ST. CLOUD, Minn. -- Nate Warner is known as a quiet teammate, but a leader.

Warner missed a month with an upper body injury for the St. Cloud Cathedral boys hockey team. But when he came back for the Section 6A playoffs, his skills quickly went back on display and the mood of the team changed.

"He brings a calmness to our lineup," Cathedral coach Derrick Brown said. "He plays against Breckenridge, which is a developing program, but he hasn't played in two months. Our first six goals, he's in on every one of them with a goal or an assist. It was just incredible.

"Then we're playing River Lakes and kind of struggling. It's a 1-0 game and he's on the (penalty kill) and makes an unreal play, strips the puck from the 'D' and finds Jackson Savoie and it's a 2-0 lead. He's just an electric and dynamic kid."

Warner and the Crusaders are back in the Class A state tournament after a one-year absence. Cathedral (24-4-0) is seeded second and plays North Branch (19-7-2) at 11 a.m. Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

WDAY logo
listen live
watch live

Coming back twice

Warner suffered his injury in a game against Alexandria on Dec. 11. He came back a month later, but got re-injured in his fourth game back against Virginia/Mountain Iron-Buhl on Jan. 18.

Warner, who is listed at 6-foot and 180 pounds, came back for the section tournament. He had four goals and six assists in three section games and has 15 goals and 17 assists in 13 games this season.

But how is he feeling physically going into the state tournament?

"I've been a lot better, but the excitement and being in the state tournament helps me look past the injury. I'll fight through it," he said. "It's not going to get better right now, so I'm going to have to deal with it and play through it, take the pain as it comes.

"This is the first time I've had a major injury during a season, so it's been tough to not be in the lineup and have to watch. It's a great feeling to be back at this time of year."

His first two seasons with the Crusaders, Warner played center and had 44 goals and 61 assists in 58 games played. When Warner came back from the injury, Brown moved him to left wing and kept junior Jack Smith at center with junior Blake Perbix on right wing.

"I'm able to get up the ice a lot faster and use my speed," Warner said. "With our line, there's so much puck movement that we're all everywhere. Outside the 'D' zone, there's really no position. We're just making plays."

Smith, a Minnesota-Duluth recruit, leads the Crusaders in goals (27) and is second on the team in points (62) to Perbix (18-41-59). Smith has enjoyed having Warner back in the lineup.

"It adds more speed to our lineup and he's a great player," Smith said. "He's probably the biggest scoring threat on the team. It helps out a lot.

"He's a really good kid. He can be quite sometimes, but he's always focused and ready to go."

Missing Mack

This is the first season since squirts that Warner has not played on a team with Mack Motzko, his best friend. Mack is the oldest son of Bob Motzko, who left St. Cloud State after last season to become the University of Minnesota head coach.

The Motzkos moved to Minnetonka, where Mack played for the defending Class 2A state champions. But Minnetonka was upset by Holy Family Catholic (2-1) in the Section 2 semifinals.

"I've talked to Mack a lot in the last couple days. It's tough to see him go through that after a tough (section finals) loss last year," said Warner, whose team was upset in double overtime by Alexandria last year. "He's been there for us. He was at the section final and he's been building us up and here's there rooting for us, which is awesome.

"It's been a lot different. He's like a brother to me and everybody on the team loves him."

Warner had originally verbally committed to play for Bob Motzko at St. Cloud State, but switched to the Gophers after Motzko took the job there.

Warner's junior rights are owned by the Sioux Falls Stampede of the United States Hockey League. So does he plan on playing juniors next season?

"Right now, I'm looking to come back next season," Warner said. "I want to play with the guys I grew up with and be around them as much as I can."

Smith, whose junior rights are also owned by Sioux Falls, has not decided if he will return for his senior season. Smith turned down an opportunity to play for the United States Hockey National Development Program to play for the Crusaders again this season.

CHS college prospects

Besides Warner and Smith, Cathedral has four players getting looks from NCAA Division I programs, according to Brown.

Sophomore defenseman Jon Bell, junior defenseman Reid Bogenholm, junior defenseman CJ Zins and Perbix have talked to college coaches. Bogenholm recently had an unofficial visit to Minnesota and Perbix has talked with Colorado College.