Last season ended in disappointment for Austin Poganski.
After having a leg-up in the standings against Section 5, Class 1A rival Rogers, the Crusaders fell to the Royals late in the season to surrender the second seed in the section and home ice advantage if the two teams were to meet again in the semifinals.
When they inevitably did square off again, Rogers handled St. Cloud Cathedral with ease. The loss ended a promising season for the Crusaders who were ranked No. 7 in the state at the time of that first loss.
From there, the skies have never looked more like the blue on St. Cloud Cathedral's uniforms.
Poganski was selected to represent Team USA in the U-17 Five Nations tournament in the Czech Republic this summer where he scored four times on the way to a first place finish.
His performance made quite the impression, earning him a spot in the "Faces in the Crowd" feature in Sports Illustrated magazine.
This fall he will suit up for Great Plains of the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League for the first time. He played in the Elite D league last year but was hurt early and missed the rest of the action.
With experience at an overflow and talent to spare, Poganski is hoping the Crusaders hop past Hermantown and Rogers this year for a shot at the program’s sixth state tournament appearance and first since 2008.
We caught up with Poganski about his performance with Team USA and his upcoming season with St. Cloud Cathedral.
Q: What was the competition in the U-17 tournament like?
A: All the teams were pretty solid. Our team was pretty strong and came together and that’s probably why we succeeded how we did.
Q: You had some great offensive success, scoring four times. What were you seeing that led to that?
A: I was lucky enough to skate with Shane Gersich (Holy Family Catholic) and Ryan Donato (Mass.) and we were really able to click throughout the whole week so that helped a lot.
Q: How nice is it to play with that kind of talent surrounding you?
A: It’s amazing, we just feed off each other. We’re so much better when you put it all together and we’re a great team.
Q: Is it hard to adjust to having teammates from different schools and different states?
A: Well it’s pretty easy here because everyone has such great talent that it’s easy to get to know how they play.
Q: I’ve seen winning first place in the Five Nations tourney referred to as winning the "gold medal." Did you actually get a gold medal?
A: No, we did not. But we got a team trophy which was really cool.
Q: Who gets to keep it, I mean the team is scattered throughout the country?
A: I think it’s USA hockey that keeps it.
Q: Do you each get a day with it to yourselves, like the Stanley Cup?
A: No. No, that’d be cool.
Q: Tell me about playing with so many Minnesotans on a national team.
A: I think it shows how good the hockey here in Minnesota is. It’s an honor for Minnesota to be able to send that many kids overseas to represent the United States of America.
Q: First U-17, now the Elite League. That’s some pretty great experience. What can you take back to St. Cloud Cathedral?
A: It’s giving me a lot of confidence that I’m taking over to my high school. Hopefully we can have a great year this year if we all come together and play as a team.
Q: Can anything you do this regular season top winning the U-17 tourney?
A: I think I’ll be a leader in St. Cloud and just help our team get to the state tournament. I think if we all come together we’ll have a great year and you never know what will happen.
Q: You lost to Rogers in section playoffs, and lost to them again just before that. Do you have a sour taste in your mouth from falling to a rival like that?
A: Yeah we want a little revenge on Rogers. They were a great team last year and so was Hermantown and hopefully we’ll come back stronger and be able to take them this year.
Q: How hard is it to be in a section with Hermantown and Rogers and expect to make it to the state tourney?
A: Yeah Hermantown and Rogers have been very solid the last few years. It’s good to play good teams but they’ve just always had our number and hopefully we can maybe top them this year.
Q: Is there anything that’s different this year that should help you move past sections?
A: I think we’re a lot closer this year as a team which will help a lot. Austin Stringle is coming back again which will be a big boost for us. Our goalies are always pretty solid. We have a lot of young players that should step in and be great for us so all around I think our team will be pretty solid.
Q: Is there anything in particular you have been working on in the offseason?
A: I should be a lot stronger because I’ve been working out at Rejuv Medical in St. Cloud so that will probably boost my game a lot. Being stronger on the ice is a huge asset to anyone’s game. You can always improve on anything so I decided I wanted to improve on my strength and speed. There’s a lot of things I want to work on but if you get stronger it helps a lot with everything.
Q: What are you looking for in a college?
A: When I get to it I’ll look for a school that fits me personally and that I can enjoy. Any Division One college would be awesome, I’m not really too picky.
School: St. Cloud Cathedral
Credentials: Poganski finished second on the Crusaders in scoring last year with a solid 54 points. He had a balanced 24 goals and 28 assists. This summer, he helped the U.S. U-17 squad take first in the Five Nations tourney by scoring four times and adding an assist. In the team's win over Germany he was named Player of the Game. This summer he will also play for Team Great Plains of the Upper Midwest High School Elite Hockey League.
College committment: No word yet. He has a couple of visits scheduled and has recieved interest from a few unnamed schools.
Facebook or Twitter? Facebook
Coke or Pepsi? Coke
Least favorite subject in school? English
Favorite TV Show? ESPN
You have one shootout attempt in an NHL video game. Who do you go with? Pavel Datsyuk
If you had to eat one food for the rest of your life, what would it be? Potatoes
What is your dream car? A Mustang