Zak Von Ruden could almost hit his boyhood home with a hard slap shot, or possibly skate there on an icy day. Antonio Najera, on the other hand, grew up in a place where an outdoor ice rink is only a thing of imagination. Von Ruden is a returning defenseman for the Steele County Blades and grew up in Northfield. Najera is in his third season as a forward for Owatonna's junior hockey team and hails from Mexico City.

Najera's path to junior hockey began when he was seven years old and visited a cousin in Florida and went to watch his hockey practice. Najera found a rink nearby his home in Mexico and began playing. He moved to Canada to attend a hockey academy and met Blades coach Nick Adamek during a tryout camp. Najera has played international hockey representing Mexico.

[Click on names below to hear interview with the players.]

Antonio Najera

Von Ruden appreciates that it's easy for family members to see his games. He started his career in the USPHL a couple of seasons ago with River Falls and saw the Blades from an opponent's perspective. He likes the high-temp and pace of play that Steele County employs. He notes that the speed and physicality of the junior game was an adjustment compared to high school hockey.

Zak Von Ruden

Steele County's roster has seven international players, six Minnesota players and others from all over the country.