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'I felt like we could build something special': Former Chaska forward commits to Northern Michigan

Tanner Bruender, originally from Portland, Oregon, played his sophomore season in 2021-22 for Chaska (Minn.) High School. He is now competing in the USHL for the Sioux Falls Stampede where he recently announced his commitment to play Division I at Northern Michigan University.

A hockey player in a white jersey with dark blue and gold trim waits for the puck alongside the boards in a game for the Sioux Falls Stampede.
Tanner Bruender competes in a game for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL. Bruender, who played for Chaska High School last season, recently announced his commitment to Northern Michigan University.
Contributed Photo. Adam Thury / @adamthury

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. — Northern Michigan University has created a strong pipeline of Minnesota kids to the Division I program in recent years.

Tanner Bruender , a top forward for Chaska High School last season, is the latest of these players to commit to NMU.

"I felt like we could build something special at Northern," said Bruender on his decision to verbally commit to the program.

The 16-year-old saw other Minnesotans like Joe Schiller (Moorhead) and Jake Fisher (Cretin-Derham Hall) commit there and saw an opportunity to be a part of something exciting.

A hockey player in an all-blue outfit handles the puck alongside the boards while a player from the opposing team skates towards him.
Tanner Bruender of the Sioux Falls Stampede handles the puck in a game against the Sioux City Musketeers.
Contributed Photo. Adam Thury / @adamthury

Multiple schools contacted Bruender on Jan. 1, 2022, the very first day that Division I programs could contact him.

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"I really liked the coaches (at Northern Michigan), they're really nice guys, and they called me Jan. 1 and I just felt and instant connection with them," he said.

That connection with the program grew even more when Bruender was able to take a visit to the school's campus later in the year.

"It's a really nice campus and a really nice area, you walk out of the arena and there's a beach 100 yards from the rink," said the junior forward.

Bruender announced his official verbal commitment to Northern Michigan on Nov. 21.

Although the 6-foot forward has been in Minnesota for the past five years or so, he actually grew up in Portland, Oregon, for the first 12 years of his life.

Portland isn't know to be an area with a ton of ties to the sport of hockey, but Bruender was still exposed to the sport at a young age.

"My dad took us to a Portland Winterhawks (WHL) game ... After my first time watching them I fell in love with it."

Bruender's father played hockey growing up, and although the family spent many years in Portland, Tanner's grandfather is originally from Minnesota - so the family already had plenty of ties to the state.

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The Bruender family then made the move to Minnesota, where Tanner played for the Chaska/Chanhassen bantam team and for Blue Army AAA. The move seemed to work out well and Tanner's older sister now goes to the University of North Dakota, which is about a five hour drive from Chaska.

In his sophomore season for Chaska, Bruender was second on the team in goals scored (17) and posted 24 points in 28 games. The Hawks went 22-6 in 2021-22.

One of the forward's favorite moments of the season was scoring the game-winning-goal in overtime in the section semifinal game against Minnetonka.

Bruender had a good season for Chaska, but was excited about the opportunity to play junior hockey in the USHL, where he now competes for the Sioux Falls Stampede.

"For me, I know a lot of kids from Minnesota are really attached to the high school state tournament, and for me, since I'm not from here that wasn't really a dream of mine," Bruender said. "My dream has always been to just play at the highest level as soon as possible."

Leaving high school hockey wasn't necessarily something that was a tough decision for the junior forward, since he didn't grow up watching that kind of hockey back in Portland.

Bruender was drafted by Sioux Falls in 2021 and now is full-time with the team. He is their third-youngest player on the roster at 16-years-old (he will turn 17 in December of 2022).

The 6-foot skater currently has one point in 13 games played and the Stampede are 6-12-1 overall.

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For Bruender, the biggest difference going from high school to the junior level is the depth of the teams.

"Everyone in the USHL is a good player and they grew up being the best players on their team," said the forward about the junior league. Even those who are on the third or fourth-line in the USHL can be some of the top young players in the world.

Being a young player in the league isn't always easy, competing with guys who can be up to 21-years-old, "Sometimes I look up and there's a guy with a full-on beard and mustache who's like 6-foot-5.". But Bruender says besides appearances you don't notice the difference in age that much during game-play.

Bruender will continue to play in the USHL for the forseeable future and will eventually make his way to Marquette to play for Northern Michigan. In his free time he enjoys playing sports with friends, like beach volleyball or Spikeball, or playing video games.

Sydney Wolf is a reporter for The Rink Live, primarily covering youth hockey. She joined the team in November of 2021 and graduated from St. Cloud State University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a minor in Writing and Rhetoric Studies and was a part of the University Honors Program.
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