As tournament begins, high school hockey boosters crying all the way to the bank

If we can’t get excited about Minnesota’s kids — the ones that perhaps don’t have NHL careers ahead of them — playing for a state hockey title, can we really call ourselves the state of hockey?

The upper crust of the hockey world is clutching beads because many of the “elite” players have left the state in the rear view mirror to play hockey elsewhere, apparently leaving the state’s high school hockey tournament full of teams with merely really good hockey players, the Star Tribune says.

It took the drama of Benilde-St. Margaret’s Jack Jablonski’s paralysis to stem, temporarily, growing disinterest in the tournament, the Star Tribune reports. Ticket sales peaked six years ago.

“With all the kids that are leaving, you could have trouble down the road,” said Tom Saterdalen, the former coach of Bloomington Jefferson championship teams.

It’s hard to shed a tear, though, since when the puck drops this morning on the tournament, some fans will have waited years for season tickets, and the tournament will pocket $1 million in profit. There are 800 people still on the waiting list for season tickets.

So which is it? A roaring success? Or a pretty flower dying on the stem?

The usual teams are playing again in this year’s tournament. Luverne and New Prague are making first appearances in Class A and Stillwater Area is making its first appearance in Class AA, according to the State High School League.

The tournament will feature at least one big name. Gary Thorne, who has called more than his share of NHL games, will be providing the play-by-play call for Channel 45’s coverage.

“This is a high school event,” he said in a conference call this week. “These are men, but they’re not far from being kids.”

  • John O.

    Increasingly, a top tier of talent is not among them. Before the season, a record 41 high school players opted to advance their careers throughout North America. Among them were 14 players who made Division I college commitments. By comparison, 12 Division I college-bound players will participate in the state tournament this week.

    If only 14 of 41 “top tier” players “opting to advance their careers” made D1 commitments, that tells me that the other 27 are either still searching for a college scholarship, or are trying to be noticed by a scout. There is also the little matter of those pesky ACT scores. I’m trying hard to resist the temptation of invoking the well-worn phrase “living vicariously through their kid,” but that is also a factor that cannot be overlooked in these circumstances. I’ve seen it first-hand.

    Kudos to those 12 D1 college-bound players who have stuck with their high school and are in the state tournament this weekend.

  • Jim G

    I still am wondering why elite H.S. players are leaving their home state to play elsewhere. Is it because of the Jack Jablonski incident and the crack down on thuggish play? If so, I would chime in on a chorus of “So long farewell, auf wiedersehen, good-bye.” Saving just one kid, is worth all of the Division I players leaving. Open spaces on teams will be filled by those who love the game, but aren’t 6’4″. Making the NHL isn’t anything to be proud of anyway. Did you see the professional teams in Canada drop their gloves and start fighting at the drop of the opening puck earlier this season?

  • kennedy

    This reminds me a bit of reporters at the Olympics who ask silver medal winners how disappointed they are to not win gold. Except this story questions the audience. How disappointed we must be that a handful of athletes have chosen to play hockey somewhere else. Is this really an issue? Do people watch the tournament only because they want to watch a few prospects? Or do they watch to see the teams compete, and share the emotions that come with defeat and victory?

    The players that have moved on have done so because they value other things more than high school hockey. Good for them, and fine by me. I would rather watch players that want to be there.