Jimmy Snuggerud and Sam Rinzel might define their friendship a little differently than others.
Friends usually don't slash each other on the legs. They don't (almost) break their wrists or leave fiberglass splinters in their necks.
But since they were 11 years old and playing at Breakaway Academy, a private K-8 school in Chaska, Minnesota, Snuggerud and Rinzel have competed on and off the ice and pushed each other to become first-round prospects for the 2022 Upper Deck NHL Draft.
Snuggerud (6-foot-1, 188 pounds), a forward with the USA Hockey National Team Development Program Under-18 team, is No. 11 in NHL Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters. Rinzel (6-4, 180), a defenseman with Chaska (Minn.) High School, is No. 19.
"It's been kind of a long journey and it's a blast to be with him and to experience it all with him as well," Rinzel said.
Dave Snuggerud, Jimmy's father, coached them at Breakaway and at Chaska High School, where they played together for one season before Jimmy left for the NTDP.
"They not only went to school together and did training during the day together, then they play on teams together," Dave said. "Having them not get burned out wasn't even mentioned to them. They just loved hockey so much together. That made it a joy for me to coach them. And for also for me to teach them at school because I was their science teacher, too.
"They just had a passion for the game and then it ended up being a passion for learning. And then it became a passion for being a good person, character."
Jimmy Snuggerud (left) and Sam Rinzel in sixth grade math class at Breakaway Academy.
However, the competition on the ice did get out of hand occasionally.
"We got in a fight, must have been sixth grade," Jimmy said. "We were playing at Breakaway and we had a game day Tuesday, and I gave him an absolute hack to the wrist, almost broke his wrist. He got off the ice and we were fighting the rest of the day but the next day we made up and we were fine."
As much as Rinzel remembers his sore wrist, it was the fiberglass shrapnel he'd sometimes have to pick out of his neck that stands out.
"When he was younger he'd kind of use, maybe, half-broken sticks a little bit to play, maybe cut you around the neck a little bit," Rinzel said. "His stick comes flying up and will cut your neck and you got a big black scar on your neck from all the fiberglass."
Snuggerud said he never purposely chopped his friends on the neck. And the sticks he used usually came from whatever Dave had lying around the garage from a professional career that included 265 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres, San Jose Sharks and Philadelphia Flyers.
"I didn't really have the nicest sticks," the younger Snuggerud said. "My dad just kind of gave me sticks in the garage, I didn't need the nicest ones. It wasn't intentional to put graphite in their neck, but I'd just use the stick and graphite would fly out. … I didn't necessarily whack them on the neck."
The elder Snuggerud said the competition extended off the ice as well.
"We have a game, it's called Geography Challenge, and you'd step up to a world map and you have to point to either major cities or countries in the world," Dave said. "And we did everything through bracket play. And those two would always end up getting towards the finals throughout the whole fifth grade class or the whole sixth grade, whatever year they were in school, and just being competitive on trying to point out world countries. And then we also do a chess tournament. They have to learn to play chess and now they're competitive in chess.
"They helped each other compete in chess, they helped each other compete in the classroom. Then it just carries over to the rink, being competitive."
Sam Rinzel (right) and Jimmy Snuggerud (second from left) in sixth grade geography class at Breakaway Academy.
Snuggerud and Rinzel work out together during the offseason, but Snuggerud felt the opportunity to play at the NTDP the past two seasons was too good to pass up. This season he had 63 points (24 goals, 39 assists) in 59 games, and his seven power-play goals were second to Logan Cooley, No. 2 in Central Scouting's final ranking of North American skaters.
"He's got a world-class shot," said Adam Nightingale, who coached the NTDP the past two seasons. "It really takes off his stick and he's able to get it off quick. I just think he's a driven, competitive kid that's at a really high level. You just see him when he plays, he plays with a lot of determination and competitiveness. He's got a really good stick and he's been our most improved player from the start of the two-year journey. He really worked on his skating in the summer. He's playing with more poise and it's reflected in his play."
Video: Draft Prospect: Best of Jimmy Snuggerud
Snuggerud will continue that growth next season at the University of Minnesota, following his father and grandfather, James Westby, to the program. He said spending time with coach Bob Motzko, rather than any influence from his father or grandfather, made Minnesota his choice.
"They were the team that I just kind of wanted play for, I wouldn't say for my whole life, but once I went on campus and saw that the campus is right in the city and the rink is right there, right by the dorms, I think I just kind of fell in love with it," he said.
He'll be joined there in 2023-24 by Rinzel, who finished his junior season at Chaska with 38 points (nine goals, 29 assists) in 27 games. He also had 10 points (two goals, eight assists) in 21 games with Waterloo of the United States Hockey League.
Greg Rajanen of NHL Central Scouting compared Rinzel to St. Louis Blues defenseman Colton Parayko.
"A big guy, fluid skater, has some offense to his game," Rajanen said. "Needs to be a two-way player moving forward."
Rinzel will play with Waterloo next season. Accelerating his schoolwork to graduate high school and go to college in the fall wasn't an option he considered.
"I'm good with taking my time and being able to grow to where I want to be," he said. "I can push myself pretty fast and I feel like I can grow pretty quick. So I think going in and having one more year in the USHL will do a lot of good for me."
Eventually, Snuggerud and Rinzel will end up together at Minnesota, where their work on and off the ice will involve fewer injuries and better sticks.
"I've been with him for a lot of my life," Snuggerud said. "It's good to compete with him on the ice and be friends off the ice."
Photos: Waterloo/USHL (Rinzel); Rena Laverty / USA Hockey's NTDP (Snuggerud); Snuggerud family
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