The Zamboni making an ice cut in between periods: it’s a necessity for the players on the ice who need a clean sheet to play on. But for one Chaska, Minnesota first grader, Blaine Warnert, it was the coolest thing on four wheels.
“I started playing hockey in first grade and once I started playing I fell in love with the game. I got into hockey because I would always go to my cousins’ hockey games to watch the Zamboni: that gave me more excitement then actually watching the game.”
It wasn’t long before Blaine started suiting up to play games of his own in Chaska at the peewee and bantam level. His teams were facing off against the best local teams that the state had to offer like Edina, Eden Prairie and Minnetonka. The Chaska youth teams Blaine played on held their own at just over .500 but one particular memory sticks out:
“In my peewee years, one of my best years of hockey, we beat Edina’s peewee AA in overtime in the Eden Prairie Tournament. We broke their 75 game win streak. That is one of my best memories while playing hockey: but I hope that I will have a lot bigger memories in the future.”
Fast forward to 2015-16, Blaine arrived at Chaska High School to play on the Hawks’ varsity squad. Despite putting up solid numbers as a freshman (26 points in 20 games), he went undrafted in the USHL Draft that season. A broken collarbone that sidelined him with 6 games to go in the season may have also played a role in Blaine not hearing his name get called, but it served as tremendous motivation.
“I would say not getting drafted that year was probably one of the best things that could have happened to me at that time. It taught me that if you really want something you need to dedicate yourself to it. That whole summer and into the fall I was training about four times per week with trainer Jack Blatherwick on top of working with my shooting and skating coaches.”
All of that training seems to have paid off for the Chaska High standout; he added more production in his sophomore season with 32 points in 24 games and was an invite to the USA Select 17 National Development Camp as a result. His game has taken a big step forward and he was given a “B+” rating by our scouts at the National Development Camp and earned himself a 3.75 star rating.
Blaine Warnert #16 (F, L, 6’3, 175, Team Columbia, ‘00) Warnert is a tall, raw forward with real upside. He’s got a long reach, fluid hands and nice touch on his passes. He played both center and wing here and was best when taking the puck from the wall to net. He also showed some ability behind the net on wrap around attempts using his size and puck protection to get himself a quality shooting area. He carries well for his size, can shoot in stride and was able to score goals off the rush. One goal he scored on a backhander after a side to side deke and another just a quick release wrister that beat the goalie 5-hole on the rush. He struggled at times under pressure to move the puck quickly and he needs to play a more consistent, physical game. A late round pick in the USHL Draft; he showed well for his first National Camp and looks as if his best hockey is ahead of him. Grade: B+ (5gp, 2-2-4)
It wasn’t long before Division 1 colleges began to show interest in the big 6’5 forward.
“It was probably about two years ago that first team reached out to me: since then I have talked to the University of Minnesota, University of Minnesota Duluth, University of North Dakota, Western Michigan, Boston University, and Bemidji State.”
But none of those schools ended up being the right choice for Blaine, he committed to the University of Nebraska Omaha on August 31. When asked why UNO was the right school for him, the answer was simple: it was a family decision.
“I went on my visit at UNO in late August. We toured the schooling buildings and I was blown away at how nice the campus and facilities were: I could really picture myself going there. Then we toured Baxter Arena and we were looking out over the rink: I knew it was where I wanted to go to school. But the Sunday after I had come home (August 27) I received a call that my Dad had been in a work accident and was getting airlifted to Hennepin County Medical Center and was going into brain surgery. He had a traumatic brain injury and wasn’t doing very well. Luckily, the surgery went great and he was in ICU.”
“During this time I let UNO know because my Dad and I were supposed to have a call with them on Monday. The coaches were very understanding and were trying to support my family with anything they could do. I was sitting in the hospital room with my Dad and just thinking about how great of people they were and how I truly believe Mike Gabinet, Peter Mannino and Dave Noel-Beriner are going to make me a pro hockey player. On Wednesday August 30th I was sitting in the hospital room with my Mom and we talked about hockey and I told her how I felt about Omaha. She told me that is where my Dad thought it would be a great fit for me. I woke up the next morning and called Coach Gabinet right away to tell him I accepted the offer. Then I drove to the hospital and went to see my Dad. I told him right when I got in there and he started to tear up after I told him so I knew I made the right decision. I believe this was all part of God’s plan for me and my Dad to get to see Omaha before this happened.”
Fortunately, Blaine’s father is doing much better now, he left ICU on September 4 and the doctors believe he will stay in the hospital for a few more weeks and then he will be able to come home. It will be a long road ahead to be sure, but he is going to be okay, according to the doctors.
This fall before entering his junior season at Chaska, Blaine will have the opportunity to play in the infamous Minnesota Elite League among the other top prospects in the state and surrounding areas.
“It is the best league you can play in for Minnesota. Most of the top kids in Minnesota play in the fall so they don’t have to leave and go play in the USHL before the high school season. You are playing great competition every game and games are on Saturdays and Sundays so you can still experience the football games with all of your friends and classmates. The league has a lot of exposure to USHL, colleges, and NHL teams.”
Blaine will enter this season with a host of NHL scouts watching his every move. The big, raw forward may even hear his name called on draft day or maybe he won’t, but the one certainty is the next day he’ll be at the gym and at the rink working at his craft to be the very best he can be.