White Bear Lake defender Sam Hanson had made a college hockey commitment to North Dakota before a knee injury in soccer wiped out her senior seasons. But she rehabbed vigorously and is looking forward to suiting up for her new team. Submitted photo
Sam Hanson knew something was wrong. It was a pain she'd never experienced before. A freak collision during a preseason soccer scrimmage bent her knee inward. She heard the pop -- and hit the ground.
Hanson's senior year at White Bear Lake didn't exactly pan out the way she anticipated. As captain of both the soccer and hockey teams, she was looking forward to strong runs in each sport.
She was about to leave the game when she suffered a torn ACL, sprained MCL and torn meniscus. Those injuries effectively ended her high school sports career.
Hanson, who had already committed to play college hockey at North Dakota, fretted about her future. She feared losing the entire high school hockey season.
She lamented over the possibility of North Dakota pulling its offer.
"Honestly, the first thing that came to my mind was how I'm going to explain this to my high school hockey coach and how I'm going to have to explain this to my college coach," she said.
Bears coach Gerry Kwapick got the call.
"She was just bawling and I didn't know what was going on. It was just a terrible deal," he said.
The coaching staff at North Dakota offered up its full support and reinforced its commitment to her. Hanson felt a wave of relief.
"They never put any doubt in my mind," she said of the coaches. "They still wanted me as a player. They still valued me."
And, Kwapick said, why wouldn't they? Hanson is a defenseman with the ability to control a game in all three zones. Hanson scored 24 goals and 20 assists for 44 points in 27 games as a junior at White Bear Lake. She shuts down opposing offenses and moves the puck up ice with ease.
"I was fortunate to have her on my team for as many years as I did because there was never any question that when she was on the ice, we would not spend much time in our zone because she'd get it out one way or another," Kwapick said. "There was very little concern when she was out on the ice."
After waiting a month for the swelling to go down, Hanson underwent surgery in October. Her world was upside down.
Instead of balancing soccer and hockey, she took part in physical therapy, but there were still months when activity was very limited.
The mental aspect was just as challenging as the physical recovery.
"There were definitely some breakdowns in those months, but you kind of have to reflect and you have to refocus yourself on what you wanted to do," she said.
It came as no surprise to Kwapick that Hanson would remain with the hockey team every step of the way. She came to every practice and game, along with off-ice activities such as pregame meals and fundraisers.
"It says a lot of her character," Kwapick said. "She asked if she could still be a part of the team. I said, 'You are part of our team. You always will be.'"
While disappointed she didn't play a game with the Bears this season, Hanson remains on track toward a full recovery and will redshirt her freshman year. She is skating and playing games with no reported pain -- even after banging the knee into the boards -- while working on leg strength and stamina.
With renewed energy and optimism, Hanson is looking ahead to joining the Division I program in Grand Forks.
"My goal is to be able to go in there and just hold my own and keep progressing as the year goes on," she said. "Everything up there just keeps getting better and better every year. I'm hoping there's a national championship in the future."