Tanner Sorenson's infatuation with Michigan State has by now, been well-established, even if his ties to the Spartans hockey program didn't become official until only recently ...
For four years now, Sorenson has used Michigan State as his own personal recruiting measuring stick, using it to weigh his options once he begins college in the fall of 2011.
But the Anchorage, Alas., native discovered the East Lansing campus almost by happenstance, traveling there for his bantam hockey club's trip to the national championships four years ago.
Ever since he went on the campus tour and made his way around the city limits, Sorenson knew he'd found a home.
Even if it didn't mean returning for another five years.
Even at 13, Sorenson was struck by Michigan State's large campus and the way the school's student body embraced their beloved Spartans. He envisioned himself fitting in, soaking in the Big Ten environment, knowing that as a hockey player, he'd be surrounded by a loyal fan base.
"Ever since that tournament, I've wanted to go there," Sorenson said. "That's been my No. 1 option all my life. Obviously, other colleges talked to me and I took interest, but Michigan State was always No. 1."
With his college plans set, Sorenson ventured off to Shattuck-St. Mary's, where the tradition for turning out top-notch hockey players was firmly established.
At Shattuck, he discovered a hockey-crazed setting where top-level players were known commodities - a stark contrast from what he was used to back in Alaska where crowd sizes were limited.
"It's hard to progress out of Alaska and go somewhere with hockey," he said.
While most players home-grown in Alaska wait until their junior or senior year in high school to leave, Sorenson knew what Shattuck could do for him.
He had always been a rink rat, following in the footsteps of his father, Dennis Sorenson, the second all-time leading scorer at Alaska-Anchorage. But Dennis allowed his son to make his own decisions, leading him to Shattuck, where he's created a niche for himself as a serious scoring threat over the past three years.
Last season in 59 games, Sorenson scored 32 goals to go along with 33 assists, providing to be a dependable playmaker.
But with a year remaining under Tom Ward's tutelage, Sorenson's hockey education will continue. While he's proven to have many of the fundamental skills required to play at the CCHA level, Sorenson will push to become more of a well-rounded player, adding to what is already an impressive skill set.
"He' just starting to play the way he needs to play to be his best," Ward said. "He's got some intangible qualities about his game that could make him a special player. He's just kind of a natural."
Much of that came from his father, who made a subtle push for Sorenson to return home to play at Dennis Sorenson's alma mater. But there was something about the Midwest that attracted Sorenson, who also drew interest from Notre Dame, Miami and a collection other schools.
All along, though, he kept his sights set on Michigan State, especially after the Spartans captured the NCAA national championship in 2007.
Sorenson remains a work in progress, adding bits and pieces to his game with a year in his Shattuck career remaining. His work ethic aids him in his maturation, pushing him to become the type of player he knows he'll need to develop into before he begins his college career in 2011.
"He needs to be a guy who's conscientious from goal line to goal line and willing to take on the leadership qualities of the program," Ward said. "It's easy to be the second or third best player on a team. It's a lot more difficult to carry that burden of being a leader and of being a big-time player every time he's on the ice."
Yet, that's the challenge that pushes Sorenson, who admits that the larger scope of influence that hockey carries at Shattuck has serves as motivation to get better.
He knows the stage will only get bigger at Michigan State, a place he remembers a passion for sports that has led him to make suiting up for the Spartans a top priority.
"The more people that are watching me play the better I play," Sorenson said. "The more people that watch me, the harder I work."
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