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Faces in the crowd become role models for state champion Skippers

Many of this year's state champions were young fans in attendance when Minnetonka won its first state title in 2018.

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Minnetonka defender Liam Hupka (17) skates the State Class AA trophy to the fans after their win against Edina Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

ST. PAUL — Many members of this year's Minnetonka Skippers roster had an idea of what it was like to win a state high school championship.

They hadn't won one themselves, but they lived vicariously through the 2018 Minnetonka team when it celebrated the school's first boys state title with a 5-2 win over Duluth East in the finale at the Xcel Energy Center.

Bobby Brink, now a professional in the Philadelphia Flyers organization, and numerous future Division I players took the ice that night for Tonka.

Then just youth hockey players cheering on their hockey idols, many current Skippers saw it live.

"I was here," senior goalie Kaizer Nelson said. "I remember exactly where I was sitting. I was up top with all my friends. It was a great time."


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Minnetonka goaltender Kaizer Nelson (31) blocks a shot against Edina in the first period Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Nelson made 22 saves in Saturday's 2-1 championship game win over Edina and stopped 51 of 56 shots in the tournament to backstop Minnetonka.

"I'd say it's pretty bleeping awesome," Nelson said after leading Minnetonka to its second championship.

It's not lost on the current Skippers that the next generation of stars watched from the stands as they earned the title on Saturday night.

"There's a bunch of little kids, and it makes me so happy to see us a team that makes such an effect on the community," senior defender Liam Hupka said.

"I just think of when I was that kid," fellow senior blueliner Danny Pasqua said. "When I was a peewee, squirt, bantam looking up to the high school kids thinking, 'I want to be them.'"

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Minnetonka students start their celebration with seconds left on the clock as Minnetonka beats Edina for the State AA championship title Saturday, March 11, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

If the Skippers are back in St. Paul a few years down the road, it'll be memories of Hupka, Pasqua, Nelson and the 2023 Skippers the new crop of talent will fondly recall alongside Brink and his teammates of the past.

And there will be a kid in the stands wanting to be just like them someday.

Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament coverage including game recaps, photos, brackets, schedules and more from The Rink Live

Eli is an audience engagement specialist for Forum Communications Co., with experience in producing and designing content on a variety of digital platforms. He works closely with team members to enhance content to improve audience experience.
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