Post Bulletin Player of the Year has put hockey on the map in Minnesota's Apple Capital

Mar. 22—La CRESCENT, Minn. — Wyatt Farrell looped through the right side of the Austin High zone, glided around one defender then created space between himself and another defender before snapping a puck into the back of the Packers net.

Farrell spun and, without any fist bumps or celebration, skated immediately back to center ice for the ensuing faceoff.

The La Crescent-Hokah senior had just scored for the second time in the game, the 24th time this season and the 168th time in his high school career, to give his Lancers a comfortable 5-0 lead en route to an 8-1 victory on Dec. 28 at the Kiwanis Festival in Rochester.

His low-key reaction was that of a veteran leader who knew the game was in hand. There was no need to show up an overmatched opponent.

It was an "act like you've been there before" moment.

He had. More than 160 times.

That's the maturity and even-keel attitude Farrell carried admirably throughout a record-setting senior season.

"Wyatt always knows the crowd, knows the situation," Lancers head coach Eriah Hayes said. "He loves to score big goals, but when he scores one when we're up 5-1 or 6-1, he's not going to rub anything in. He just wants to play the game and play it the right way."

Farrell scored 28 more goals this season, finishing his final year of high school hockey with 52 goals and 40 assists, for 92 points. More importantly to him, he helped the Lancers program break new ground, recording a program-best 24 wins and a spot in the Section 1, Class 1A semifinals.

He scored his last high school goal in that section semifinal — a wildly entertaining and fast-paced 4-3 Lancers loss to Dodge County on Feb. 24 at the Rochester Recreation Center — a goal that gave him 196 for his five-season high school career. That tied him with former Little Falls star Ben Hanowski for the most career goals by a boys hockey player from Minnesota.

Three weeks later, Farrell was named to the Associated Press All-State Second Team, a rare honor for an outstate player, particularly one from a Class 1A school in southeastern Minnesota.

"I think it goes to show that, no matter where you're from in Minnesota, you can come out of a small town and make your name known," said Hayes, who like Farrell grew up in La Crescent, then went on to play at the Division I and NHL levels. "It's so special to see Wyatt's name on top of that list, especially when you look at the career Hanowski had, playing pro hockey and making it to the NHL."

In addition to his 196 goals, Farrell finished his time at La Crescent-Hokah with 88 assists, for 284 career points.

Indeed, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound goal-scoring dynamo has supplanted his head coach — Hayes played at Division I Minnesota State University, Mankato and then in the San Jose Sharks organization — atop nearly every statistical category in Lancers history.

For all those reasons and more, Farrell is the 2024 Post Bulletin All-Area Player of the Year. He's the first La Crescent-Hokah player to win the award in its 14-year history, and just the second from outside of Rochester, joining Dodge County's Brody Lamb (2021).

"Wyatt's a quiet, yet intense person," Hayes said. "His work ethic ... his work ethic on the ice is the exact same off the ice ice. Whether it's in the classroom, the weight room or on the golf course, he's intense and he wants to win, and you know that in every given situation when you're around him."

----When Hanowski was chasing the state scoring record as a senior in 2008-09, he often attempted to put some space between himself and the hype of the pursuit.

Hanowski allowed himself to forget about it as much as possible, to let the people who track those sorts of things be the ones to obsess over it. He not only set the state goals scored record, he also broke Red Wing native Johnny Pohl's mark for career points. Pohl had 378; Hanowski finished with 404.

"I didn't keep track of the number," Hanowski told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after leading Little Falls to a 30-1 record that season and a third-place finish at state. "I let other people do that because I was asked so many times about when I'm going to break it. I just wanted to focus on winning games as much as I could."

Farrell echoed those exact sentiments throughout his record-setting run this winter.

Following a 13-points-in-19-games performance in the Upper Midwest Elite League (a preparatory league that includes the top upperclassmen from across the state) last fall, his focus was solely on whatever it took to get the Lancers to their first state tournament.

Though they came up just shy of qualifying for state, Farrell and his teammates brought an energy and excitement to La Crescent-Hokah hockey that had never been seen in the Apple Capital of Minnesota.

"It's been really cool; we've gotten a lot of recognition from a lot of places this year," he told the Post Bulletin in early February. "It's been really cool because La Crescent hockey has never really had that. A lot of people are excited about this group."

The more the season went along, the more the Lancers won, the more jam-packed the La Crescent Community Ice Arena became.

"Yesterday, I opened up the Minnesota Hockey Journal and see a story about hockey in La Crescent, Minnesota," Hayes said. "Just the excitement around hockey in our town is something I don't think we've seen before. When Wyatt Farrell's name was called at a varsity game this year, the loudest cheers were from the little kids screaming from the stands.

"That's a testament to what Wyatt has done for our program. Our little Mites here look at him like he's a Hockey God. That's what you want in your community, the littlest kids to see Wyatt Farrell's name get announced they go absolutely crazy.

"When we do our 'Skate with the Mites' nights, he was at every single one of them. It's a testament to the player and the person he is."

----Farrell's career as a Lancer came to an end on Feb. 24.

He spent nearly an hour consoling teammates that night in the lower level of the Rochester Rec Center, offering and receiving hugs and pats on the back, all while putting off the inevitable sting of the moment when he'd have to remove his No. 2 green-and-white sweater for the final time.

That sting was still there, though tinged with some nervous anticipation, when he woke up three days later, packed his vehicle and headed north out of La Crescent, destination St. Cloud.

The hockey world doesn't stop spinning.

Farrell's next hockey home was waiting: the St. Cloud Norsemen of the North American Hockey League. He played in his first junior hockey game four days after arriving in St. Cloud, a 2-1 Norsemen loss at the Austin Bruins.

"He said it'll take a little time to settle in," Hayes said of Farrell's adjustment to the NAHL. "He kind of referred to the Elite League. He had a slow start there, but once he got a feel for the size of the players and the pace of play, it was different. He adapted and found a way to have success."

Farrell is still in St. Cloud, training with the Norsemen and preparing for whatever the 2024-25 season holds for him, be it a full season with the Norsemen, a chance at the USHL — the highest level of junior hockey in the country — or some option that hasn't yet presented itself.

Whatever the answer is to that question — where will Wyatt Farrell play hockey next season? — there's no question that he'll be prepared and ready to outwork everyone in opposing colors — and his own colors.

"I think what was most impressive about Wyatt was how he went about finding a way to beat it when teams would hone in on him or put a couple of guys on him," Hayes said. "The way he went about watching video, practicing, having guys (chase) him in practice ... just the way he went about the process of 'here's what they're trying to do to me, now how can I beat it?' was so impressive.

"He just won't be denied. He will find a way to have success."

A look at the historic high school hockey career of La Crescent-Hokah's Wyatt Farrell, by the numbers:

284 Career points

196 Career goals

92 Points in '23-'24

88 Career assists

56 L-H wins past 3 years

52 Goals in '23-'24

40 Assists in '23-'24