The 2017 Minnesota state hockey tournament should have been a dream come true for 18-year-old Kenai River Brown Bears forward Luke Posner.
A senior, Posner was captain, on the top line and had led Mahtomedi High School to a 16-11-1 record and into the state tournament for the first time in his career.
Playing in Class A, the Zephyrs were seeded third and got to play their first game in the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, the home of the Minnesota Wild.
Then the dream became a nightmare.
Mahtomedi was upset 3-1 in the first round by Northfield High School. Second-seeded Delano High School also was upset, so the Zephyrs played the second seed in the first round of consolation and got drilled 8-1.
Posner had been counting on a run at state to get lots of looks and launch a junior hockey career. The two losses were bad enough. Then he also separated his shoulder in the loss to Delano.
“I was not happy,” said Posner, who is 6-foot-2 and 175 pounds. “It was a tough couple weeks.”
Posner injured the shoulder again in the next few weeks, meaning he missed out on some United States Hockey League camps he wanted to attend.
He also was cut from a couple of teams in the North American Hockey League — the league in which the Brown Bears play.
So it was quite the turnaround when Posner, along with Bears defenseman Cam McDonald, was named to the NAHL Selects (White) roster, designating him as one of the top young talents in the league. Markuss Komuls and David Kaplan of the Bears also will play on the Midwest Division team at the NAHL Top Prospects Tournament on Feb. 27 and 28 in Plymouth, Michigan.
“He’s a kid that went through a lot last summer,” Brown Bears coach Josh Petrich said of Posner. “He was undrafted, untendered and down on his luck.”
Both Petrich and Brown Bears assistant Nick Sova had their eye on Posner. As an assistant with the AAA Iowa Wild Tier I 18U team, Petrich was tracking Posner in case he didn’t make the NAHL. Sova knew Posner from his work at the Minnesota Advancement Program, known as MAP.
Petrich invited Posner to the Bears main camp, and the forward impressed. But Petrich said he still wanted to see a 200-foot game out of Posner at training camp.
“He came into training camp and had an ambition about him that wasn’t going to be denied,” Petrich said. “He was going to be a player in this league and a good player in this league.
“Now we’re hearing from NHL teams about him because he’s a 6-3 kid who can really skate and has good hands.”
Posner, son of Mark and Melinda Posner of Mahtomedi, started skating when he was 4 and got tough competition early because he always played up with his brother Jacob, now 20. Posner’s other brother is Josh, 15. Luke’s career took a detour in the second grade when his family moved to North Carolina for six years, but Posner said he stayed on course because the Carolina Jr. Hurricanes offered a level of competition he would have seen in Minnesota.
Posner, the billet son of Melissa and Jamie Hyslope of Soldotna, is fourth on the team among active skaters with 24 points on five goals and 19 assists in 43 games.
“In high school, I averaged two points a game,” Posner said. “This is something that doesn’t feel right to me.
“I just have to keep getting opportunities and keep shooting. It’s got to go in sometime.”
Petrich said Posner could break out at any time.
“He hasn’t scored a goal since October,” Petrich said. “Since Christmas, he’s had the most chances on the team. He’s been a bit snakebitten.”
Petrich still strongly believes in Posner. The coach said the forward will get stronger, a better shot and can vastly improve on his skating technique.
“He could be a much smoother, powerful skater,” Petrich said. “That’d make him ungodly fast. He’s already one of the fastest in the division.”
Posner also has a mind that makes him attractive to colleges. He has a grade-point average of 3.9 and a composite of 32 on the ACT.
Petrich said those grades make all the difference because schools can save scholarship money by giving academic money. Those grades also give him the possibility of an Ivy League education.
“I want to play Division I and then see if I can play pro,” Posner said. “If not, I’ll get a good degree and get a good job.”