Trying to win a state title is enough motivation but getting more never hurts.
Breck forward Grant Opperman (Dartmouth) said after his team’s 7-0 win on Wednesday over Duluth Marshall in the first round of the Minnesota state hockey tournament he and his teammates got a chance to listen to a speaker who served overseas in Iraq.
He talked about how the speaker and his platoon were on duty and the platoon leader was seriously wounded. Then a grenade was thrown at the group. The platoon leader sacrificed himself taking the grenade then taking bits of shrapnel throughout his body.
“Hearing about how a guy was willing to sacrifice himself said a lot,” Opperman said. “It made us realize as a team that if a guy can take a grenade, one of us can take a puck to the chest, the leg, the balls, wherever.”
Opperman had a goal and two assists in the win showing the speech really struck a chord with him.
Listening to what others have had to say has been a big theme for Opperman this season, who will join the Tri-City Storm following the end of the state tournament. Opperman signed with Tri-City during the USHL’s Trade Deadline.
Opperman said he had the chance to speak with a variety of USHL teams such as Dubuque, Indiana and Omaha while Fargo called his future coach at Dartmouth.
But it was Tri-City that stood out.
“They showed the most interest in me,” Opperman said about Tri-City. “I really liked their coaches and what they were about. To me, that was enough.”
Opperman said Tri-City’s coaching staff really talked to him a lot about wanting him to be a part of the team’s future.
Given how things are going, there’s a great chance Opperman could play a pivotal role this year and next season for the Storm.
Tri-City is currently in a battle for the final playoff spot in the Western Conference leading Sioux City by a point for the sixth and final playoff spot in a conference where the postseason landscape changes weekly.
Adding a player who has scored 76 points (32 goals and 44 assists) doesn’t hurt but the plan is for Opperman to do more. At least that’s how he sees it by stating he’s already thinking about the making the adjustment to the USHL.
“It’s tough becuase 95 percent of the guys in the USHL are D-I commits where as here, five percent of the guys are D-I commit,” he said. “It plays mindgames with you a little bit. You wonder if you will be any good. Makes me think about going from bantams to high school. It was a tough adjustment but when you go up a level, the defenses are better.”
Opperman said he’s changed his game a little bit to focus more on the things needed to win games as opposed to making the highlight reel.
He’s strayed away from using toe drags and focused more on controlling the puck and playing a smarter game.
Or as he put it, anything that requires not a lot of stickhandling.
“It’s about protecting the puck, using my frame and driving to the net,” Opperman said. “Use my reach. Anything that doesn’t require a lot of stickhandling is a key to moving up every level. If I have to keep it simple, I am going to keep it simple.”
But Opperman is also looking ahead to next year.
He said playing ten games in the USHL this year can help him adjust to what he’ll see next season in what could very well be a challenging Western Conference.
Yet the challenges exceed what he’ll face on the ice. Opperman recognized he’s moving to Kearney, Neb., a town of less than 31,000 people. Its a drastic change from the Cities, which has suburbs larger than Kearney.
This is where listening comes in handy. Opperman said he spoke with family friend and Sioux City Musketeers forward Brett Patterson (Dartmouth) about making the transition to USHL life.
“He’s been like my older brother for a long time,” Opperman said of Patterson. “He went from high school to the USHL. He told me to keep it simple. You have to rise to the occasion.”