Wheeler grew up down the road in Plymouth and it was in a neighbouring Minneapolis suburb where his NHL dream really started to take shape.
Wally Chapman was his coach for two of those seasons during a break-out high-school hockey career. On Sunday he walked into the Xcel Energy Center for game three with his allegiance torn.
“I’m cheering for Blake Wheeler but I would like the Wild to try and extend the series,” Chapman said.
Long before Wheeler was a professional hockey player he attended one of the top prep schools in Minnesota, Breck School in nearby Golden Valley. There he played for the Mustangs in both hockey and football.
Chapman helped develop his skills for two seasons back in the early 2000’s and it impacted them both.
“First real coach to help me get my game to the next level.” Wheeler said.
“Real important for my development was my time with him.”
For his former coach, the feeling is mutual.
“Winnipeg is lucky to have him.” Chapman said. “Blake is just a fantastic human being and it was an honour to coach him back in his high school days but it sure has been fun watching him develop into a fantastic NHL player.”
WATCH: Former coach cheering on Jets captain
It was at Breck School’s Anderson Ice Arena where Wheeler’s hockey career really took off. After he scored 15 goals as a grade 10, Wheeler exploded for 39 goals in his junior season.
“The body kinda came into the skill.” Chapman said. “I think he had probably grown four or five inches that summer and so when he came in, he kind of looked like a baby deer just kinda getting his legs.”
“You knew the talent was in there and he still had a fantastic year as a sophomore, but he came back as a junior and he had over a 100 points and he was by far the best player in the state of Minnesota.”
Wheeler would win two state championships that season. One in football and another in hockey. And on the ice the Mustangs lost just once the entire season as Wheeler led them to state championship with a hat trick in the final.
“He could bring his best game when our team needed it the most,” Chapman said. “And that’s a sign of a champion.”
A champion now leading the Jets.
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