Almost a quarter of the population residing in the quaint Minnesota town of Little Falls attended a high school hockey game at Exchange Arena on Feb. 19 to see senior Ben Hanowski
Hanowski, a senior at Little Falls High School, entered the game against St. Cloud Apollo needing two points to become the most prolific scorer in Minnesota high school history. In the process, he'd snap an 11-year-old mark of 378 points, set by Johnny Pohl of Red Wing High from 1994-95 through 1997-98.
"As he approached closer to the record, he never really talked about it even though everyone knew it was coming up," Little Falls coach Tony Couture said. "I did get the feeling he wanted to get it done, and the fact this was the last regular-season game on home ice really played into it all."
The 18-year-old Hanowski entered the game with 377 points in his four seasons with the Flyers. He equaled Pohl's mark at 4:53 of the second period with a shorthanded goal while his team was killing a two-man disadvantage.
The record-breaker would come just five minutes later on the power play.
"Our defenseman shot it and the rebound kicked out and landed high in the top of the circle and just sat there," Hanowski said. "I pulled it out, wheeled around and put it up top on their goalie."
The 2,000-plus in attendance -- an unprecedented number for a Little Falls hockey game -- celebrated before Couture presented his star player the puck and a ceremonial plaque. It took Hanowski 111 games to break a mark that Pohl had set in 112.
"It was a pretty cool moment and the fact it was a packed rink made it that much more special since it happened in front of family and friends," Hanowski said.
You might be wondering why a player of Hanowski's ability still is playing high school hockey instead of perfecting his craft in the United States Hockey League with the Omaha Lancers -- the team that owns his junior rights.
All Hanowski wanted, however, was to help lead Little Falls to the Class A state championship -- a game he's never participated in -- at Xcel Energy Center, the home of the Minnesota Wild
. In leading the team to the Section 6A title following a 3-2 overtime victory against Alexandria on March 5 at St. Cloud Arena, Hanowski was named Tournament MVP after collecting 10 goals and 6 assists in three games.
Little Falls (30-1) advanced to the semifinal round of the Class A Tournament, but suffered a 6-1 setback to eventual state champion Breck School of Minneapolis on March 13. Hanowski made certain his team would finish no lower than third in the tournament, however, when he scored the game-winner with 22 seconds left in regulation in a 4-3 victory against St. Cloud Cathedral in the consolation round one day later. It would be the highest finish for Little Falls in five straight trips to the tournament.
Despite the loss to Breck, it's certainly a season Hanowski can look back on with pride. On March 16, one day after Eden Prairie defenseman Nick Leddy
was presented the Mr. Hockey Award as Minnesota's top scholastic player, Hanowski was named The Associated Press State Player of the Year. He'll take his game to St. Cloud State next season.
In addition to setting the state scoring record, Hanowski also broke Dave Spehar's mark of 171 career goals. He broke Spehar's mark against St. Cloud Apollo, the same opponent he faced when he set the all-time points total.
Hanowski had 73 goals and 135 points in 31 games this season, giving him four-year totals of 196 goals and 405 points.
The second-year captain has taken all the accolades in stride, even though the pressure to produce was squarely on his shoulders since the opening game of the season -- which turned out to be the only game in which he was held pointless.
"I just feel I need to go out and work hard every day because if I'm not working hard, how am I supposed to say, 'Hey let's go and pick it up a little bit,'" Hanowski said. "I'm always out to keep the guys focused before games."
It's that mentality that has pushed Hanowski to No. 45 on NHL Central Scouting's midterm rankings of players for the 2009 Entry Draft. He's the fourth-ranked scholastic player, behind Chris Kreider
of Phillips Academy Andover (Mass.), Edina (Minn.) High's Zach Budish
"It's kind of a cool thing to be thought of as one of the top 50 in North America," Hanowski said.
"If he was a selfish kid, he would have scored twice as many goals," said Central Scouting's Jack Barzee. "This kid has a good shot and while he may not be as good a skater as Danny Mattson
(a senior at Holy Angels in Minnesota), he is more like Jeremy Morin
(of the United States National Team Development Program). When he gets the puck and gets moving, he's deceptive. But he's offensively gifted."
Contact Mike Morreale at email@example.com.