Waseca is a typical southern Minnesota town in that high school hockey, most often, doesn’t dominate the collective consciousness like it does in, say, Warroad, the hockey-crazed Canadian border town 426 miles to the north.
Chris Storey, in his eighth season as Waseca’s head coach, knows firsthand how hockey can become all-consuming. He graduated from Warroad High School after playing in the 1995 state tournament in front of, as is always the case, what seemed like the entire population (1,800) of “Hockeytown USA.”
With the Bluejays, powered by sophomore scoring sensation Kyle Ahlschlager, off to their best start in program history, hockey has commanded the attention of residents in Waseca, a town of 9,000 that sits 28 miles east of Mankato, 15 miles west of Owatonna and 43 miles north of the Iowa border. Hockey’s rise to prominence is a big deal, considering Waseca is perhaps best known for producing the state’s first Mr. Basketball in Gene Glynn, also a former baseball star who served as the Minnesota Twins’ third base coach from 2015-18.
Because basketball, baseball and football are long-established at the top of the town’s high school sports pecking order, Storey says he feels like he is “breaking rules with our hockey program right now.” Not that he has any remorse.
The Bluejays’ 5-0-0 start — a follow-up to a school record 18-victory season in 2019-20 — coincided with Ahlschlager’s emergence as scoring superstar. After compiling 13 goals and 14 assists last season to rank 15th in scoring among the state’s freshmen, Ahlschlager, a 5-foot-8, 165-pound workout fiend, has elevated his game — and scoring — to mind-blowing levels.
Ahlschlager scored a stunning 10 points (6 goals, 4 assists) in a 12-4 victory over Fairmont on Jan. 21. He is believed to be just one of a dozen or so players to reach double digits in scoring in a single game and, based on extensive research, is tied with eight players in third place for most points in a single game.
"I’ve heard a lot of talk around the community," Ahlschlager said. "People coming up and saying stuff about how our season is going."
In high school hockey’s State-Tournament Era that begins in 1945, Eveleth’s John Mayasich scored 11 goals and had three assists in a 23-0 over Duluth Central on Feb. 16. 1950. Warroad’s Max Oshie scored 12 goals in a 16-2 victory over Thief River Falls on Jan. 6, 1948. More recently, Sean LaVine of Bagley/Fosston scored four goals and added eight assists in a 16-9 win over Ely on Dec. 1, 2012.
“It’s a good group to be mentioned with, that’s for sure,” said Ahlschlager, who entered Thursday night’s game against Minnesota River tied for the state scoring lead with Hermantown sophomore Zam Plante with 34 points. Ahlschlager’s 18 goals are second most in the state behind Plante’s 19.
“He’s always been athletic, and you could see there was going to be potential,” Storey said about Ahlschlager. “On top of that his work ethic is beyond ridiculous.”
Ahlschlager, who played every sport he could growing up, has narrowed his focus to hockey, football (running back) and track and field (100- and 200-meter dashes, long jump). He doesn’t hesitate in saying hockey is favorite.
“I just like the feeling when I step on the ice,” Ahlschlager said. “Everything in my mind kind of goes away.”
Ahlschlager, a left wing, has developed a deep connection with senior right wing Charlie Huttemier (15 goals, 7 assists) and junior center Riley Forshee (3 goals, 9 assists). The Bluejays, 6-2-0 after splitting recent two-game series with Windom and Redwood Valley, don’t have enough players to field a junior varsity team. They typically dress eight forwards and play two lines.
“We all know where each other are,” Ahlschlager said about his chemistry with Huttemier and Forshee. “You can throw a puck somewhere, like in the corner or a soft area, and know the other guy will be there and pick it up.”
The Bluejays’ success is built on both talent and sweat equity. Ahlschlager, who works out twice a week during hockey season and six days a week out of season, said he was impressed with his teammates’ commitment to summer training sessions. He also mentioned with pride a 5-0 victory over Redwood Valley on Feb. 9, the Bluejays’ first shutout victory of the season and first since a 7-0 triumph over Redwood Valley on Jan. 28, 2000.
“It was a long time coming,” Ahlschlager said.
Speaking of defense, Storey said Ahlschlager isn’t a singularly focused goal scorer.
“He’s learning to play hockey in a very unselfish way,” Storey said, “We works his tail off defensively. He’s one of our top penalty killers.”
“It’s not just fly the zone and go score goals.”