A whirlwind 40 days for Roseau's Max Strand is capped with commitment to Vermont
The 18-year-old forward, who was named Mr. Hockey in March, has 13 points in 13 games for the North American Hockey League team.
ST. CLOUD, Minn. — The last 40 days have had a wide range of things happen to and for Max Strand.
First, there was the disappointment of losing to Elk River (4-3) in the Section 8AA semifinals on Feb. 26 in Roseau, ending his high school hockey career.
Then he quickly rejoined the St. Cloud Norsemen to play more junior hockey in the North American Hockey League to start the month of March.
On March 13, he became the 38th player to be named Mr. Hockey in the state of Minnesota. On March 19, he got to lead Minnesota Wild fans in saying "Let's play hockey" before an NHL game at Xcel Energy Center.
On March 21, Strand skated with the public and go to a reception in his honor at the American Legion in Roseau.
And since returning to the Norsemen, Strand has 13 points in 13 games and suddenly the college recruiting interest in him went into high gear.
"It's been awesome, a a lot of good things have been happening, which has been great," Strand said on Wednesday, April 6, after Norsemen practice. "I've been staying busy, that's for sure."
Late Wednesday night, Strand announced on Twitter that he has verbally committed to play for the University of Vermont.
I am extremely excited and honored to announce my commitment to play Division 1 hockey and further my education at the University of Vermont! I’d like to thank God, my family, friends, and coaches that have helped me along the way! pic.twitter.com/dWeFJDKg2e— Max Strand (@max_strand10) April 7, 2022
Strand, an 18-year-old forward, is expected to play for the Norsemen at 7:35 p.m. Friday and Saturday when the St. Cloud (37-16-2-1) plays at Minot (28-25-2-1) in two NAHL games. The Norsemen have four regular season games left, but have already wrapped up the Central Division title.
Playing on the top line
Strand did not just join the team and play some on the fourth line. He's played wing on St. Cloud's top line with center Ryan O'Neill and wing Blake Mesenburg a good chunk of the time. O'Neill, a University of St. Thomas commit, is tied for the league lead in points (74). Mesenburg, who recently committed to play for Miami University, is tied for 10th in the league in points (59).
"We put him in a place to succeed with some good players because he thinks the game well," Norsemen head coach Corey Millen said. "He's a good complement for the O'Neills, Mesenburgs and (Nik) Hongs. Those guys have benefited from playing with him and he's benefited from playing with them."
Playing for Roseau, Strand finished eighth in the state in points (78), tied for 11th in goals (36) and 14th in assists (42) in 27 games. Despite those strong numbers, the 5-foot-9, 175-pound Strand had not committed yet to an NCAA Division I school.
"They want to see how he can play at the next level. There's things he's got to do to improve, like playing with pace," Millen said on Wednesday afternoon of the college coaches watching Strand. "We had him last year at the end of the year. I always thought a lot of him.
"He's kind of a throwback northern Minnesota hockey player: instincts, IQ, smart little plays and does a lot of little things with good feel. I really like that about him."
And his production in his short time in the NAHL has put some of the questions about Strand playing in college into the background. He was on a recruiting visit on Tuesday and it was not the first one he has made.
"Just a couple schools around here and one out east," he said Wednesday afternoon. "Things kind of picked up when I got to St. Cloud. (College recruiters) saw me in high school, but they wanted to see me perform at the junior level. Ever since I've gotten here, it's picked up."
Beyond the numbers, there are other things that the college recruiters picked up on.
"He makes these little subtle plays that the layperson probably isn't going to pick up on. But if you're watching closely, he puts pucks in spots and knows where other guys are," said Millen, a former NHL player. "He has a knack to score, too.
"He shoots the puck well. You have a lot of guys who can really pound a puck. He's got hands and feel and awareness, knows where the net is and how to score goals when he's put in those positions."
Some lumps and stitches
His success has not come without some tough lessons along the way, though. In one week, he took a puck to the jaw and another to the upper lip that both required stitches. The cut on the jaw took seven stitches to repair and the cut on the lip took 13 stitches to repair. The second cut happened during a morning practice before a game and Strand played that night.
"I'm not afraid to get into the corners. I get beat up a little bit sometimes, gotten a few stitches since I've been here," he said. "I got the (13-stitch cut) the day before the Mr. Hockey banquet.
"No lost teeth or anything like that. The pace is definitely quicker and there are some grown men that you are out there playing against. It's a lot more physical than high school."
Growing up in Roseau, Strand has seen a fair amount of time with older kids on the ice. What may be surprising to some is that his parents were both basketball players when they were growing up.
But his older sisters — Ryan (defense, 2013-16) and Reese (forward, 2016-19) — both played high school hockey for Roseau and Max started playing at a young age.
"There's free ice (time) in Roseau, so (my parents) would always take me to the rink and it went from there," Strand said. "They got my sisters into it. It's a hockey town."
Growing up where the ice time is free
That, of course, is a bit of an understatement. Roseau, a town of about 2,700 and less than 12 miles from the Canadian border, has made 34 appearances in the boys state hockey tournament and won seven state titles since the high school league began sanctioning the sport in 1945.
Despite being 3 1/2 years old at the time, Strand has some memories of the last Roseau team to win the state title in 2007.
"There were a lot of great players on that team, like Aaron Ness, who won Mr. Hockey that (next) year," Strand said.
And when Strand was named Mr. Hockey, a photo of Strand and Ness was found by Strand's mother that was taken after Ness won the award.
"There's a picture that my mom had that went a little bit viral," Strand said with a smile.
And Strand had a lot of pictures taken with a number of young players when he went back to Roseau after winning the award.
"Everyone was super happy, super excited for me and it was great to come home to such a nice get together," he said.
Now, he's looking forward to trying to help the Norsemen win the Robertson Cup as playoff champions.
"I knew that they had a good team here and had a chance to win it all," said Strand, who went to the main camp for the Sioux City Musketeers in the United States Hockey League last summer. "This is the right place to come back to.
"It's been fun. It's a great team, great group of guys. That all kind of combines to make it a great experience."