Spencer Naas’ father first taught him how to stand holding a stick as just a toddler.
Next came skating lessons, a frustrating process that involved a lot of falling for Naas. But once he learned how to use the edges of his skates to transition forward and backward, he relaxed into the sport and decided not to quit in pursuit of basketball.
The Benilde-St. Margaret’s School (St Louis Park, Minn.) senior would have had a different future, one absent of forthcoming visits to Colgate, Ohio State and Michigan Tech. And considering playing junior hockey with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League after he graduates from high school wouldn’t be on the table.
These days, Naas’ love for the game is fueled by one goal that eludes him: a state championship. He expects to improve on last season’s effort as third on the team in scoring with 34 goals and 31 assists to help lead the Red Knights to the ultimate victory.
Naas’ fire and will caught our attention for the final USA TODAY High School Sports’ Ultimate Athlete spotlight — aninteractive discussion about what sport supersedes the rest, a series featuring athlete profiles, smack talk, training videos and more.
Below, Naas talks the game, its challenges and who in the sport he considers as the Ultimate Athlete.
Having competed in soccer, tennis and swimming, how does hockey measure up on the intensity meter?
Naas: The speed of the game is what separates it from other sports. There is constant action, and when you combine that with the hitting aspect it can get really intense. That is what makes it so fun to play.
How does size factor into the game? How can you compensate if you’re undersized?
Naas: Size plays a big factor. If you are considered a smaller player, you need to make up for it in other areas of your game. You need to make sure that your hands and speed compensate for your lack of size.
Who do you consider the Ultimate Athlete of hockey?
Naas: Sidney Crosby. I admire his work ethic and leadership. He puts in so much to improve his game. He’s always reliable and is a really skilled player and will stick up for his teammates. There’s stuff that I can only dream about doing that he can do pretty easily. They way he works and his dedication are things anyone can strive for.
Speaking of hard work, you surely did something right entering your sophomore season at Blake (Minneapolis) when you scored 40 goals.
Naas: That was the first year I started focusing on off-ice stuff. I strength-trained three days a week, and I developed my shot. I felt bigger and stronger, and that contributed a lot to my confidence.
Once you get into high school, strength training is definitely important because guys are bigger and stronger. To keep up, you have to get stronger. The most important thing though is that you’re having fun with it. If you’re enjoying it, you’re going to want to work harder at it.
If you could go back to your freshman season, what would you tell that version of yourself?
Naas: Never take a day at the rink for granted. Make the most of every day that you have the opportunity to play and spend time with your teammates. I’m not sure that younger kids don’t appreciate, but sometimes when you are younger, you forget to just slow down and enjoy things. As I have gotten older, I have learned to enjoy some of those moments with my teammates more than I did back then.