Created: 12/20/2012 2:29 PM KSTP.com By: Chris Long
Rarely will you see three players on one prep hockey team all ranking among the top ten scorers in the state.
One set of linemates stakes that claim right now in Minnesota High School hockey.
The high-flying top line at Como Park is causing rink scorekeepers to have spare pens on hand... and causing prep hockey aficionados to reconsider their outlook on the Cougars.
"It was pretty brutal," says senior Sawyer Scanlon - when asked how tough the past two seasons had been.
The Cougars only won 5 games last season, and just six one year ago. At 6-3 this season, they've set a three-year high... and it's not even Christmas.
"There's an air of excitement around the locker room," says senior Tommy McCullough. "I know everyone's pumped before each practice and game - probably more than the last few years."
McCullough, Scanlon and third linemate Mitch McNamee have ignited an offensive explosion propelling the Cougars to their fast start.
Through nine games, McNamee (11 goals, 16 assists, 27 points) is tied for second on the state scoring list according to MNHockeyHub.com. McCullough (13-12-25) is sixth, and Scanlon (11-13-24) is tied for seventh, despite having missed some time due to illness earlier in the season.
"It's kind of weird to score so much... I don't know what it is," Scanlon says. "...but I kind of like it."
Cougars coach David Bakken is also mystified by the offensive outburst.
"I'm not a goal scorer myself, so I don't know anything about that," Bakken says. "What I do know about is lifting weights and how contagious that is.
Bakken, and the senior trio, credit this season's step forward to a rigorous offseason training and conditioning commitment that saw the players push themselves hard both on and off the ice.
"We've got three guys that took it to another level," says Bakken.
Their work ethic and current statistics might be similar, but the three stars' playing style is anything but.
Sawyer on Tommy: "He's like a freight train out there"
Tommy on Sawyer: "He's got to be one of the fastest high school hockey players I've ever seen."
Bakken on Mitch: "He is such a rink rat. He was a goalie until he was 12-years old, now he's a sniper."
A bruiser, a speedster and a sniper. Sounds like a line made in heaven.
"In hockey you can't have everybody on the ice being the same guy," Bakken explains. "You have to have different skill sets on the ice. These guys are three totally different players. You got one guy who's strong, another guy who is a sniper and a third guy who is really fast and knows where everybody is on the ice at once. You have three totally different guys who really click."
They also all credit a longstanding friendship with helping to build chemistry among them - also on and off the ice.
"We just been playing together a couple years now," McNamee says. "We're building chemistry and knowing where each other are. We just have a great bond. We've been playing together how many years now, if you play that long together, you build a tendency to know where everybody is and know where to pass the puck. We like to do stuff off the ice too."
"We've probably known each other since we were like 8 or 10," Scanlon says. "We started playing together on a line sophomore year. But this year, all of us just got a lot better with our shots, stickhandling, and we really started to click."
There's also the chance to finish their high school careers by helping the program turn a corner.
"We've taken some big losses," Scanlon says. "My sophomore year, we lost 17-0 to Hill Murray, and I guess... those losses kind of hit me. Teams would just run up the score on us. So I kind of took it as motivation - especially this past summer - we all took it to ourselves that we're kind of sick of it. So we all just worked hard to get better."
Bakken sees that commitment catching on, and making his job easier.
"If you have kids that the younger guys look up to and want to emulate, as a coach you really don't have to do too much," Bakken says. "You get Scanlon and McNamee and McCullough lifting weights every day and the younger guys see that - they start showing up too."
While the three seniors have lit up the scoreboard, they say that hasn't been the key to their fast start - in terms of why they're winning games.
"It's not about the goals, assists at all," McNamee says. "It's about what we do in the defensive zone - going down to block the shot to create the odd man rush. Or someone taking a hit to get the puck out of the zone. It's all about that, to get the puck to an open linemate."
There is an obvious pride in the little things, which fits in this community with a tremendous sense of pride in itself.
"With these kids, there's more of a sense of pride in the community than you're going to find in a lot of other places," Bakken explains. "Como is a different place. "There's a ton of 'Como pride'. People from here maybe will move or go elsewhere, but a lot of them come back. You don't always find that out in the suburbs."
"We're Como kids," McNamee says. "We've grown up Como kids, we've played for Como Area... it's what we love."
"I know we have had a great hockey tradition here for many years," McCullough says. "I'd like to keep it going for the future years, too."