The distance between Edina, Minnesota and Grand Forks, North Dakota is 317 miles. But for UND junior forward Conner Gaarder, the journey took him much further than that. The trail wasn’t straight, the path wasn’t clear. But Gaarder ended up making his mark on the University of North Dakota hockey program just like so many Edina hockey players before him.
The most famous hockey players from Edina are Bill Nyrop, who won three consecutive Stanley Cups with the Montreal Canadiens (1976-1978); Paul Ranheim, who played for five different NHL clubs over 24 seasons; and Anders Lee, who currently plays for the New York Islanders. Brian Burke, former general manager and executive vice president for the Toronto Maple Leafs, also hails from Edina.
The Edina Hornets have won twelve Minnesota state high school hockey championships: 1969, 1971, 1974E, 1978E, 1979E, 1982, 1984, 1988, 1997, 2010, 2013, and 2014. The “E” designation is used to denote Edina East because, from 1973-1981, there was also an Edina West. After 1981, “West” became the new Edina High School and the old East building was converted to a community center.
Through it all, the hockey teams have been known as the Hornets, with their signature colors of kelly green and white.
Perhaps that’s why, in 1973, Brad Becker became the first Edina native to play at the University of North Dakota. Becker was a four-year letterwinner for the Fighting Sioux (1973-77), appearing in 143 games and collecting 123 points (66 goals, 57 assists). The 5-11, 165 pound former Hornet ended his career as just the ninth member of UND’s Century Club (100 career points), joining former Sioux greats Ben Cherski, Bill Reichart, Jim Cahoun, Earl Anderson, Ken Johansson, James Ridley, Roger Lamoureux, and Reg Morelli. Becker still ranks as one of North Dakota’s top fifty scorers of all time.
While Becker was in Grand Forks, he convinced David Geving and Scott Nieland to join him.
Geving played defense for two seasons at UND, appearing in 77 games. He scored 15 goals and notched 47 assists for 62 points while racking up 90 minutes in penalties. The Edina West product left the program after the 1975-76 season.
Nieland appeared in 32 games during the 1975-76 season, potting two goals and adding ten assists before deciding to transfer to Boston University. He sat out a year before appearing in 67 games over three seasons (1977-80) for the Terriers. Nieland perhaps gave up an opportunity for a national title with the Fighting Sioux by doing so, but he did collect three goals and thirteen assists at BU.
After Becker, Geving, and Nieland left Grand Forks, it would be almost 20 years before another Hornet would make his mark on the North Dakota hockey program. Peter Armbrust, standing identical in height to Brad Becker before him, appeared in 154 games for the Fighting Sioux from 1996 to 2000, winning two national titles (1997, 2000) and helping UND to a remarkable record of 124-32-10 (.777) under head coach Dean Blais. Armbrust, who served as captain of the 1999-2000 championship team, collected 50 points (21 goals, 29 assists) during his four year tenure and is perhaps best remembered for getting a puck past Minnesota’s Steve DeBus in overtime at the 1997 WCHA playoff championship.
Here’s Armbrust talking about his two championships at North Dakota.
During that same time, another Edina native appeared on the roster. Jeff Yurecko spent two years with the program (1999-2001) and collected three points in 29 games while experiencing an NCAA championship victory (2000) and an overtime loss in the title game (2001).
Joe Finley was the next to trade in the kelly green and white of his hometown Hornets for the green and white of North Dakota. The 6-7, 245 pound defenseman left his mark on the UND program in a variety of ways. Finley played in 154 games for the Fighting Sioux from 2005 to 2009 and served as assistant captain for the 2008-09 season. He helped lead North Dakota to four straight NCAA tournaments (three Frozen Fours), a Broadmoor Trophy (2006), and a MacNaughton Cup as a senior in 2008-09. A rugged blueliner, Finley was a +66 for his collegiate career with 303 penalty minutes.
Another Edina defenseman stepped in at North Dakota just as Finley was beginning his pro career. Joe Gleason played for Dave Hakstol from 2009 to 2013, appearing in 143 games and collecting 46 points while amassing 82 minutes in penalties. Gleason also helped UND earn four straight NCAA tournament bids (including one Frozen Four appearance) and a WCHA regular season championship in 2010-11. He was also a part of three straight WCHA Final Five championships (2010-12) and 105 overall victories (against just 48 losses) in his four year stint in Grand Forks.
And that brings us to the current North Dakota hockey roster. Junior Conner Gaarder is the latest Edina native to call Grand Forks home. The 5-10 forward has appeared in 108 games over his first three seasons, lighting the lamp 16 times and adding 21 assists. He scored the biggest goal of UND’s 2013-14 season in double overtime against Ferris State in the NCAA Midwest Regional final, sending North Dakota back to the Frozen Four (Philadelphia, PA).
Here’s the entire double overtime session, including Gaarder’s goal:
What is most remarkable about Gaarder’s story is that he never dreamed that he would end up playing for Dave Hakstol. He had every intention of heading off to play Division III hockey, but the UND coaching staff asked him to walk on after another recruit de-committed. Gaarder has earned his way into the lineup and anchors North Dakota’s checking line. He also scored the first two goals in the NCHC third place game against Western Michigan, a game the boys from Grand Forks absolutely had to win in order to make the NCAA tournament.
I enjoyed seeing this Instagram picture of Joe Gleason’s conversation with some former teammates before and after Gaarder scored to send North Dakota to Philly. Here’s the full article talking about how former players stay connected to UND hockey.
And who’s next? Three Edina Hornets were selected to the All-USA boys hockey team, and two of those three have not given a verbal commitment to any school. Defenseman Tyler Nanne was named to the All-USA third team but has already committed to play his college hockey at Ohio State.
Senior goaltender Andrew Rohkohl (5-9, 150 pounds) was named to the All-USA first team. Rohkohl amassed a record of 23-4-1 with a 1.84 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage. He had three shutouts on the season and made 36 stops in the title game as the Hornets claimed their 2nd-straight AA championship.
Senior forward Miguel Fidler (6-1, 185 pounds) was named to the All-USA second team. A pure goal scorer, Fidler scored 20 goals and notched 30 assists in 50 games while leading Edina to the state title.
What are the chances that either Andrew Rohkohl or Miguel Fidler will follow in the footsteps of the Hornets before them and make their mark on the University of North Dakota hockey program? Only time will tell.