Orono senior Alex Gross goes airborne as he fires a shot toward the Minnetonka net and goaltender Nick Larson. Photo by Katherine Matthews
John Burkhardt was glued to the sideline for most of last season.
As a sophomore he ranked No. 4 in the pecking order of Minnetonka’s high-scoring corps of attackmen. The top three got the bulk of playing time.
Burkhardt was the odd man out. He might as well have painted himself orange and posed as a pylon.
“I didn’t play much,” he said.
The season wasn’t a total loss, however, as Burkhardt did have an up-close view of Skippers’ scoring whiz Teddy O’Reilly, who amassed 30 goals in a brilliant senior season.
Now Burkhardt is a junior and mainstay on the Skippers’ attack line. He’s a player Minnetonka will need to put up big numbers if the Skippers are to retain their status as one of the state’s premier programs.
“I’m following in Teddy O’Reilly’s footsteps,” Burkhardt said when asked about the significance of wearing No. 4, O’Reilly’s old number. “I’d like to keep the legacy going. Hopefully fill the spot with the same skill and mindset and the same intensity.”
Minnetonka junior John Burkhardt had a goal and an assist in Saturday's victory over Orono. Photo by Katherine Matthews
While Burkhardt isn’t an O’Reilly clone, there are a lot of similarities to No. 4 past and present. Burkhardt scored a goal and notched an assist in No. 8-ranked Minnetonka’s 6-5 triumph over Orono on Saturday, April 27, at Minnetonka High School.
“He’s like our Swiss Army knife,” Minnetonka senior goaltender Nick Larson said about Burkhardt. “He can do almost anything. He can get in close, he can take hard shots outside. He’s awesome.
“He’s a funny guy, too, which is also nice.”
Burkhardt’s goal came after he snuck behind the Orono defense and took a feed from Chase Bauerfeind. After faking a high shot that drew Orono goaltender Jake Anderson out of position, Burkhardt calmly flipped the ball into the bottom of the net.
With the Skippers nursing a one-goal lead in the closing minutes, Burkhardt used an array of moves to elude Spartans’ defenders and run time off the clock, all while taking a series of hacks and slashes aimed at separating him from the ball.
Burkhardt’s emergence doesn’t come as much of a surprise to Minnetonka coach Aaron Olivier, who likes all aspects of Burkhardt’s game.
“He’s such an important player for us,” Olivier said.
Burkhardt, who scored five goals last season, spent the summer playing honing his game by playing on a state elite team. That experience is paying big dividends, he said.
“Playing out east, going against really good D-poles, it kind of transfers when I play now during the school year,” he said. “I have more time and I am more comfortable when I am dodging.
“It’s going to be fun.”
Orono players take a knee before Saturday's game to pay their respects to the memory of Bob Perry. The middle school track coach and father of freshman junior varsity player Henry Seward died on Thursday. Photo by Katherine Matthews
Lacrosse, and life, was put in perspective earlier this week for Orono when Bob Perry, the stepfather of Spartans’ freshman junior varsity player Henry Seward, collapsed and died in the school parking lot on Thursday afternoon.
An Orono Middle School track coach, Perry, 51, also was an assistant high school football coach.
The Spartans had been scheduled to play Chaska/Chanhassen on Thursday, but the game was postponed. Seward served as an honorary varsity captain during Saturday’s game against Minnetonka.
“I think before the game it was tough,” Orono coach Josh Scott said. “We took the knee to pay respect, and we had Hank come in for it. It got a little emotional in there -- you could here the guys crying.”
Spartans players wore makeshift stickers bearing the letters BP on their helmets.
“It was tough. We want to do everything we can to support Hank. Lacrosse is very minimal compared to life in general. Hopefully we say that message to them often.”
Junior Jacob Nelson scored what proved to be the winning goal 5 minutes, 4 seconds into the fourth quarter as No. 8-ranked Minnetonka held on for a 6-5 victory over Orono on Saturday, April 25 at Minnetonka High School.
Six players scored for the Skippers (2-1), who underwent an overhaul of their attack line in the offseason.
Junior John Burhardt scored for Minnetonka and assisted on Nelson’s winning goal.
Orono (0-2) surged to a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter and could have led by much more if not for several difficult saves by Minnetonka senior goaltender Nick Larson.
The Skippers took control by scoring five unanswered goals to close out the first half.
Senior Alex Gross scored twice for the Spartans, who closed to within one with 2:49 remaining on a goal by Nick Schroeder.
Orono defenseman Ryan Breon forced a turnover in the Spartans’ end in the final minute and ran the ball all the way into scoring position but fired wide just before the final horn sounded.
1. John Burkhardt, Minnetonka
The junior forward scored in the second quarter on quick fake of a high shot that gave him all kinds of room to sweep the ball in low. Burkhardt also set up Jacob Nelson’s goal that proved to be the winner in the fourth. With time running down and the Skippers in the lead and in control of the ball, Burkhardt chewed up big chunks of time by repeatedly eluding a swarm of Orono defenders.
2. Nick Larson, Minnetonka
The senior goaltender with the bright red hair, they call him “Ginger,” settled down after a rough start by holding the Spartans scoreless for a stretch of 25 minutes, 34 seconds. A shutout streak that spanned all of the third quarters and parts of the second and fourth. Larson finished with 16 saves on 21 shots.
3. Alex Gross, Orono
The senior midfielder opened the scoring 65 seconds into the opening period, then scored early in the fourth to pull the Spartans to within 5-4. He unleashed several other hard shots on goal only to be denied by Minnetonka’s rock-steady Larson.