Just 109 points separate Ben Hanowski from setting a record that would cement his status as the most prolific scorer in Minnesota high school hockey history.
Playing in one of the nation's most competitive prep hockey regions, such a record is no small feat. Players pick up the game as young as 3 years old, like Hanowski did himself -- initially refusing to skate before grabbing the back of a chair and pushing himself across the ice for the first time.
That was nearly 15 years ago. These days, Hanowski is considered one of the best hockey players in state history. The Little Falls senior center has amassed 270 career points in three seasons, passing many state legends in the process. And with one more big season, the 6-foot-2, 200-pound Hanowski could pass former Red Wing star John Pohl, whose 378 career points currently top the list.
But Pohl's record isn't exactly on Hanowski's radar.
"I've seen the numbers," Hanowski says. "It's not on the top of my mind. The state tournament is -- that final Saturday at the Xcel Energy Center."
That's the site of the Class A state
championship game on March 14. It's a game he has never played in, despite helping the Flyers to the state quarterfinals the past three years. And it's a game that went a long way toward keeping him at Little Falls as a senior rather than in Omaha playing junior hockey.
For many players of Hanowski's stature, high school hockey would be a memory at this point. Most elite players use a year in the junior ranks as a bridge between high school and college
competition. The USHL's Omaha Lancers own Hanowski's junior rights, but the St. Cloud State recruit plans to prepare for college hockey by doing everything he can to lead the Flyers to the top.
Hanowski weighed many factors when
making his decision but ultimately concluded he couldn't pass up one more year at Little Falls. Or, to put it simply, "I wasn't ready to give up my
senior year," he says.
Two years ago, Little Falls had a player faced with a similar decision. Jared Festler sat 131 points shy of Pohl's mark. But instead of chasing the record, he decided to forgo his senior year to play junior hockey instead.
"I talked to Jared quite a bit," Hanowski says. "I even talked to a couple of other Minnesota guys who left early and didn't have a great experience."
In addition to the uncertainty of the USHL and the opportunity to lead his team to state glory, there were plenty of other reasons for staying at Little Falls.
"Our hockey team is really close," Hanowski says. "My best friends are on the hockey team. Sometimes the coach will invite us over to watch college hockey. We have wings and pizza, and we have a great time."
Guidance from his parents was also important. "The community helped raise him," says Hanowski's father, John. "I think he owed
something back to the community. He's a big role model for younger kids."
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He is a role model for his teammates as well.
"We joke about him being 'coach Hanowski,'" Little Falls head coach Tony Couture says. "In the first period of a game, in the first couple of shifts, I'll ask the kids what's going on out there, and he's always the first to say something. He'll pick up strategy sometimes before the coaches do."
When Hanowski missed five games last season while recovering from mononucleosis and a groin pull, he helped out from the bench any way possible. In fact, coaching is a career path Hanowski might consider at some point.
"There's always a point in your career when you're either not good enough or too old to play," he says. "But I'm not going to lose passion for the game, so that's definitely in the back of my mind."
The back of his mind is also where Hanowski stores his thoughts on individual accomplishments. Solo glory means very little to him, but there's no denying the significance of the scoring record he's chasing. Some of the players in front of Hanowski on that all-time list -- and many behind him -- have gone on to enjoy distinguished college and pro careers.
Hanowski enters his final prep season one spot ahead of Roseau's Aaron Broten, a former NHL forward and U.S. Hockey Hall of Famer. Hanowski is just a few points shy of Eveleth's John Mayasich, who won a gold medal in the 1960 Olympics with the U.S. National Team. And 108 points away -- just three less than Hanowski's
single-season point total as a sophomore -- is Pohl, who played the last three seasons in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs.
"With all records, you need to have a little luck," Hanowski's father says. "Even (Michael) Phelps needed a little luck getting all of those medals. Ben has been healthy, he's had guys helping him and he'll need both of those things to continue."
While every player in front of Hanowski on the career scoring list, and even Broten directly behind him, ended up playing at Minnesota in college, Hanowski is bucking the trend, committing last
fall to St. Cloud State. Ultimately, Hanowski hopes to turn pro -- like many of the state's other
all-time leading scorers.
"Every level that he has ever gone to, he has improved," Couture says. "His hockey ability and his mind are where they need to be. He has the heart for the NHL."
But point totals and junior hockey, college and the pros are still buried in the back of Hanowski's mind. Right now, all his effort and energy are focused on one thing: that final Saturday of the hockey season at the Xcel Energy Center.
Consider his calendar marked.