nice win over Shattuck St. Mary's.

His great hands and creative playmaking are complimented well by his size and aggressive play.

Joey Pierce - Hermantown

Player: Joey Pierce
Position: Defense
Team: Hermantown
School: Hermantown HS
Grade: 9
Parents: John and Karen

We see a lot of great players at all levels - they skate well, they shoot and pass well. Joey Pierce possesses those skills, but uses them in a much different fashion that makes him such a special player.  Every shift it seems he is inventing new ways to aggressively carry the puck, thread the needle or release his patented slapper from the point. He goes one speed....fast.

Pierce's path to being nominated is much like his game - different. He grew up in Ely and played with the local association until he made the high school team as an eighth grader where he collected 34 points in 22 games for the Wolves in the 2016-17 season. He and his family moved to Hermantown last Summer and Pierce moved back to association hockey with the Bantam AA team. 

His play on the blue line for the Hawks Bantam AA team was magical to say the least. The Hawks qualified for state, beating rival Grand Rapids for the final spot from the North - be sure to check him out at the state tourney in Minneapolis this weekend, it will be the last time its free.

Past Winners

Year Player Team College NHL Draft Rights
2013 Ryan Zuhlsdorf Edina Minnesota Tampa Bay
2014 Casey Mittelstadt Eden Prairie Minnesota Buffalo
2015 Gavin Hain Grand Rapids North Dakota N/A
2016 Ethan Frisch Moorhead North Dakota N/A
2017 Jake Braccini Buffalo Minnesota N/A

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