The dream began a few years ago as two lifelong friends and hockey teammates thought about their futures after high school.
Eden Prairie standouts Garrett Smaagaard and Mike Erickson, who have played hockey together since the second grade, each wanted to play for Minnesota.
“It was in the back of my mind and I know it was in the back of his,” Erickson said.
The dream began to take shape before their senior years at Eden Prairie High School as each player was offered a scholarship to attend the University.
Then Smaagaard’s knee took a turn for the worse, and the dream went with it.
Smaagaard, a wide receiver, and Erickson, a quarterback, played together in the Minnesota Prep Bowl championship game at the Metrodome last November when Smaagaard injured his knee covering a kickoff.
Now, six months after surgery to repair his anterior cruciate ligament and some cartilage tears, Smaagaard is trying to prove to Minnesota coach Don Lucia that his knee has improved enough to continue the dream now, and not postpone it for a year in the USHL with Sioux Falls.
Participating in a competitive environment for the first time since surgery, Smaagaard took part in the Stampede’s tryout camp last weekend.
In the opening scrimmage he had a goal and three assists.
“He has tremendous speed and playmaking ability and I think he showed some of that ability this weekend,” Lucia said. “The only concern I have is at what point will he in fact be 100 percent and get all of his timing back.”
The competitiveness and effort Smaagaard used to show on the ice for Eden Prairie remains evident during his recovery. Whether undergoing physical therapy three days a week, lifting weights five days a week or skating up to five times a week, rehabilitation has consumed his life.
But Smaagaard admits the uncertainty is even more trying.
“One of the hardest parts has been not knowing where I am going to be next year,” Smaagaard said. “I don’t want to go to Sioux Falls. I would rather go straight to school, but it will be there for me next year, too.”
Meanwhile, Erickson knows he must forge ahead with or without Smaagaard, his long-time linemate.
“It’s been difficult since he suffered the injury,” Erickson said. “But if it’s only one year, and we will be playing together afterward, then it will be okay.”
Being recruited to Minnesota, Smaagaard hasn’t needed to look hard for inspiration to overcome his injury.
“(Gophers assistant coach Bob) Motzko told me he had the same injury, and he showed me his scars,” Smaagaard said. “He said it happened to him years ago and you just have to play through it. The more you work the better it will get.”
Through it all, Smaagaard attempts to stay positive and realistic. He realizes much can be learned from the level of play in the USHL and the experience would be beneficial in the long run.
So he continues to work, uncertain as to where he will lace up his skates in the fall.
“We want him in our program,” Lucia said. “I still think Garrett is going to be an outstanding college player, this has just set him back a year from being able to contribute the way we want him to.
“I am going to continue to sit down and talk with him and we will try to make a decision in the next couple of weeks.”
Until then, the dream of putting on the `M’ alongside Erickson is on hold for now.
Brian Hall welcomes comments at [email protected]