Dream chasers: A season on the rink with Chanhassen boys hockey

Chanhassen's Chase: Today's story is the first in an occasional Star Tribune series that will follow the Storm as they try to reach their first boys hockey state tournament.

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Kam Hendrickson, goaltender for Chanhassen's varsity team as a junior last season, was determined to raise his game a few notches over the summer by taking his talents to the Chicago Steel of the United States Hockey League.

Hendrickson chose juniors over a chance to avenge an overtime loss to Minnetonka in the Class 2A, Section 2 playoffs. The Storm, a program without a postseason victory in 12 previous tries, changed its fortunes last season by winning two playoff games and getting within a shot of making its debut in the hallowed high school boys hockey state tournament — perhaps the country's top prep sport pursuit and a dream every Minnesota boy with skates and a stick grows up wanting to attain.

When the 2022-23 season ended, anticipation for historic success at Chanhassen in 2024 remained, owing to a talented roster, starting with Hendrickson. He broke the program's record for shutouts, saves percentage and goals-against average. And he felt the pull of unfinished business.

That all changed when Hendrickson elected after the school year to join Chicago. And he wasn't alone. Rumors swirled throughout the offseason about whether several other talented, experienced players would remain in Chanhassen or choose a different path.

Chanhassen's state tournament dream was dying.

Then, one by one, players chose to stay. By the start of the school year Hendrickson, the Storm's last line of defense, was the final holdout. But the young man found himself repeatedly held out of the Steel lineup in September and October. The draw of home, of playing time, of helping get Chanhassen to the state tournament became increasingly strong.

"Especially being a goalie — that's a mental position as it is," Hendrickson said. "There were a lot of dark nights, a lot of soul searching and wondering if I could make it through the next day without losing my mind because I wasn't playing."

Once "dead set about staying in Chicago with that group," Hendrickson did an about-face in November, just before Chanhassen's tryouts.

Chanhassen's state tournament dream was back on.

That dream is familiar to any Minnesota family with pucks and sticks in the garage. Bantams grow into varsity players, pursuing that gleam. What does it take for a team to break through and finally get there? In this Star Tribune series, we will follow the Storm — going behind the scenes with players and coaches as they train and chase their hopes of reaching their first state tournament — to document their attempt.

Teams across Minnesota will be scrapping to stop them. And, no matter what, this series will come to a sudden end for Chanhassen, with the dream fully realized or heartbreak visiting once again.

Driven by development

Rated No. 3 in Class 2A by Let's Play Hockey news last week and riding a five-game winning streak, Chanhassen enters the final weeks of the season with momentum.

The season began with consecutive losses to Andover and Rosemount, evidence of a tougher schedule and a Chanhassen team still working out kinks created by players pursuing summer hockey opportunities beyond home.

Three-year captain Jake Risch said the remaining players vowed to "worry about ourselves and control what we could control. It made us a lot better in the summer because we didn't have that safety net to fall back on."

Chanhassen's roster, schedule and statistics

After the Rosemount loss, third-year coach Sean Bloomfield sat senior forwards Caden Lee and Gavin Uhlenkamp down in the coaches room and asked them, "What did you come back for?"

Development, said both players, who already have made commitments to Division I college programs.

Their answer pleased Bloomfield. He keeps a team report card in the locker room, an idea borrowed from coach Sean Goldsworthy, who directed Minnetonka's state title runs in 2018 and 2023 after 19 seasons coaching St. Olaf.

Scoring first and winning the third period were already standards. Puck retrievals were added this season. The goal is to win at least 50% of loose pucks whether created by a shot on goal or a missed pass. The Storm were 9-1 in the first 10 games in which they won puck retrievals. The only loss came opening day against Andover.

Development is happening.

Chanhassen's state tournament dream is taking shape.

The problem of Minnetonka

Chanhassen's gameday program asks, "Are you ready to weather the storm?" The text is placed above a photo from space of a hurricane.

The Storm's tough schedule featured a Dec. 7 game at Pagel Activity Center against defending state tournament champion Minnetonka, the team that stopped Chanhassen just short of state last season, the team that is unbeaten and ranked No. 1 in Class 2A this season.

The team that stands between Chanhassen and the dream.

Goals by Lee and senior forward Andy Earl produced leads of 1-0 and 2-1 in that December game. But they didn't hold. Minnetonka won 3-2 in overtime. These are the types of games Hendrickson came back to play. And he played well, stopping 32 of 35 shots. But the overall loss still stung because Hendrickson played youth hockey in Minnetonka.

"I wouldn't call it bad blood," Hendrickson said. "But when we get on the ice, they are no longer my buddies. And the way last season ended still keeps us up at night."

Yet all the talent on Chanhassen's roster and his desire to pay the Skippers back wasn't enough to keep Hendrickson at home — initially.

"Originally, I was blinded by the lights of the USHL and trying to get to that level as fast as I could," Hendrickson said. "But it was tough not playing games. It was also tough because I had my buddies in Chanhassen nagging me, like, 'What are you doing?' But it was a good experience, and I learned a lot. The staff taught me a lot of things that are making me successful this season."

Chanhassen's state tournament dream is alive.

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Next in the series: Chanhassen's approach to the "academy" issue.