Hanowski making us proud [UPDATED]Published 4:34am Monday, April 29, 2013 Updated 6:37am Monday, April 29, 2013
We Little Fallsians had reason to celebrate this past week.
Ben Hanowski, the 23-year-old Little Falls native and St. Cloud State player who, after leading his college team to the Frozen Four this year, was quickly brought up to the NHL to play for the Calgary Flames, and on Monday scored his first goal against the Minnesota Wild.
Hanowski is the son of John Hanowski, the Little Falls baseball coach. I’m fairly certain his uncle is Steve Hanowski. Steve Hanowski was a year older than me, played goalie on many of my youth hockey teams, and was known to everyone as “Duffer.” His famous words to me were “Don’t screen! Don’t screen!” To the layperson, I was a defenseman, and had a tendency to stand in front of the goalie, blocking the goalie’s view of the player who was about to shoot. He didn’t like that.
Anyway, I lived about six blocks from Duffer, and I recall him being the youngest in his family. His sister had a slap shot that could kill birds. Since organized girls hockey didn’t exist back then, she never had a chance to showcase her skills.
Hockey just wasn’t that big of a deal in Little Falls back then. Basketball, first boys then later girls, was king in Little Falls in the late 1970s and early 1980s. There wasn’t even a varsity hockey team when I was in youth hockey. High school players played on a midget team against other small town teams without high school programs.
We practiced and played games outdoors, mostly on a rink two blocks from my house, once in a while travelling to Brainerd or St. Cloud. I remember those days playing outside in below-zero temps, the players crying because their feet hurt so bad while the dads would be furiously rubbing them.
I finally quit youth hockey quickly into my first year of pee wees. As the shortest player on the team, coming off a knee injury and already involved in basketball and other activities, I decided it wasn’t worth it. My teammates stuck it out, however, and were part of the first varsity hockey teams in Little Falls in the late 1980s. Since Little Falls didn’t have indoor ice at the time, the team played on the outdoor rink with covered benches, or in an arena 30 miles away in Sauk Rapids.
While the wrestling team took third in state and the basketball team lost in the regional final, the hockey team played mostly in oblivion, getting roughed up by the more established programs. It was funny, because our team didn’t lack athletes. We had fast guys, big guys, coordinated guys and tough guys — the requisite types needed to play winning hockey. What we didn’t have were guys who went through highly specialized training programs, who lived for hockey 365 days a year.
It wasn’t until 1989, when the Exchange Arena was built, when Little Falls took a giant step toward hockey relevance. A year later, Hanowski was born.
In many ways, Hanowski did everything he could to honor those who paved the way for him. These days, most of the great high school hockey players are recruited away from their hometown high school teams to play for a private school, a public school with a winning reputation, or a junior program. They are sold on the idea that, if they play for the “right” school or program, they’ll get an opportunity to play in the NHL.
For four years, Hanowski played for the high school team in the town he grew up in, becoming the all-time leading scorer in Minnesota high school history. He played college hockey for St. Cloud State, only 30 miles from Little Falls.
I really hope Hanowski’s story is a lesson to many players — and their parents. Focus on being the best athlete you can be. If you are good enough, the professional leagues will find you.
In exchange for his loyalty, Hanowski will always be revered in central Minnesota.
Joel Myhre is The Journal’s Publisher. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org