Hunter Schneider’s high school season ended in the first round of sections in mid-February, but he still found a way to help make a playoff push.
The Granite City Lumberjacks of the NA3HL added the Willmar High School senior to their roster and Schneider made his junior hockey debut on Feb. 24, six days after his high school career ended.
Schneider made an immediate impact and will help the Lumberjacks go for their second straight NA3HL championship.
“I wasn’t even sure if I was going to play hockey after high school,” Schneider said. “I came (to Granite City) not knowing any of the guys but they brought me in and made me part of the family. It made it really easy for me to have fun.”
The second-seeded Lumberjacks will host No. 3 Alexandria in the best-of-five first round of the NA3HL West Division Playoffs at 7 p.m. Friday at Sports Arena East and for Game 2 Saturday.
The series shifts to Alexandria for Games 3 and 4 March 22 and 23. A fifth game would be at Sports Arena East, if necessary.
Schneider has recorded a point in all eight games he’s played with seven goals and four assists as Granite City went 5-1-2.
“For a kid coming right out of high school, that’s a little shot of energy added in there,” Lumberjacks coach Brad Willner said. “It helped to get some youthful energy in here with a couple of high school kids.”
Willner first talked to Schneider during the Little Falls high school holiday tournament in December.
Schneider still attends high school at Willmar, picks one morning per week to join the Lumberjacks for practice and plays the games on the weekends.
“I’d like to be (with the team) as much as I could but my parents want me to go to school,” Schneider said. “I’m really excited going into playoffs. My team (Willmar) got stuck the first round of playoffs so it’s nice to get a second chance.”
David Horsemann, a senior defenseman from Grand Rapids High School, joined Granite City for the last six games of the regular season and supplied the Lumberjacks with stability at the defensive position.
Horseman takes online high school courses while living in the St. Cloud Area.
Granite City had the bare minimum six defensemen before Horsemann, defensive partner with Mr. Hockey finalist Jake Bischoff at Grand Rapids, arrived.
“We struggling with only six ‘D’,” said Granite City forward Zac Sikich, who has 20 goals and 20 assists in 35 games. “Some guys were worried that if there would be any more injuries (to defensemen).”
Drew Otto leads the team in points (63) and assists (40) to go with 23 goals. Aidan Verbeke leads Granite City in goals with 24 and is second in assists with 32 for 56 points.
Scott Murray has played a majority of the minutes in goal this season, compiling a 2.34 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage.
The Lumberjacks played Alexandria eight times this season and won seven of those games.
“They’re a tough team to play and this series is going to be a real battle,” Sikich said. “(Alexandria) is a little cheap but we just have to keep our heads and stay out of the (penalty) box.”
Alexandria had an NAHL (Tier II juniors) franchise, last season but relocated to Brookings, S.D. A new NA3HL (Tier III) franchise popped up in Alexandria this season, also nicknamed the Blizzard.
“Alexandria has good forwards, a good corps of defensemen and good goaltending so overall,” Willner said. “It was a good addition to our league to add those guys. They’re doing very well for a first-year team.”