HERMANTOWN, MINN. – The garage at the Plantes' Hermantown home isn't usually a shrine to middle child Max, but that's how the space looked for his high school graduation party.

His jerseys hung side by side, medals dangled off hockey sticks suspended from the ceiling, and Max's state championship ring was on display. Photo collages showed him on the ice, fishing and with his friends. One of mom Kristi's favorite pictures was near the Minnesota Duluth memorabilia: a snapshot of her three sons and husband, Derek, in hockey gear and Kristi dressed as a referee.

Max's artwork, drawings of hockey players, were also framed and covering the walls.

"It's pretty Max-ed out in here," Max said.

Soon the Plantes could have another reason to celebrate.

Max is among the top-ranked Minnesotans eligible for the NHL draft, which begins Friday in Las Vegas, and the 18-year-old's selection would add to an already impressive family legacy that's stretched far beyond its local roots.

"Hockey is not the most important thing in the world," Derek Plante said. "But it's what we do, and it's important to us. We know it's not more important than being a doctor and saving someone's life. It's just a sport. But that doesn't mean we can't give it our all."

Like father, like sons

Before Max and his brothers became hockey players, their dad was the promising prospect.

The Cloquet native was a 1993 Hobey Baker Award finalist and first team All-America at UMD who led the Bulldogs to a WCHA title after scoring an NCAA-high 92 points as a senior.

"I had a little bit of an axe to grind, chip on my shoulder, something to prove," said Derek, who had heard he was too small and would never play for the Bulldogs; the NHL draft didn't cross his mind.

But in 1989, Buffalo picked the 5-foot-11 center in the eighth round.

The draft was in Bloomington that year, but Derek didn't attend: he was mowing the lawn. The Sabres called and talked to Derek's sister. He didn't find out he'd been drafted until he was done in the yard and came back in the house.

"Is there any way I can get a hat?" he asked a scout five months later.

Derek became a three-time 20-goal scorer with Buffalo and delivered a Game 7 overtime goal in 1997 that sent the Sabres to the second round of the playoffs. Two years later, he won the Stanley Cup with Dallas.

The next month, he married Kristi Duncan.

They met at UMD, where Kristi, who is from Duluth, was a standout in basketball and softball. The two were in the same friend group — Kristi's roommate dated Derek's roommate — but weren't a couple. Derek and Kristi stayed in touch after graduation; Kristi wrote Derek cards, and they'd see each other in the summer.

After chatting one Christmas, Kristi flew to Buffalo to surprise Derek, who found out Kristi was on her way and surprised her at the airport with flowers. Derek invited her to New York City for the All-Star break, but Kristi declined, saying she was visiting as a friend.

"She was still fighting it," Derek said.

But Kristi did go to New York, and the two had their first official date.

"I still have some of the cards," Derek said.

Home in Hermantown

After eight seasons in the NHL, Derek continued his career overseas.

Oldest son Zam was born in Germany, which is also where Kristi competed alongside Derek in a televised exhibition game. Derek's team was shorthanded, so Kristi suited up for the no-checking friendly. She even scored a goal; Derek had one of the assists.

Kristi played hockey growing up and got back into the sport before they went to Europe, where she joined a women's league.

"Kristi's a phenomenal athlete in herself, like an All-American athlete," Hermantown boys hockey coach Patrick Andrews said.

About 18 months after Zam was born, Max arrived.

Just a few weeks later, Max was in a baby carrier at Xcel Energy Center for the boys hockey state tournament.

Derek's dad, Bruce, was a longtime coach at Hermantown, guiding the school to six consecutive state championship appearances before the Hawks won in 2016. After another title in 2017, Bruce retired.

"I guess I was kind of born into it," Max said, "but I loved it at the same time."

Max watched the Wild, but he idolized high school players and the Bulldogs.

In 2010, Derek became an assistant coach at UMD, and his first season on staff ended with the Bulldogs securing their first national championship. Now, Derek is an assistant in the NHL with the Chicago Blackhawks.

At home in Hermantown, Kristi would watch from the living room as her sons skated outside.

She loved listening to the sound of the puck skidding around the backyard rink and the crunch of the boys' blades on the ice, even cracking a window despite the temperature dipping below zero.

As a preschooler, Max protested naptime because he wanted to skate.

When he got older, he went to the Hermantown outdoor rinks every day after school.

Andrews, who took over as Hermantown coach after Bruce Plante's retirement, watched Max play since he was a mite and remembered there was skepticism about Max's game as Max rose through the ranks because of his smaller size.

"Everybody's doubted him every step of the way," Andrews said.

But Max kept proving the naysayers wrong, especially as a sophomore when he posted a team-high 72 points in 31 games to help the Hawks claim the Class 1A title.

"He's like a magician with the puck," Andrews said.

Growth spurt

Despite his success and history with the school, Max didn't return to Hermantown for his junior season.

He left for Michigan to join USA Hockey's national team development program. The hardest call Max had to make was to his grandpa Bruce, but Max felt the decision was best for him.

NTDP coach Nick Fohr also was concerned about Max's size, but after two seasons, Max has become much stronger and sturdier on the ice. He grew around 6 inches and is now listed as 5-11.

The forward tallied 15 goals and 46 assists in 51 games with the under-18 team last season, finishing with 15 more points than he had a year earlier. He also won silver at the U18 world championships and has been invited to USA Hockey's World Junior Summer Showcase, which evaluates players for the next world juniors tournament.

"There's a lot more to do," Max said, "and a lot more that I want to do."

NHL Central Scouting ranked him 43rd among North American skaters, promoting him 10 spots from its midseason report.

"He's the smartest player on our team," Fohr said. "All these NHL teams are looking for high hockey IQ-type of kids to draft and if there's a smarter one at the draft, I'd love to see him because [Max's] elite in that category."

While Derek's calling card was his speed, Max is a playmaker who prides himself on his vision and stick work.

He has a knack for 1-on-2 situations, where he draws two players to himself before dishing the puck to an open teammate.

"He's pass-first almost to a fault, a big fault," Kristi said. "I'm like, 'You can shoot it.' I don't know if it stems from an older brother [who's] like, 'Give me the puck.' "

Zam, 19, was drafted by Pittsburgh two years ago and won the USHL championship with Fargo last season.

"We both play a lot alike," Zam said. "But when we play together, he passes more, and I shoot more."

All three brothers are competitive, and not just when it comes to hockey: Who can swim the fastest at the lake? Who can catch more fish?

Max even took up art because Zam, 19, was into it and Max wanted to try to one-up Zam.

"Everything turns into a game," Victor said.

But the family is also supportive.

The NTDP invited Victor, 16, to join the team later this year and told him his brother was his biggest fan.

"I feel like he could be better than me and Zam," Max said.

Family affair

Kristi spent the previous week decorating the garage for Max's grad party, which had enough food to feed 200 people.

Pasta from a local restaurant was on the menu, and Max's grandma made cookies.

"I feel like this has been a Max month," Kristi said.

And the month isn't over.

The whole family plus Max's grandparents on both sides and cousins will travel to Las Vegas for the draft.

"Just want to go to a team that wants me and believes in me," Max said.

His next team, however, isn't a mystery. Like his parents, Max chose to go to Minnesota Duluth. Zam is also an incoming freshman, and the brothers will be roommates. Bruce is going to have Bulldogs season tickets after previously having to watch his grandsons' games on his cellphone.

"I couldn't see myself wearing any other jersey," Max said.

Getting to represent the Bulldogs is a dream come true for Max, but that's not his only dream.

"Realizing I can achieve this goal," Max said, "can maybe give me a little confidence to achieve another one."