CHASKA, Minn. — Trailing 3-0 entering the third period of the 2019-20 Section 2AA championship game against Eden Prairie, Jimmy Snuggerud gave Chaska High School hope.
The freshman forward scored with less than nine minutes to play to pull the Hawks to within two goals. Three minutes later, teammate Calvin Barrett made it 3-2, but that would be the final tally as Eden Prairie survived the Hawks' late charge to advance to the Minnesota Boys State Hockey Tournament.
That was the last game Snuggerud played with the Hawks as he went on to spend the next two years with the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP).
Among the players on the 2019-20 Chaska team was Sam Rinzel. As a freshman defenseman, Rinzel wasn't among the team's leading scorers, but he soon developed into one of the top blue-liners in the state.
"He's better on his edges than pretty much anybody that I've ever seen," said Chaska coach Matt Cooke. "That's a credit to the amount of time and energy that him, his parents, his family have dedicated to giving him opportunities to work on skating."
High praise from a former Stanley Cup champion.
Cooke played 16 seasons in the NHL, primarily with the Vancouver Canucks and the Pittsburgh Penguins. Cooke's NHL career ended after a pair of seasons with the Minnesota Wild before taking over as Chaska's head coach in 2021.
Fast forward to July 7, 2022, Snuggerud is coming off a 63-point season with the USNTDP U18 team and Rinzel recorded a team-leading 29 assists for Chaska.
While taking two different paths since that 2019-20 season, both took them to Montreal for the 2022 NHL Draft. And in the span of just three picks — separated by the Wild's second first-round selection of the night — both players became first-rounders.
Snuggerud was selected with the 23rd overall pick by the St. Louis Blues and then Rinzel went No. 25 to the Chicago Blackhawks.
"I didn't coach Jimmy ... but to have a player go (in the first round) who went to the national development program from Chaska, and then to have another player that I actually coached in Sam get drafted into the NHL — both in the first round, from Minnesota — I think it's a huge accomplishment," said Cooke. "And just see some of the different paths there for athletes to succeed."
Snuggerud's family is rich with hockey history, with his father Dave Snuggerud spending time in the NHL and his cousin Luc Snuggerud being drafted in 2014 by the Chicago Blackhawks. Snuggerud's grandfather, James Westby, also played college hockey at the University of Minnesota — the same school Jimmy will play his college hockey.
"They mean a lot to me," said Jimmy about his father and grandfather during an interview posted on the team's website. "To have my grandpa still playing hockey to this day, and he's 85 years old, is really cool ... I think I'm the second third-generation Gopher ever, so it's gonna be really cool to get started there."
Jimmy Snuggerud is set to join the Gophers this upcoming season, and depending on the developmental path the Blues have him on, he could be teammates with Rinzel once again in 2023. Rinzel has also committed to play at the U of M, but he still has one year of high school eligibility left before he's expected to join the Gophers. Whether that one year of high school eligibility will be spent with the Hawks, however, is still up in the air.
"I would expect the Blackhawks to have a big say in what he does," Cooke said. "It goes without saying, I'd love to have him. I think if he comes back, he'd be a lock for Mr. Hockey, he's that type of player. But we all have to be cognizant of what's best for Sam and Sam's development as he continues to pursue the opportunity to play in the NHL."
Rinzel spent some time in the USHL last season with the Waterloo Black Hawks, where he had 10 points in 21 games. While expected to spend time in Waterloo this upcoming season, it's still possible he splits time playing his senior season at Chaska and playing in the USHL.
"That's sort of the route I chose to take," said Rinzel in an interview on Thursday regarding last season's split time between Chaska and Waterloo. "I was fortunate enough to be able to play some USHL games in Waterloo. ... I couldn't have gone to a better team for the USHL and a better organization and coaching staff. I knew a couple guys on the team before, so that made the transition a lot easier for sure."
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