By the end of last season, Greenway's Donte Lawson had grown to 5-foot-4. The diminutive sophomore was easy to spot on the ice. He was the little guy in green racing around the rink making plays.
Now a 5-9 junior, Lawson has hit a growth spurt. So has his production.
The 21 goals he tallied last winter? Lawson matched that total in the third-ranked Raiders' 13th game, a 7-2 win at Hibbing-Chisholm on Jan. 4. The forward is up to 30 goals and 50 points through 19 games, both of which are good for second in the state.
Nobody is too surprised. This is, Greenway coach Grant Clafton says, the natural progression for a naturally gifted scorer whose offense came alive in the second half of his first varsity season. Clafton expected this.
"I would be lying to you if I said I didn't," the coach said.
That's because Lawson, whose given name is Casadonte, possesses the moxie of a scorer. He has the physical tools, sure, but it's just as much about his intangibles. "Hockey sense" and a "great scoring knack," Clafton called it. Those instincts are supplemented by experience, a year of seasoning at the more-physical high school level for an NCAA Division I prospect that came to the Raiders as part of a heralded group of youngsters poised to thrust Greenway into Section 7A contention.
Plus, his coach says, Lawson has bought into the defensive end. Becoming a more complete player has created scoring chances that didn't previously exist. Lawson knows what to do when those opportunities surface.
"When it gets on my stick, I feel like I can put it in," he said ahead of Tuesday's 3-1 loss at Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl, which dropped the Raiders to 13-6.
Lawson brings a unique perspective to the locker room. His father, Jim "Bird" Lawson, coached Greenway for six trying seasons. Plagued by a decade-long trend of plummeting participation, the Raiders cratered and wobbled toward irrelevance. For a News Tribune story in January 2015, just as Greenway was starting to rebound, the elder Lawson described his debut as head coach.
"Honest to God, when I came to practice that first year I looked out and there were guys wearing shin pads on the outsides of their socks. I'm thinking, 'Holy cripe, what am I going to do?' And those kids ended up playing varsity," he said then. "I had 11 kids that first year."
A young Donte Lawson used to attend Greenway practices during those lean times. So he was around the Raiders at their lowest point, which makes the recent upswing all the sweeter. They advanced to the section final last March and, following a close 4-2 loss to Hermantown last week, look equipped to give the Hawks something that's been rare at playoff time: a challenge.
"They haven't had competition in quite a while, and we showed them that we're here to play," Donte Lawson said.
On a team with so much high-end talent - sophomores Ben Troumbly and Christian Miller have committed to St. Cloud State - depth is an issue. To that end, the Raiders received good news Wednesday when Troumbly (14 goals, 17 assists) learned the knee injury he suffered last week at Superior isn't as serious as initially feared. He will miss 2-3 weeks but should be ready to go by the postseason.
In the meantime, Lawson, who has talked with Minnesota Duluth and St. Cloud State, will be asked to continue his supersized production. He has at least two goals in 10 games and has notched at least a point in all but three contests.
Tenacious and seemingly always a step ahead of the play, Lawson has good hands and student-of-the-game hockey smarts honed since he first strapped into skates at age 2 or 3.
Sometimes, though, it's as simple as this: "The thing that's special about Donte is I think he truly wants to be a hockey player, and he's smart enough to know what it takes to get there."
Clafton calls Lawson immensely coachable and receptive to "corrective criticism." He takes the feedback and uses it to get better, the way you'd expect from a coach's son.
Jim Lawson, who played such an instrumental role in reviving hockey in Coleraine, used to be the one dispensing feedback. Not anymore. He's hands-off, which, as you might expect, takes some restraint.
"I don't cross that line with him," the elder Lawson said. "I'm probably chomping at the bit to give it to him, but I won't do it. He's his own kid. If he asks for my advice, I'll give him my advice. I try to steer him in the right direction, on the ice and off."
PREP NEWSMAKER: DONTE LAWSON
Prep status: Greenway junior
Family: Father, Jim; mother, Kelly; sister, Kailey; brother, Dominik
Pets: Two dogs
College plans: Undecided
FACE-TO-FACE WITH DONTE LAWSON
If I could meet one person - dead or alive - who would it be? Wayne Gretzky
One thing people don't know about me: That I'm big into the outdoors
My ideal vacation: Hawaii
The toughest athlete I've competed against: Duluth East forwards Ian Mageau and Ryder Donovan, during the Elite League
Favorite home-cooked meal: Dad's spaghetti
One thing at the top of my bucket list: Spend a week or two hunting in Alaska
Favorite musical group: The Beatles
Game-day superstition: "Oh, I got a lot of 'em" - the list includes an exact stretching routine 20 minutes before Greenway takes the ice, methodically taping his stick ahead of the third period and making sure it's waxed perfectly
Last website I visited: mnhockeyhub.com
Social media of choice: Twitter
Favorite team: Calgary Flames