Pohl gets final word vs. Spehar

Aaron Kirscht

On March 9, 1996, entering the final game of his high school career at Duluth East, Gophers sophomore Dave Spehar — then the defending state scoring champion — found himself five points behind the season-long leader, Red Wing sophomore Johnny Pohl.
Pohl had a point in the Class A final to finish with 99 points. But that was before Spehar put the capper on a stellar prep career with a three-goal, three-assist performance in the AA third-place game. That gave him 100 points, a second scoring title and the unofficial all-time state scoring lead with 311 points.
Pohl, however, would have his revenge.
On Tuesday, the senior center had a goal and two assists to bring his career total to 312 points (123 goals, 189 assists), one more than Spehar, who will be Pohl’s Gophers teammate next season.
“I didn’t even know about it until a couple of guys came in here and told me about it,” Spehar said. “I never gave (the record) much thought.
“I don’t give it much credibility, because there have been so many great players in this state.”
Add Pohl to that list. The Minnesota State High School league doesn’t keep records on career scoring leaders, but Spehar’s mark was generally held to be the most ever by a Minnesota player.
More than John Mayasich. More than Neal Broten. And now, Pohl has more than anyone.
“Just to be mentioned in the same sentence as those guys is an honor,” Pohl said. “But individual goals aren’t really that important, as long as my team is winning.”
After leading the state with 111 points (54 goals, 57 assists) last season, Pohl has eight goals and 33 assists. That’s well off the pace that got him the record, but his role as assist man seems to be working in Red Wing’s favor.
A loss to South St. Paul last week interrupted the Wingers’ 36-game win streak, which included a 27-0 finish and the state Class A title a season ago. But Red Wing (10-1), playing in the Missota conference, is still the top-ranked team in Class A and the favorite to repeat. Spehar’s old school, Duluth East, is No. 1 in AA.
Pohl figures to be the leading candidate for this year’s Mr. Hockey Award. Finalists for the award will be announced next month.
But even with all the attention that Pohl has garnered over his career, the one thing he’s most excited about is the opportunity to play for the Gophers.
Pohl’s story is much like any other Minnesota player — past, present or future: He grew up on the ice, idolized the Gophers and dreamed of playing for them someday. Minnesota associate head coach Mike Guentzel, who recruited Pohl, said Pohl made that decision a no-brainer.
“He gives a great effort every time he’s out on the ice,” Guentzel said, “and that’s a big part of the attraction for us. “He’s got to work on his skating a little bit, but he’s going to play hard against the other team’s best players, and he has the offensive skills to make a difference.”
Pohl said his only individual goal for this season was to improve enough to be a factor for the Gophers (currently 7-13 overall, 3-9 in the WCHA) next season. To that end, he’s picked up a weight-lifting regimen and spent more time working on skating and shooting.
“But (the Minnesota coaches) just told me to have fun and enjoy my senior year,” Pohl said. “I am, but I want to get better and faster and stronger.”
Pohl (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) isn’t likely to be a bruiser for the Gophers in the years to come. But his smarts and on-ice savvy are sure to serve Pohl — and the team — well.
And don’t forget about his enthusiasm.
“I’m looking forward to it so incredibly much,” Pohl said. “I can’t wait. It’s going to be a dream come true.”