By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
St. Michael-Albertville ex-hockey star Jake Larson – a 2012 graduate – has his goals set high.
The all-time Knights leading goal scorer, recently was named the Superior International Junior Hockey League’s Rookie of the Year, after a stellar freshman campaign that saw him score 44 goals and 72 points in 49 games playing for the Minnesota Wilderness.
“I’d be lying to you if I said I didn’t enjoy the personal recognition,” said Larson, who mentioned he someday has hopes of playing Division-I hockey. “But you don’t play this game for individual awards. You play for league championships.”
The Wilderness – a junior-A team out of Cloquet, Minn. – finished the regular season a remarkable 51-3-0 and continued their torrid season into the playoffs, winning the Dudley-Hewitt Cup last Saturday with a 4-3 overtime win over the St. Michael’s Buzzers at Ontario’s North Bay Memorial Gardens.
Larson played a key role in the win, assisting on Nick Szopinski’s overtime game-winning goal. The championship put the Wilderness on the map as the first American team to win the Canadian-based Dudley-Hewitt Cup.
“It was 10 minutes into overtime and I skated down and didn’t have much,” Larson said. “I tried driving to the net and took a shot aiming for the goalies far pad. He gave up a juicy rebound and (Szopinski) put it away.”
The victory sends Minnesota to the Royal Bank Cup. It’s a tournament that determines the winner of the Canadian Junior-A champion.
Larson has two years of junior eligibility. After a rocky start to his post-high school career, he said a trade last fall helped turn his fortunes around.
After starting his junior career in South Dakota playing for the Brookings Blizzard of the North American Hockey League, a trade in mid-October sent the 19-year old St. Michael native to the Wilderness of the SIJHL.
At first, Larson said he was unsure of how to react to the trade, but as the season progressed, he said it turned out for the best.
“I was living with a host family in South Dakota and being traded was a new experience for me,” he said. “Adjusting to new surroundings and new teammates was tough. But I wasn’t getting as much playing time at Brookings and here I got to play more. It turned out for the best.”
Ironically, St. Michael’s – the team that Larson and the Wilderness defeated to claim the title – is mistakenly listed as his hometown on the Wilderness’ official website.
“I don’t even think St. Michael’s is an actual town,” Larson chuckled.
The Royal Bank Cup takes place May 11-19 at Summerside, Prince Edward Island in Canada and pits winners from the Fred Page Cup, the Western Canada Cup and its runner up and the Dudley-Hewitt Cup. It’s a five-team tournament that pits a host team and four other league champions in a round-robin field. The Penticton Vees of British Columbia are the defending champions.