“It goes by so fast.”
Those are the words of graduating high school seniors and their parents who’ve cheered them on since Mini Mites.
“Cherish each moment.”
As youth hockey seasons end in Minnesota, it’s easy to focus on the numbers — wins, losses, points, and so on. There are memorable games, big-time saves, and clutch goals. But what’s not so easy is to be present and cherish those other moments … moments that even Olympians, pros and Division I players remember the most.
These are the memories that Minnesota hockey players will never forget:
Taylor Heise, Red Wing, Gophers, 2022 WCHA Player of the Year:
“It’s not the hockey, it’s the memories you take. I remember running around the hotel. I remember playing in the pool. It’s those small memories that will stick with me because those are times when I had the most fun. I’m not saying that on the ice that I didn’t have the most fun, but those small, little moments will stay with me.”
Brock Nelson, Warroad, New York Islanders:
“I remember when I was younger, at Christmas we’d just be out on the river at my grandpa’s and we’d skate for a couple of hours and have a fire to warm up when our toes were frozen. It just brings the memories of having fun and not worrying about anything else, not trying to look at the big picture of it, just trying to enjoy the small moments.”
Emily Brown, Blaine, Gophers:
“I don’t remember any specific scores of games or any goals I may or may not have had, but what I remember most is dancing in warm-ups, talking nonsense in the locker room, celebrating with your best friends after a goal, getting ice cream after games, and hanging out at the hotel during out-of-town tournaments. Looking back, those little things were really the big things. Playing with your hometown girls, for example, is such a special experience that a lot of people may not realize at the time. There really is nothing like playing hockey with the girls you first fell in love with the game with and have been best friends with for years…You don’t remember the wins and losses. You remember the experiences. I’ll never forget that.”
Brock Faber, Maple Grove, Gophers, 2022 U.S. Olympian:
“The one memory that sticks out the most is taking bus trips to out-of-town tournaments. I had tournaments in Roseau for two years of Squirts, two years of Peewees, and two years of Bantams. That was a lot of fun. They were the first real bus rides as a young hockey player and provided us a chance to bond as a team…I’m pretty close with a lot of the guys that I grew up playing with. I still call them brothers, the connection we had and how long we played for, our bond was pretty special.”
Justin Holl, Minnetonka, Toronto Maple Leafs:
“(Playing outdoors) are my earliest memories of playing and my fondest as well. It’s hockey in its purest form, playing outside…You can’t beat it.”
Taylor Williamson, Edina, NCAA Champion with Gophers:
"The most impactful thing that hockey has done for my life and for my career is introduce me to some of the most inspiring/influential people. The relationships I have been able to make with my teammates, coaches, support staff, parents, fans is ultimately the greatest gift the sport has given me. Hockey has shaped me into the person I am today, and the life skills I learned through my sport are all tools I am able to apply in my career every single day."
Nick Bjugstad, Blaine, Minnesota Wild:
“(Happy Acres outdoor rink) had an outdoor Zamboni and always really good ice, so I would beg my parents to go there regularly. And one of my buddies had a rink when that was closed. I remember crying sometimes because my parents would tell me I had to do my homework or it was too late. I just wanted to be out there.”
Dylan Samberg, Hermantown, Winnipeg Jets:
“The camaraderie…I’ve known all those guys since I was 5 or 6 years old. To be able to finish my high school career with them really meant a lot.”
Dani Burgen, Chisago Lakes, 2022 Ms. Hockey finalist, future UMD Bulldog:
“Playing all those years with one of my best friends, Jenna Lawry…Things like working with young kids and teaching them to love the sport, making new friends and most of all just growing up playing the sport I love.”
Ryan McDonagh, Mounds View, Two-Time Stanley Cup Champion with Tampa Bay:
“I was the only one in our close group that made the B-Squirt team, and I remember how heartbroken I was. And it turned out to be one of the most fun years that I had. It really jump-started me to stay positive. My dad was real positive about the whole experience. He just wanted me to have fun and not stress out about it. I gradually got better as it went on.”
Justin Faulk, South St. Paul, St. Louis Blues:
“Being able to win a championship at any level is something you’ll never forget, but what really made it special was that we had a pretty fun group of guys. That’s what I’ll remember the most about that season; those 26 guys on the team. We pretty much all keep in touch and when we see each other, we don’t miss a beat.
“That’s the biggest thing about playing sports at any level is the friendships we were able to create and the amount of fun we had, whether it was on the ice or off.”