Breck senior forward Grace Zumwinkle owns the hardest shot in girls' high school hockey and likely beyond. Photo by Mark Vancleave
Breck senior Grace Zumwinkle owns the hardest slapshot in girls’ high school hockey, a cannon that has drawn blood from opponents and admiration from Olympians and an NHL veteran.
When she loads to fire, swinging the stick blade back and skyward, Zumwinkle makes some opponents flinch. Others just clear a path. Her best slapshots hurl the puck toward the goal in upward of 80 miles per hour, faster than most boys’ prep players.
She also shoots with accuracy. Her 37 goals are tied for fourth in the metro area. Even shots off the mark are tough on goaltenders. Zumwinkle, a forward who has committed to the Gophers, dented one goalie’s mask and broke another’s skate.
Zumwinkle is a shining example of an evolution in girls’ hockey, where “first you saw the skating in the girls’ game catch up and now it’s the shot,” said Winny Brodt Brown, director at OS Hockey Training who played for the Gophers and the women’s national team.
“It’s like Michael Phelps in swimming,’’ Brodt Brown said. “That’s what she is to shooting in women’s hockey.”
Good at golf, great at hockey
A strong golfer, Zumwinkle has drawn college interest with her 280-yard drives off the tee. But comparisons to Happy Gilmore, Adam Sandler’s hot-tempered hockey player who couldn’t skate but used a big slapshot to gain golf glory, end there.
A fast and fluid skater with exceptional vision, Zumwinkle earned U.S. player of the game honors in both the semifinal and gold medal victories at the Under-18 women’s world championships in January.
To hone her shot, she travels about 40 miles each way most Saturdays from her Excelsior home to the Scott Bjugstad Shooting School in Lake Elmo. Bjugstad, a former Gophers standout and NHL veteran, said he has to ask Zumwinkle whether she’s scored in games that week because she never brings it up.
Hardworking and humble, Zumwinkle leads the Mustangs whether on or off the ice.
That shot, though.
“It stings, for sure,” Breck sophomore goalie Ally Frantzick said. “In warmups I won’t take her shot. I’m not getting hurt.”
Others haven’t been so fortunate. In Breck’s season opener, a Zumwinkle blast dented the facemask worn by Centennial’s goalie.
“I saw her skate to the bench and I said, ‘What’s going on?’ ” Zumwinkle said. “Someone said, ‘I think you dented it.’ I was like, ‘That can’t be possible,’ because I’ve hit a goalie in the head before. Then she put the backup goalie’s helmet on and I was like, ‘That’s odd.’ My dad told me she walked into the lobby and she had something in her nose to prevent it from bleeding. I was a little surprised. You never want to hurt someone, but I chuckled about it later.”
Even Centennial coach Kristi King had to laugh.
“We tried to hammer out the dent, but the mask was broken,” she said. “I just said, ‘We’ll send Breck the bill later.’ ”
The feat overshadowed Zumwinkle’s five-goal performance in a 5-4 overtime victory. Four of those goals came from Zumwinkle “just ripping shots,” King said.
“I tried to convince kids to block her shot, but they looked at me like I was crazy,” King said. “They said, ‘I’m not going to get in the way of that thing.’ ”
The next game, Zumwinkle broke the skate of the Benilde-St. Margaret’s goalie and pierced a shinguard of another Red Knights skater. The latter drew blood, adding to the legend.
“I think it’s a little scary for goalies,” Bjugstad said. “I know when we’re in the garage working, I’m watching her shot the whole time because if one comes off the pipe back at me, I might not be around the next day.”
Size, athletic ability, fundamentals merge
Bjugstad works with Zumwinkle on details that make a difference. She hit 76 mph on the radar gun in his garage on Saturday. On a synthetic floor. From a standstill. Ice would add another seven to 10 mph, Bjugstad said.
Working with Bjugstad helped Zumwinkle find a stick with the proper flex, which means a stiffer shaft to give her better control. She’s the only female high school player Bjugstad has seen use an 87 flex. Most are in the 60s.
And placement of the puck on the stick blade is paramount, Bjugstad said. He encourages using the edge of the blade to get the best power and accuracy, much like a diver uses the edge of a springboard.
Zumwinkle’s size (5-10), athletic ability and mastery of the fundamentals, combined with improved stick technology, add up to a remarkable shot.
“She’s kind of a perfect storm,” Brodt Brown said.
King lauded Zumwinkle for “carving a path for herself and at the same time, for a lot of young female hockey players,’’ King said. “They can see what Grace is already doing and aspire to get to that level.”
Older players pay their respects, too. Zumwinkle drew attention this summer at USA Hockey’s U-18 Select Player Development Camp. Summoned from the locker room after the final session on the last day of camp, Zumwinkle tested her shot against 2014 Olympians Kacey Bellamy, Brianna Decker, Meghan Duggan and Jocelyne Lamoureux-Davidson.
After hitting 80 mph on the radar gun, Zumwinkle said, she heard one of the Olympians say, “I guess I have to work on my shot.”