Jack Peart stayed on the Grand Rapids bench for what seemed like an eternity following the Thunderhawks’ loss to Andover in the Section 7AA boys hockey title game at IRA Civic Center.
The defeat deprived Peart of making an appearance in the state tournament, which was the reason he spurned junior hockey and returned to Grand Rapids for his senior season.
“It was the last time I’ll ever have the Grand Rapids jersey on,” he said. “I tried to stay in the rink as long as I could because I knew when I walked out it would be the last time.”
While Peart didn’t realize his dream, that didn’t mean his effort wasn’t noticed. Since the season ended, he has been named Mr. Hockey and won the Reed Larson Award as Minnesota’s top defenseman.
The future St. Cloud State player also is the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year.
Peart led his team with 35 points on 11 goals and 24 assists, but his talents transcended any stat sheet.
“He controlled the game whenever we played against him,” Duluth East coach Mike Randolph said. “He’s very hard to defend and very poised with the puck and in control of his body. And he’s very unselfish. He was a level above everyone, but you could tell he was a great teammate. It spoke volumes that he came back to play high school hockey, especially during a pandemic.”
Peart played with the Fargo Force of the United States Hockey League before the season. He weighed staying in North Dakota until the Minnesota State High School League officially sanctioned a winter season.
It appears he made the right decision.
“Look at what he’s earned by playing high school — best player in Minnesota and best defenseman in Minnesota — that does tell those players who are going to play juniors, ‘Hey, you don’t have to go play (right away),’ ” Grand Rapids junior defenseman Easton Young said.
While Peart’s plaudits appear endless, one common theme from teammates and those who coached him and against him is that the 5-foot-11, 180-pounder is dead calm in pressure situations.
“The poise he has on the ice and his ability to be two steps ahead of the play was remarkable,” Thunderhawks coach Wade Chiodo said. “His anticipation is what separates him from a lot of players. He literally is a breakout artist on his own, and that’s because he has such a high hockey IQ and he has poise when he has the puck.”
Peart rarely came off the ice in crucial situations, something rival coaches envied.
“He wasted little energy,” Randolph said. “He could play those kinds of minutes because of his hockey IQ. I would have done the same thing. Him tired is better than a lot of guys fresh.”
Peart said he worked a lot with power-skating coach Andy Shermoen, an assistant on the varsity, to develop his trademark fluid stride.
“The longer your strides are and the more powerful, I’d say you conserve more energy than if they are short and choppy,” Peart said.
That skating ability allowed Peart to gamble on taking the puck deep into the offensive zone and still be able to recover on the defensive end, something Young says he’s going to need to learn by next season when he likely takes over Peart’s role on the team.
“The way he controls the game is very different from other players,” Young said. “It’s cool how he can go up ice so smoothly and not ever lose the puck. It’s super impressive. The game revolved around him.”
Grand Rapids posted a 15-2-1 record and earned the top seed in 7AA. That last game, however, didn’t go as Peart planned. Afterward, Chiodo told him to keep his head high.
“I just told him, ‘Understand the footprint that you’ve created for this program in Grand Rapids and all the way down to our youth hockey program. That footprint will last forever. And someday I know you’ll understand what I’m talking about,’ ” the coach said. “I appreciate everything he’s done on and off the ice.”
Weeks later, Peart can appreciate what he and his teammates accomplished as well.
“It was pretty special to be named Mr. Hockey. There’s so many good players in the state of Minnesota that I’m very fortunate,” he said. “It was cool to grow up with all (my teammates) and try to chase a dream with them. We fell short but I know we left a good footprint in Grand Rapids hockey. Hopefully next year’s team can finish off what we started.”