St. Louis Park has the market cornered on comebacks.
Not only did the Orioles engineer one of the season’s must remarkable come-from-behind victories by scoring four goals in the final 4 minutes, 34 seconds of regulation in an eventual overtime victory over Chaska, but they also can claim the state’s unofficial Comeback Player of the Year in Lucas Hand, a senior who ranks among the state’s top scorers despite sitting out all of last season while recovering from hip surgery.
Hand’s emergence seemingly from nowhere as a scoring tour de force and St. Louis Park’s unwillingness to accept defeat are inexorably linked. Certainly, there’s not an ounce of quit in Hand, whose hockey career has been relegated to a series of stops and starts for the past several years because of injuries associated with a massive growth spurt and, more recently, just plain old bad luck.
“It really took a lot out of me,” Hand said about not only missing last season but also being faced with the possibility he might never play competitively again. “I’ve been playing hockey since I was three years old, so it was such a big part of my life. But I kind of talked with my family, and this is something that I really want to do. I want to play at the next level.”
Hand also sat out his second year of Bantams and missed several games as a sophomore (he scored 12 points) because of myriad growth issues. He was relegated to rink rat-only status last season.
“I grew almost a foot in a year and half,” Hand said. “So my body was just kind of getting used to being taller.”
Hand, who is a sturdy 5-foot-9, 165 pounds, says he’s now fully in synch with his stabilized body. It shows. His 12 goals and 18 assists lead the Orioles (9-4-1). He was on the first page of the state’s scoring leaderboard before COVID-19 protocols forced St. Louis Park to cancel its final four regular season games.
“I was just happy he was back and able to play hockey this year,” said St. Louis Park coach Andrew Sackrison, who didn’t foresee Hand’s scoring explosion. “You could tell he had the vision and the skill, but could he get over the physical gap? For him to have the year he’s had is pretty awesome.”
The Orioles are set to return to action Thursday night against Edina in the Class 2A, Section 6 quarterfinals. The game will be their first since Feb. 27. And they’ll play it without their inspirational leader. Hand suffered his most recent bad break, literally, in St. Louis Park’s 2-1 overtime victory over Holy Angels.
“He actually broke his hand,” Sackrison said. “He got tangled up with a defenseman.”
In typical no-quit fashion, Hand continued to play after suffering the injury. Now? “He’s got a cast up to his elbow,” Sackrison said. “It’s been tough. It would have been nice to obviously have him down the stretch with his production.”
Hand won’t be on the ice Thursday, but his infectious spirit and over-the-top tenacity is embedded in his teammates. Orioles senior Jack Wandmacher remembers when Hand was scoring more than 200 points in 50-game seasons as a pint-sized youth hockey phenom destined for greatness. Hand’s long recovery and his return to stardom this season has been inspirational for Wandmacher and the rest of the Orioles.
“He’s had a lot of obstacles he’s had to go around,” said Wandmacher, who starred in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League last fall as St. Louis Park’s lone player in the all-star league. “It’s been good for me to see him work through those.”
Wandmacher remembers driving to practice last season and seeing Hand working on his game at the St. Louis Park Rec Center’s outdoor rink know as the ROC (Recreation Outdoor Center). Hand would still be there when the Orioles completed practice in the adjacent indoor rink and headed for home.
“He’s worked his tail off,” Wandmacher said about Hand, who has committed to play for the Dauphin Kings of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League next season.
There is a theme of resiliency, for sure, in our group.
— Andrew Sackrison, St. Louis Park head coach
Wandmacher, second in scoring for the Orioles with 20 points (9 goals, 11 assists) takes pride in what he describes as the Orioles’ reputation as a, “blue collar team that works hard and busts their butt.”
The reputation the Orioles so relish was cemented on Feb. 2 when they engineered their stunning triumph over Chaska. St. Louis Park trailed 5-1 in the third period when McCabe Dvorak and Drew Boyum started the comeback by scoring goals 55 seconds apart. Boyum’s goal made it 5-3 with 3:39 remaining. Then the fireworks really started, as Hand scored with 1:09 left in regulation followed by another Dvorak goal with 29 seconds left.
St. Louis Park overcame more adversity by killing a Wandmacher penalty early in the overtime period. Sam Berry secured the victory by scoring with 3:21 left in overtime.
“Going into the third the captains got everybody together and we all got kind of riled up,” Hand said. “And then we put that run together. I’ve never been a part of something like that. It was really exciting.”
Sackrison, a high-scoring St. Louis Park star in the mid-2000s, played at Minnesota State and professionally in Europe and U.S. The former Orioles assistant coach now in his third year leading the program said he’s never witnessed a comeback that compares to the one against Chaska.
“The four goals leading up to the tie were just a blur,” he said. “Then we had to kill off a penalty in the overtime, and I thought maybe the juice had run out. One of those ones were you just shake your head as a coach.
“There is a theme of resiliency, for sure, in our group.”
St. Louis Park opened the regular season with a 4-4 overtime tie against No. 11-ranked Edina, another stunning outcome given the Hornets’ status as a perennial state title contender and the Orioles' 18-year state tournament drought.
St. Louis Park rallied twice from two-goal deficits to tie No. 13 Benilde-St. Margaret’s early in the third period on a Hand goal in an eventual 6-4 loss to the Red Knights on Feb. 13.
“Park has been very solid the last five or six years,” Benilde-St. Margaret’s coach Ken Pauly said about the Orioles. “They stay within their structure and they play damn hard.”
St. Louis Park was seeded sixth and 13-time state champion Edina (9-7-2) third in Section 6AA. The teams meet at 8:30 p.m. on Thursday at Braemar Arena. Despite the Orioles’ 18-day layoff and heartbreaking loss of Hand, Sackrison found reason for optimism.
“We were pretty beat up, we had two or three guys who were at 70 or 80 percent, we were able to mend some of those injuries,” Sackrison said Tuesday night. “We got four practices this last week, and I like the energy in the group.”