There’s a lot of turnover year-to-year in junior hockey, but one thing has remained a constant since the St. Cloud Norsemen have existed; number 8 has been worn by winger Hunter Hanson.
He will admit though that despite being on the team as long as he has, his role has certainly changed over the years. “I started off the first year as a ‘on the bubble’ kind of a guy; I was scratched quite a few games. Last year I felt I played more consistently. This year I’m trying to make sure I can be a leader for these guys on and off the ice and set the pace for what should be expected here.”
As all good teammates do, Hanson seems to know his role on the team. “I’m a speedy forward, I like to think that I pressure other teams, make them cough up pucks, and help us on the forecheck,” describes Hanson, when asked about his game. He also feels he understands why he’s been trusted to kill penalties as often as he’s asked to. “I’ve been here for a few years now and I think he (St. Cloud Norsemen Head Coach Corey Millen) has seen a lot of growth in me and he’s trusted me to use my legs to make sure these teams don’t have as much time as they think they do.” Hanson is a big reason why the Norsemen’s penalty kill has the second best conversion percentage in the NAHL at 89.3%.
Hanson is one of 13 Norsemen who hail from Minnesota and has one of the shortest trips home as he hails from Blaine, a northern suburb of the Twin Cities. It is not lost on Hunter how fortunate he is that he gets to play in the closest NAHL organization to his hometown. “It’s nice being close to home,” confides Hanson. “Last year we were at my home rink for the Robertson Cup so that was really cool to be able to play there.”
Hunter’s family also has a unique tie to the Norsemen; his parents Brian and April are the Operating Partners and co-owners of the Sunshine Factory Bar & Grill in Plymouth, MN, which has become a favorite stop for the St. Cloud Norsemen players over the years. The Norsemen have enjoyed a number of delicious pregame meals at the Sunshine Factory before playing in Blaine or on the way to Austin, MN or Mason City, IA.
Some young men might find it a little awkward or embarrassing to have their teammates eat at their family’s restaurant, but Hanson seems to embrace that his hockey family gets to visit his family’s establishment. “It’s a cool thing that they’re doing,” Hanson admits. “It’s a good meal that we get and I think a lot of the guys appreciate it. It’s pretty cool being able to walk in there knowing that I’m a part of that too.”
There’s no trip to the Sunshine Factory this weekend for Hanson and the team though, as they’re headed the other way to Cloquet for a road game on Friday against the Minnesota Wilderness. Catch the game online at hockeytv.com. Then the Wilderness head to St. Cloud Saturday to complete the back half of the home-and-home. Get your tickets online ahead of time at tickets.stcloudnorsemen.com.