Nov. 17—The talent was unquestionably obvious before Brody Lamb or Maddox Fleming ever got to high school.
It was clear from a young age that both southeastern Minnesota natives had bright hockey futures ahead of them. The only question: Just how bright those futures could be.
The final answer still hasn't been delivered for Lamb, a Byron native who led Dodge County to the Class A boys hockey state championship game in the spring of 2021 before starring for the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
Nor has Fleming's hockey trajectory reached its peak. The Rochester native led the Mayo Spartans in scoring as an eighth-grader and for much of his freshman season, before moving on to Shattuck St. Mary's, then the U.S. National Team Development Program, then to the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL.
Fleming and Lamb didn't go head-to-head often when they lived 10 miles apart, but they will this weekend, both playing for Division I men's college hockey teams.
Check that last statement.
They're both playing for Big Ten Conference Division I men's college hockey teams.
Fleming's No. 17-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish visit Lamb's No. 6-ranked University of Minnesota Gophers for a two-game series tonight and Saturday at 3M Arena at Mariucci in Minneapolis.
It's a big series for both teams and for both players.
Notre Dame is off to a 6-3-2 start, including going unbeaten (4-0-2) in its past six games. The middle two games of that six-game run came at Penn State — a 3-3 tie on Nov. 4, followed by a 2-2 tie on Nov. 5 — against the No. 18-ranked Nittany Lions and another Rochester native, former John Marshall High and Austin Bruins standout Xander Lamppa.
Side note: Next season could see as many as five southeastern Minnesota natives on Big Ten rosters: Fleming; Lamb; Owatonna's Zach Wiese (Minnesota); Lamppa, if he chooses to use his "COVID" season, a fifth year of eligibility granted to all NCAA athletes who participated in the pandemic-shortened 2020-21 season; and Rochester native Hunter Hady, who this week signed his National Letter of Intent to play at the University of Michigan, beginning next season.
Fleming and Lamppa took turns showing their skills in the Nov. 4 game. Lamppa was named the First Star of the night, with a goal and two assists. Fleming scored his first collegiate goal — a big one — that tied the score 3-3 with 9:02 to play in regulation. The Irish went on to win in a shootout.
Fleming enters this weekend's series — the games are set for 7 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and will be streamed on Big Ten Network Plus — fifth on the Irish in scoring. To the surprise of no one who watched him in his formative days, the vast majority of his points have come via his playmaking skills. The 5-foot-11, 199-pound freshman forward — who wears No. 14 — has one goal and six assists through his first 11 college games.
Minnesota, meanwhile, is 5-3-2 through 10 games, having faced a gauntlet of highly ranked opponents: North Dakota (currently ranked No. 2 in the country), Wisconsin (currently No. 1), Minnesota Duluth (No. 14 at the time of the matchups), and Michigan (No. 8 at the time of last weekend's matchups).
The Gophers' three losses came at the hands of the current Nos. 1 and 2 teams — one against North Dakota, two against the Badgers.
Byron's Lamb is a big reason why the Gophers have been right in every game they've played (two of their losses came by one goal; in the other, they were within a goal with 5 minutes to play in the second period).
Lamb, a 6-foot-1, 175-pound sophomore forward, has been on an absolute tear to open this season. He had four goals and four assists in 39 games as a freshman last season, when he helped the Gophers reach the NCAA Division I national championship game. He has quickly surpassed those numbers already this season, becoming a go-to guy on both ends of the ice for the Gophers.
His 10 points (six goals, four assists) lead the team, as do his two game-winning goals and his 30.0% shooting percentage (he has scored on 6 of his 20 shots on goal).
On Tuesday, Lamb was named the Big Ten Conference Second Star of the Week after a four-point weekend in Minnesota's win and tie at Michigan last weekend. He had the first three-point game of his college career in Friday's 4-3 win, with a goal and two assists. He added a power-play goal in Saturday's 2-2 tie.
Lamb's goals this season have come in three of college hockey's premier arenas — Mariucci Arena in Minneapolis; Yost Ice Arena in Ann Arbor, Mich.; and Engelstad Arena in Grand Forks, N.D.
"It's amazing, when you're working your tail off and you're into it, special teams look better," Gophers head coach and Austin native Bob Motzko said in regards to Lamb's power-play goal last Saturday, "and that's what we've been waiting for. Brody keeps coming. He's going to be a great player for us. His whole line was terrific (last) weekend."