ST. CLOUD, Minn. — When Ben Hanowski walks into the Herb Brooks National Hockey Center main entrance, he can look up to his right and see a familiar face celebrating.
There are a number of key players and scenes from the history of St. Cloud State hockey since 1931 on the east wall of the atrium. The mural is 14 feet wide by 30 feet tall. Among all of the players and scenes, the one with Hanowski celebrating and pointing appears to be the largest.
“We wanted to have players from all eras and from important moments with either significant plays or identifiable people that are going to withstand the test of time,” former St. Cloud State men’s hockey coach Bob Motzko said. “What Hano did for us was so special that there it is: front and center.
“He was one of the greatest high school players to ever play in the state and he chose to stay close to home. He was a part of the era of elevating our program to even higher levels.”
Hanowski, 28, played for the Huskies from 2009-13. He helped the program win its first NCAA Division I playoff game in 2010 and then win its first WCHA regular season title and reach its first Frozen Four in 2013. He has been back in the Brooks Center this spring as he works out to prepare for his fifth season playing in the top German hockey league.
So what’s it like to see yourself bigger than life on the side of a wall on a public building?
“It’s funny,” said Hanowski, who finished his degree from St. Cloud State last summer. “We have some friends in the area and when they go to the rink, they say, ‘Oh, there’s Ben.’ That’s always cool.
“St. Cloud will always be a special place to me. To be able to go back there and be around the guys who are on the team and be around the program is always fun. It keeps me young, too. Those young guys have a lot of energy.”
Reunited with LeBlanc
Hanowski has played the last two seasons for the Cologne Sharks of the Deutsche Eishockey Liga. He battled some injuries and had 10 goals and 10 assists in 31 of the team’s 52 regular season games.
“I had a bad groin pull and then I got tangled up and pulled my hamstring when I got back,” he said. “It was a tough year. It was the first year I’ve missed any games over there. I had three healthy years.
“To have two injuries and have them really close together was really tough. It was like eight weeks (out) with the hamstring. That was the first time I’ve been out for an extended period of time in a season.”
Hanowski came back from his injuries to play in 11 playoff games, helping the Sharks reach the league’s semifinals.
In 2017-18, he had 18 goals and 39 points in 52 games for Cologne. The two seasons before that, he had 41 goals and 76 points in 104 regular season games for the Augsburg Panthers in the DEL.
When he was with Augsburg, he was reunited with Drew LeBlanc, who was a four-year teammate and a two-year co-captain with Hanowski at St. Cloud State.
“We lived in the same (apartment) building, too, he was one floor above me for two years,” Hanowski said. “Besides four years at St. Cloud, I probably spent 5-6-7 years with Drew at Minnesota Hockey Camps in the summer.
“Then (with Augsburg), two years we were road roommates. So I’ve spent a lot of time with Drew,” he said of St. Cloud State’s 2013 Hobey Baker Award winner. “The second year, I was on the same line with him and that was really fun. He’s an easy guy to play with. I always have fun and we’ve gotten closer and closer over the years.
“Now I just try to smoke him when we play them. I always tell him that I’m going to go after him and I don’t want him to score. But he usually does OK against us. He scored a game-winner against us and I was so mad. But it’s always fun seeing Drew and he’s someone I’ll always be close to.”
Getting to Germany
Hanowski has enjoyed success throughout his hockey career. He helped put the Little Falls boys high school team on the map, helping the Flyers to four straight Class 1A state tournaments from 2006-2009.
Hanowski is the state’s all-time leader in career goals (196) and points (405) and is second in assists (209). He also owns state records for the most points in a season (135 in 2008-09). His 73 goals that season are No. 2 in state history (Jaxon Nelson, Luverne, 78, 2015-16) and his 71 assists in 2006-07 are the state’s fourth-best mark.
Hanowski was taken in the third round (63rd overall) in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. He went straight from high school hockey to college and finished with 62 goals and 113 points in 156 games with the Huskies.
His senior season with the Huskies, LeBlanc returned from injury and, with the help of a strong freshman class, St. Cloud State reached the national semifinals. Hanowski’s rights were also traded (along with Kenneth Agostino’s and a first round draft pick) to the Calgary Flames for Jarome Iginla on March 28, 2013.
After St. Cloud State’s season ended, Hanowski joined the Flames for five games and scored his lone NHL goal against the Minnesota Wild in St. Paul.
In 2013-14, he played 11 games for the Flames and also had 13 goals and 31 points in 55 American Hockey League games for the Abbotsford Heat. Hanowski had 16 goals and 25 points in 56 games for the Adirondack Flames in the AHL in 2014-15 and then was looking for a contract the next fall.
“I didn’t have a great season and I had some injuries that year,” he said of his last season in the AHL. “That league was getting younger and I was 25 at the time. I didn’t get (a) qualified (contract offer) from Calgary and I waited, waited, waited and there wasn’t much out there for me.
“Then September came around, (Augsburg) had offered me something earlier in the summer and I was sick of waiting around. I knew Drew was there and a couple of other guys on the team and it seemed like a good fit. Melissa was going to be done teaching and she was going to come with me.”
Melissa, his wife, is from Annandale, Minn., and the couple lives in Sartell, Minn., during the offseason with their 18-month-old daughter, Lillian.