It's almost as rare as the 2017 solar eclipse that a Brainerd lakes area resident goes on to forge a career as a professional athlete.
The lakes area now has two.
Joe Haeg is a starting offensive lineman for the Indianapolis Colts. Josh Archibald, formerly of the Pittsburgh Penguins, was traded to the Arizona Coyotes late in 2017. Their achievements tie them for first place as the Brainerd Dispatch's top local sports story of 2017.
Haeg, who starred at North Dakota State where he was a member of four Bison FCS national championship teams, is in his second season starting for the Colts. Entering Sunday's regular-season finale against the Houston Texans, Haeg, selected by the Colts in the fifth round (155th overall) of the 2016 NFL Draft, had started 28 of a possible 32 games. He has missed one game in his NFL career.
Archibald played in Game Four of the 2017 Stanley Cup Final for Pittsburgh, which went on to beat the Nashville Predators for the championship. As a result, his name will be etched on the hallowed chalice and he brought it to the lakes area for a day in late August.
Entering the New Year's Eve game at Anaheim, Archibald had scored two points (goal and assist) in four games with the Coyotes. Through 18 NHL games, he has four goals and an assist. He made his NHL debut with Pittsburgh March 5, 2016, against the Calgary Flames.
The lakes area's other top 10 local stories as voted by the Dispatch sports staff:
3: Pierz state champs:
In November, the Pioneers defeated St. Croix Lutheran Academy 34-21 at U.S. Bank Stadium to capture the Class 3A state championship, the third in program history, and second in three years.
Pierz, which has made 14 trips to state since 1981, cruised to the title, forcing eight fumbles and rushing for 328 yards. The Pioneers, who finished the season 13-0, beat Proctor 42-13 in the quarterfinals and Jordan 55-26 in the semifinals.
Pioneers defensive back Ben Herold played for the North All-Stars in the Minnesota Football Showcase at U.S. Bank. Offensive lineman Alex Lochner was named to The Minnesota Associated Press All-State Third Team.
4: State track and field champs:
Pequot Lakes boys and girls teams were runners-up in the Class 1A state meet at Hamline University in St. Paul.
In the boys meet, the Patriots' Reid Pierzinski won the 110 high hurdles and 300 hurdles. He lost only one hurdles race all year.
In addition, Pierzinski anchored the Patriots' 4x400 relay to victory. His relay mates were Ben Nelson, Robbie Hendrickson and Cody Huss.
Samuel Moore of Bertha-Hewitt/Verndale, who will play football at NDSU next season, won the boys discus after a competition that lasted about 2.5 hours.
Wadena-Deer Creek's 4x200 relay of Jonathan Pantages, Bereket Loer, Josh Daigneault and Konnor Stueve finished second.
In the girls meet, the Patriots' Mirjana Ganley, Kristin Skog, Grace McGuire and Chloe Bermel won the 4x200 relay. Pequot also won the 4x400 that included McGuire, Skog, Olivia Lane and Bermel. The titles were the Patriots' seventh and eighth since 2011.
Staples-Motley's Millie Klefsaas repeated as pole vault state champion. The Cardinals' senior set a 1A meet record by clearing 12 feet, 3 inches, on a windy day, bettering the meet record she set in 2016 by 3 inches.
5: C-I boys runner-up:
The Rangers lost to Minnehaha Academy 47-36 in the Class 2A championship game at Target Center in Minneapolis.
C-I, which finished 30-3, was looking for its first state championship in six title-game appearances.
In the final, senior center Noah Gindorff scored 19 points and grabbed seven rebounds for the Rangers, who trailed just 36-33 with 4:48 remaining. Senior guard Jack Silgen added 10 points and nine rebounds. Senior forward Trey Jacobs contributed seven points and three rebounds.
Gindorff, Silgen and Jacobs made the 2A all-tournament team.
In the semifinals, third-ranked C-I posted a 53-42 victory over No. 2 St. Cloud Cathedral as Gindorff scored 19 points and grabbed 13 rebounds. The Rangers also received 17 points from Jacobs, who reached the 1,000-point milestone during the game. Silgen added 13 points and eight rebounds.
In the quarterfinals, C-I beat Breckenridge 64-50.
6: Warrior girls hockey:
The Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors' lost 3-2 in four overtimes to Roseau for the Section 8-2A championship in February at Bemidji Community Arena. The Rams' Ella Helgeson scored with 1:20 remaining in the fourth overtime to send the Rams to state.
The teams played almost 100 minutes, almost double the amount of regulation time, before the second-seeded Rams won their fifth section title in 10 years. The first overtime lasted eight minutes, the second 17 minutes, the third eight minutes and the fourth 15:40.
BLF goalie Olivia King was almost flawless. She stopped 48 of 51 shots, including 20 of 21 in the four extra sessions.
Top-seeded BLF finished 25-3, the greatest season in program history.
7: Pierz runner-up:
The Pioneers rallied from a 4-0 deficit before suffering a 6-4 loss to Minnehaha Academy in the 2A state championship game at Target Field. Lane Girtz and Matt Kummet went 2-for-4 and Luke Girtz drove in a two runs for Pierz which finished 26-3.
In the semifinals, Pierz nipped Duluth Marshall 1-0. Tautges pitched a complete-game four-hitter. He also drove in the game's lone run.
The Pioneers advanced to the semifinals with a 6-2 win over New London-Spicer. Brandon Dickman collected two hits and two RBIs and Girtz two hits. Preston Rocheleau and Kummet combined to strike out eight batters.
Lane Girtz, Tautges and Kummet were named to the 2A all-tournament team. Tautges was named the 2A player of the year.
In August, the Pierz American Legion team won the Division II state championship and went on to win the Central Plains Regional.
8: Erpelding state champ:
Staples-Motley senior Alex Erpelding won the 170-pound Class 1A state title at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul as he beat sixth-ranked Jeremiah Colon of Lake Crystal-Wellcome Memorial 10-4 in the final.
At 182 pounds, Pierz's Brett Kapsner finished second, getting pinned by Zumbrota-Mazeppa's top-ranked Caden Steffen in the final.
Staples-Motley's Spencer Miller finished third at 113. His first win at state was the 100th of his career.
Aitkin's unranked Silas Berg, at 126, finished fourth. Pierz's Brandon Ortman finished sixth at 132.
In Class 3A, Brainerd's Chad Orsburn placed fifth at 113.
In Class 2A, Ethan Kimber of Bertha-Hewitt-Verndale/Prairie Valley finished third at 220. Teammate Holt Truax finished fifth at 182.
9: State golf:
Pequot Lakes senior Alex Stone finished third in the Class 2A girls state tournament at The Ridges at Sand Creek in Jordan.
Stone played in five consecutive state tournaments. She tied for 36th in 2013 as a freshman, tied for 29th in 2014, tied for eighth in 2015 and tied for fourth in 2016.
In Class 3A, Brainerd's Gavin Metz finished seventh in the boys tournament. The Warrior sophomore shot 1-under-par 71 in the final round for a two-day total of 146. He finished just three strokes behind medalist Van Holmgren of Wayzata.
Metz's finish was the highest by a Warrior boy since Sean Halverson tied for fifth in 2009. Metz's total was 21 strokes better than his first state appearance in 2016 when he placed 77th.
In Class 1A, the area's top finisher was Brady Raph of Pine River-Backus who tied for 16th.
10: Floor hockey champs:
Jake Heikkenen scored four goals and Cody Vleck recorded 21 saves as the Brainerd Warriors captured the Physically Impaired Division state championship with an 8-4 victory over Anoka-Hennepin at Bloomington Jefferson High School.
The Warriors cruised to their first state championship since 2000 and the third in the program's 22-year history. Heikkenen, Zachary Denny and Vleck were named to the all-tournament team.
Brainerd, which finished the season 15-0, reached the state final with an 11-0 dismantling of Robbinsdale in the semifinals. The Warriors beat Mounds View/Irondale/Roseville 17-3 in the quarterfinals.
The Warriors set or tied four state tournament team records, including most goals in a tournament (36), most goals in one period (9), tied for most goals in one game: (17) and tied for most goals by two teams in a championship game (12).
10: Galovich 700 wins:
Crosby-Ironton head coach Dave Galovich became only the fifth Minnesota boys basketball coach to reach 700 career victories Thursday as the Rangers defeated Fond du lac 72-36 in the opening round of the Ranger Classic.
In 39 years, Galovich has amassed a 700-321 career record. He joins Chisholm's Robert McDonald (1,012 career wins), Rocori's Bob Brink (936), Hopkins' Ken Novak Jr. (818) and Mounds View's Ziggy Kauls (739) in the 700-win club.