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Strength is her strong suit

By Aaron Paitich, Special to the Star Tribune, 01/14/11, 10:14AM CST


After losing her father Forest Lake's Audrey Hanmer finds security in their shared passion

Audrey Hanmer in the locker room during Forest Lake practice at the FLAAA Ice Arena. Her father, former St. Paul Vulcans star Craig Hanmer died Jan. 2 from cancer. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

Strength is one of Audrey Hanmer’s best assets on the ice. Over the past eight months, she’s had to show it in all facets of her life.

The Forest Lake hockey standout’s father, Craig Hanmer, 54, died Jan. 2 after battling pancreatic cancer. The former St. Paul Johnson standout, St. Paul Vulcans player and Philadelphia Flyers 1976 third-round draft pick had his cancer diagnosed in May.

“Life isn’t as long as you might think it is, so I’m kind of starting to realize you might as well just try to live with what you have and be happy with it,” said Audrey Hanmer, who will play for St. Cloud State next season. “It helps me a lot.”

Hockey was a main thread in their relationship. Craig was always around the rink helping Audrey and her teammates. With his expertise, Craig never stood in the way of Rangers third-year head coach Jeff Neidt but would call and thank him for his services and hard work. Audrey has adopted his positive influence on her life.

“I think she’s been able to channel her emotions through hockey because it’s something that they both really shared and it was such a strong emotional bond for the two of them,” Neidt said. “It also gives her something to focus her energy on instead of the grief that she may be feeling otherwise.”

Junior center Sadie Nelson has known the Hanmers since she was 5 years old. In the summertime, Nelson and friends would go to the Hanmer household, where Craig would help them practice their shooting.

“You would never even know what she’s going through because she’s always so upbeat and always smiling about everything,” Nelson said. “And especially at hockey, she’s such a leader on the ice. She doesn’t let anything affect her.”

Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune

She hasn’t missed a step. Just look at the numbers. The senior defenseman tallied another goal in Tuesday’s 4-3 win over Woodbury, bringing her season totals to 18 goals and 10 assists in 17 games.

Neidt believes she recently has turned in her best games of the year. She’s currently riding an eight-game point streak, which included a four-goal game against Prior Lake at the end of December.

As one of Neidt’s first moves as head coach three years ago, he named Hanmer a captain as a sophomore. While some were surprised, the decision has proven to be wise. She’s now playing her sixth season of varsity hockey.

“When Audrey’s on, I think she’s the most dominant player that I’ve seen. I know several other coaches we’ve spoken with tend to agree with that,” Neidt said.

The strong, fast and crafty puck-moving defenseman has impeccable hockey sense with the ability to find teammates and vacant areas on the ice easily.

She’ll take her skills and leadership up to St. Cloud State next fall, along with a reminder from her dad to keep her going.

“My dad would always tell me, ‘Protect yourself,’” Hanmer said. “I remember before every game it’s always ‘protect yourself’ but have fun and just keep playing is what he told me to do, so that makes it a lot easier for me to just jump on the ice without second-guessing anything.”

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Audrey Hanmer takes a shot during a Forest Lake practice at the FLAAA Ice Arena. Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune