Connor Hurley found space between two defenders in front of the goal. A pass from behind the net landed on his stick and with a quick flick of his wrists, Hurley sent the puck hurtling into the net.
The whole thing felt like it took a nanosecond.
“I don’t think you teach that,” said Edina coach Curt Giles.
Hurley was just getting warmed up. On the ensuing shift, he gathered a loose puck in his own end, left a vapor trail as he skated to the opposite end and scored again, this one coming 27 seconds after his previous goal.
“He’s definitely a game changer with the puck on his stick,” Lakeville North coach Trent Eigner said.
Hurley’s boom-bang flurry in the second period gave him his second hat trick of the season and turned a comfortable lead into a rout as Edina advanced in the Class 2A boys’ hockey state tournament with a 9-3 victory Thursday at Xcel Energy Center.
Hurley, a junior center who has committed to Notre Dame, finished with three goals, one assist and five shots — and left little doubt about who was the best player on the ice.
“He’s really good,” Giles said. “Really good.”
Maybe the most skilled player in the state, according to people who monitor high school hockey. Hurley has good size (6-1, 180 pounds) and elite speed, and he plays a two-way game. But it’s those quick hands that grab your attention. He doesn’t waste time with the puck on his stick.
“He’s a very skilled player,” Eigner said.
Hurley’s first goal of the quarterfinal matchup came on a wrist shot to the glove side 2 minutes and 53 seconds into the game. It was his 18th goal of the season, which is not exactly a staggering output for a player of his caliber. He ranked third on his own team in goal scoring entering the tournament.
A goal-scoring drought in late December caused Hurley’s point production (47) to drop slightly from his sophomore season, which created a casual perception that he didn’t play as well this season.
“I was pretty happy,” Hurley said. “I didn’t get as many points as I really wanted to, but since I got announced captain [before the season], I’ve just tried to lead my team and not really care about scoring that much anymore.”
Giles grabbed the microphone during the postgame news conference after someone asked Hurley if he was satisfied with his season in terms of scoring.
“I can answer that question, too,” Giles said. “We’re extremely happy with the point production he had. Our expectations for him are a lot different than they might be for some of the high point-getters in the state of Minnesota.”
Giles refers to Hurley as a “high-end” talent, meaning his impact is felt in areas beyond just goals and assists. He’s solid defensively, plays on the top penalty-killing unit and takes faceoffs. And he gets the puck up the ice in a hurry.
“I think my strength is playmaking,” Hurley said. “I’ve got good vision. I can see the ice well. I can see my linemates and where they’re going to be.”
Added Giles: “He moves the puck and shares the puck. Those are the bonuses of a high-end player.”
Hurley tested his high-end talent before the season when he played three weeks with the U-18 team in the U.S. developmental program. The U.S. squad played against Division I college teams, which Hurley called “the best experience I’ve ever had.”
“I just went in there knowing I wasn’t going to be a top guy,” he said. “I just had to be a playmaker and make passes.”
The Hornets rely on him for more than that. They need Hurley to play like one of the state’s best players again if they hope to survive this weekend.
“He’s had nothing but a great year,” Giles said. “Sometimes you can’t judge a year by points.”
That’s true. A hat trick in the state tournament sure makes a splash, though.
Chip Scoggins can be reached at ascogginsstartribune.com.