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Small town, big player

12/03/2022, 7:15am CST
By Bryan Zollman

Eli Fletcher has a chance to join an exclusive group of goal scorers

Eli Fletcher of Sauk Centre, Minn. has 112 career goals entering this season and a chance to crack the top 10 all-time in the state of hockey. He needs 25 goals this season. Last year he scored 44. Photo courtesy of Breakdown Sports.

When Eli Fletcher tells people where he plays hockey, they shake there head and ask, “where is that.”

Fletcher is in his fifth season as a forward for the Prairie Centre North Stars. Where exactly is that? Smack dab in the middle of Minnesota.

Why does a hockey player for an unknown program deserve statewide recognition?

Because Fletcher has an opportunity to be in the top 10 scorers all time in the state of hockey.

Read that again. 

Eli Fletcher, from a small town in central Minnesota, is on pace to be in the same company as John Pohl, Ben Hanowski, Grant Besse and Dave Spehar. He’s already scored more goals than NHL stars Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and former Roseau great Aaron Broten.

So who is Eli Fletcher?

Just a small town kid who loves to play hockey.

“The kid plays hard every shift,” said his coach Chad Wehrman. “His compete level makes him a special player.”

What really sets Fletcher apart is his shot. He has spent countless hours damaging pucks on his rural property in Sauk Centre. The youngest of three brothers, he recently passed older brother, Hunter, in career points to become the all-time leader in the coop program that combines with Melrose and Long Prairie.

It isn’t exactly a hockey hotbed, and the program rarely gets past the first round of playoffs. But Wehrman takes the job seriously and runs a strong program that may not churn out Division I prospects, but does churn out quality adults.

Fletcher is one of those players. After helping lead his football team to state, the 5’8” powerpack is now focused on his senior hockey season. If he scores 25 goals (he scored 44 last year), he will finish in the top 10 all time in the state of Minnesota.

“I just want to help our team win,” said Fletcher. 

Fletcher, a right-handed shot, has been playing varsity hockey since eighth grade. In his rookie season he notched 22 goals. As  a freshman he led the state amongst all freshman with 32 goals. 

Then 2020 hit and the team played just 16 games with Fletcher’s output at just 15 goals.

But last season he finished with 44 snipes, tied for fifth in the state.

“His game has evolved in almost every way since eighth grade,” said Wehrman. “He used to over handle the puck at times. That resulted in turnovers. But he has eliminated those mistakes and knows when to handle and when to shoot. He sees the ice so well and is very strong.”

Because of his frame, Fletcher is nearly impossible to knock off the puck. He’s a good skater and puck handler, but his main asset is his shot.

“His shot sets him apart,” said Wehrman. “It’s hard and heavy. He has a quick release and is very accurate with it.”

Fletcher said he looks for soft spots on the ice where he can create enough space to fire away.

“My shot helps me score from anywhere,” he said. “Being confident with my shot gives me confidence to pull the trigger.”

Fletcher plays the off wing, giving him a good angle coming into the zone.

“My favorite place to shoot from on the ice is coming into the zone on the left side,” he said. “Using the defenseman as a screen, I aim right above the right pad at the right post. It is a weak spot that many high school goalies struggle with.”

Because he plays for a small school, he usually ends up with a target on his back. Drawing an extra body or a shadow, however, hasn’t hampered his production. 

“It’s something I’ve had to deal with, and right away it was frustrating, but I also learned it opens up opportunities for my teammates,” he said.

Fletcher is hoping to get on the radar of junior and college coaches and scouts. Playing in a relatively  unknown program hasn’t helped him draw the eyes of decision makers. 

He has skated in AAA programs and participated in the High Performance program in the spring. He’s been to numerous camps, but also focuses on his other sports – baseball and football.

He is the youngest of three boys to Shawn and Stacie Fletcher, who own a bait shop in the town of Sauk Centre – population 4,500.

As the youngest of three boys, he has benefited from competing against his big brothers, Hunter and Noah.

“They have been fundamental to my success as an athlete,” he said. “They are the only reason I played  hockey at such a young age.”

Growing up with a backyard pond has paid big dividends. 

“When I was 3 I started skating on our pond and I wanted to be just as good as them,” he said. “They helped push me to learn how to shoot, skate, and stick handle. By the time I reached peewees I was way ahead of everyone else thanks to my brothers .”

In addition to his on-ice skills, he is also an off-ice leader.

“He is a two-year captain, but he has really brought leadership skills since he was an eighth grader,” said Wehrman. “He is such a responsible young man, Not only with his play, but with everything he does. He prepares well and other guys feed off that. He holds his teammates accountable and they respond because he holds himself accountable.”

Fletcher is the best player on the team, but also proves himself as the hardest worker. His focus has helped elevate his game.

“The best advice I have received is that practice makes perfect,” he said. “If you don’t practice like you play, you are wasting time. Getting confidence out of every practice is what helps your skills shine come game time.”

There is no telling how many goals Fletcher will score this season. He needs 25 to reach the top 10 all time. Quite an accomplishment in this state of hockey that has produced so many high-end players.

Chances are he will break the top 10. And chances are he will continue scoring goals at the next level.

“I have talked to some junior coaches, but I wanted to finish off my high school career first,” he said. 

He has the chance to finish with an exclamation point.


Top 10 Career Goals Scored in MSHSL

196 Ben Hanowski Little Falls 2009
175 Joey Benik St. Francis 2010
170 Corey Carlson Two Harbors/Greenway 2003
166 Dave Spehar Duluth East 1996
163 Grant Besse Benilde-St. Margaret's 2013
155 Jaxon Nelson Luverne 2016
148 Chaz Smedsrud Luverne 2016
144 John Pohl Red Wing 1998
137 Jeremy Erickson Wadena-Deer Creek 1994
136 Jared Festler Little Falls 2008

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Tag(s): State Of Hockey