Back in early February, Michigan Tech received a verbal commitment from one of the best players on one of the best teams in Minnesota High School Hockey, Stillwater forward Jackson Cates. He and his younger brother Noah led the Ponies to their second birth ever in the Minnesota Class AA State Tournament after running through Section 4AA with an impressive win over White Bear Lake and a thrilling 1-0 victory over state tournament regular, Hill-Murray.
Cates and his teammates headed to the State Tournament with a 26-1-1 record and felt a little slighted by not earning the #1 seed despite being the highest ranked team to earn birth to the tournament. They took that as motivation to take it to their first round opponent, Farmington.
Cates led the way, scoring the first and last goal for Stillwater. He set the example for his team, working hard on both ends of the ice and won 17 of 28 faceoffs as the Ponies won a game at the State Tournament for the first time ever and moved on to the Semifinal vs the #3 seed Wayzata Trojans.
A state title ended up not being in the cards as Cates and Stillwater ran into an outstanding goaltender in Alex Schilling. Wayzata managed to get a goal early in the game and added on some insurance in the third period before Cates scored an extra-attacker goal late in the third to give the Ponies some life. Stillwater was unable to tie the game late and their tournament run ended at the hands of the eventual state champions.
Cates impressed enough that he was recognized as a member of the all-tournament team for Class AA. He was also recognized as this year's Class AA recipient of the 2016 Herb Brooks Award, which is given to the most qualified hockey player in each class state tournament who strongly represents the values, characteristics and traits that defined hockey legend Herb Brooks.
From the Herb Brooks Foundation:
The head coach of each team qualifying for both the State Girls’ Hockey Tournament and State Boys’ Hockey Tournament can nominate a player for the Herb Brooks Award. This award is open to all players on the varsity roster. There will be one recipient in each class for girls and one for boys.
Player nomination forms can be found on the HBF's website. The coach must complete the checklist of qualities associated with Herb Brooks, and explain why the player deserves the award. The nominee must, in the opinion of his/her head coach, represent the characteristics, values and traits Herb Brooks defined. This award is not necessarily intended for the best player on the team. Instead, it should honor the player with the most drive and dedication to the team, to the school, and to the community — and, of course, to hockey.
Characteristics and values nominees should feature:
True love for hockey — a real passion
Commitment and loyalty to school, team, and community
Willingness to sacrifice for the team
Courage of his/her convictions
Sharp focus and strong competitive drive
Excellent work ethic
Willingness to accept challenges
Strong hockey skills
Strong leadership qualities
Coach Mel Pearson and his staff appear to have found a great hockey player and a great person. Cates is just the kind of recruit all fans and alumni of Michigan Tech should be proud to have wearing the black and gold in the future. If this recruit is any indication, Michigan Tech's return to prominence won't be short lived as Cates and many others will carry the torch that this year's team has brought to heights Huskies Nation hasn't seen for 40 years. Who knows what the future holds, but it looks bright. Take a look for yourself in our new Recruiting Grid.