Dakota United defenseman Grayson Nicolay holds the Minnesota State High School League record for career goals in the physically impaired division of adapted floor hockey. But this season, the senior is focused on clinching his first state championship.
Nicolay, who started playing with the Hawks in seventh grade, has scored 241 goals heading into his final state tournament on Friday and Saturday.
Nicolay, who has 150 assists, also holds the league record for all-time hat tricks in tournament play with nine.
Nicolay and the Hawks finished in second place in three consecutive seasons, from 2012-2014, after losing to five-time champion Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka.
“I’m kind of sick of second place … I’m kind of sick of silver and red [medals],” Nicolay said. “I’m determined to get [a title] this year … in hockey because it’s my favorite sport.”
Dakota United (9-1-0) defeated the Robbins 5-3 in the regular season on Jan. 9. Hawks coach Brett Sadek said he’s confident in his team’s chances in the upcoming tournament, especially after a tough 2015 season without Nicolay, who was rehabbing from leg surgery.
Nicolay, who was run over by a car outside his house when he was 4 years old, has had 25 surgeries and now wears a brace on his left leg. He played regular sports until he underwent a major surgery at age 10. He plays adapted soccer and softball in addition to hockey.
Since Nicolay was only healthy for the 2015 state tournament, the Hawks had to adjust to playing without their leading scorer all year. Dakota United eventually lost in the first round of the tournament to Robbinsdale/Hopkins/Mound Westonka.
“It was completely different group, and we didn’t have as many players, so we were thin numberswise. We had to move it, we couldn’t count on him bailing us out,” Sadek said. “We made some good passes, a bunch of people got some extra time playing that normally wouldn’t, so I would say it was beneficial for everything except maybe our season win total.”
Nicolay switched positions this year and now mainly plays on defense to better pace himself and the team. Assistant coach Tori Holt said the Hawks use Nicolay on offense when needed but that the team is stronger with him playing back because it allows him to play for the entire game.
“We move him up front when we’re trying to score a goal. We keep him back a little bit so he can distribute the puck and control the game from back there and settle things down,” Holt said.
Nicolay said his position switch and an all-around stronger team has him feeling good about the title chances.
“We have a really good goalie, Johnathan Lyons, great defense, and we’ve got great passing,” Nicolay said. “I don’t score as much, which is perfectly OK. I’d rather score one goal and win a state championship than score 60 and not win.”
Sadek said Nicolay also has stepped up as a leader during his career.
“He was the squirmy seventh-grader that was pretty talented, that could score. But he’s kind of grown up,” Sadek said. “He still loves to try and do it himself, which he can a lot of the times, but he’s figuring out this year, ‘Hey, I don’t need to get the most points that I’ve ever had, I would rather win a state championship.’ I’ve seen that part of the maturity in him.”
Nicolay’s career in adapted sports won’t end with the tournament. He said he plans to continue helping the Hawks as a volunteer. He plans to attend Dakota County Technical College for childhood development upon his graduation from Rosemount this spring.
Nicolay also has planned to honor his teammates and record-breaking career with Dakota United in his future aspirations.
“I plan on opening a program for physically impaired athletes so they can overcome their disability just like I did over the years. I think of it more as a challenge,” Nicolay said. “To be honest, [my teammates] make me proud most of all, because they overcome their disabilities … I’ll always have a spot in my heart for the Dakota Hawks because I don’t think I’d be the person I am today if I didn’t play for them.”
Kaitlin Merkel is a University of Minnesota student on assignment for the Star Tribune