“During summer workouts before this season, I told her, ‘You’ve grown your game. Now, take that confidence and roll with it,’ ” Edina coach Sami Reber said. “And it’s her confidence that has really helped her become the player she is this year.” Photo: Jerry Holt * email@example.com
For Edina hockey standout Emma Conner, going coast-to-coast is more than just an in-game dream scenario of skating the puck end-to-end and scoring.
A Buffalo, Minn., native, Conner continued to play hockey after a job change brought her family to Arizona. Her considerable abilities created high-level hockey opportunities in California and New York.
But after several years living with a billet family in California and attending a high school in Rochester, N.Y., Conner wanted to come home. And her parents, who still had family in the Twin Cities, wanted Minnesota to again be home.
As a junior, Conner enrolled at Edina — home of the three-time defending Class 2A state tournament champions.
“It drove me to be on the team even more knowing we would have a target and that I’d have to work hard every day,” Conner said.
She excelled, scoring 31 goals in 30 games and helping the Hornets to a second-place state tournament finish. She’s been even more prolific this season. Her 32 goals helped second-ranked Edina bring a 19-0 record into this week’s state tournament.
Conner is the Star Tribune Metro Player of the Year.
“During summer workouts before this season, I told her, ‘You’ve grown your game. Now, take that confidence and roll with it,’ ” Edina coach Sami Reber said. “And it’s her confidence that has really helped her become the player she is this year.”
Finishing skills set Conner apart from other top-level players. On Saturday, Edina topped Benilde-St. Margaret’s 3-1 in the Section 6 championship game. Conner scored twice, the first on a blistering shot and the second on deft maneuvers around the Red Knights’ goal.
Emma Conner (photo: Aaron Lavinsky, Star Tribune)
Brynn DuLac can sympathize. Minnetonka’s starting goaltender and a Star Tribune All-Metro First Team selection, DuLac said she is “fully aware when Emma is on the ice.” She faced Edina twice this season in Lake Conference action and gave up three goals to Conner.
“As much as I hate to admit it, she can snipe me,” said DuLac, who led Minnetonka to the state tournament. “I can’t say that about everybody. But she can make a play out of any situation. I come two or three inches out of the crease whenever she is on the ice.”
For all her offensive prowess, Conner endears herself to teammates for a statistic built on grit rather than glamour.
“She’s the No. 1 shot blocker on our team,” Reber said.
“That goes back to when I played boys’ hockey,” Conner said. “If you want to score goals, block shots. I know it fires the team up, too.”
She developed an interest in hockey playing with mite teams in Buffalo. When her family moved to Arizona, Conner wanted to keep playing.
“Her not playing hockey would have been like taking a favorite blanket or bear from a baby,” said John Conner, Emma’s father.
Hockey doesn’t come as easy in the desert. Conner said she remembers “leaving school 30 minutes early and driving 90 minutes to practice. I’d get half-dressed in the car.” On the ice, she was the lone female skater.
From there, Conner joined the Anaheim Lady Ducks youth hockey program in southern California and then the Selects Girls Hockey Academy at Bishop Kearney High School in upstate New York.
“You want your kids to be successful,” John said. “Has it been a sacrifice? Yes.”
Perhaps the toughest decision for John, an Armstrong graduate, was enrolling his daughter at Edina.
“My dad said ‘I can’t believe I’m sending my kid to Edina,’ ” Emma said.
Conner likely will remain local for a while. After verbally committing to Penn State in ninth grade, she switched to Minnesota last fall.
“Each place I have been has provided a great opportunity,” Conner said. “Going to Edina was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. When people ask me, ‘Where is home?’ I definitely say Edina rather than anywhere else I’ve lived.”
Edina forward Emma Conner (16) chased the puck down to the ice in the first period Saturday against Benilde-St. Margaret’s. Photo: AARON LAVINSKY • firstname.lastname@example.org