The tradition of Minneapolis public school hockey players taking flight to private schools continued this off season.
The Minneapolis Storm, the city's largest youth program, had 17 players on its top bantam team last season. From that roster, 10 boys, who all attended Minneapolis Public Schools as eighth-graders, are now private school freshmen.
But the hemorrhaging slowed a bit recently. Last month, Southwest High sophomore Jake Hale announced via Twitter he's committed to play at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.
The news marks the first time in almost 30 years a Minneapolis public high school player has landed a Division I hockey scholarship.
The last was Edison's Joe Dziedzic, who signed with the Minnesota Golden Gophers in 1990. He's now the coach of Minneapolis' last remaining public high school hockey team, which is made up of players from across the city's schools.
Minnesota Hockey Magazine writer Pete Waggoner believes Hale's announcement gives currency the city's march back toward puck relevancy. But Waggoner is also quick to add that while the development is "a significant story," it's only part of the larger story behind why so many Minneapolis players don't stay.
"I think that the biggest hurdle hockey in Minneapolis has to overcome," he says, "isn't the hockey. It's education. I bet for most of the families whose players in the past left for the greener pastures of private schools, it wasn't necessarily a hockey decision only. More often than not I suspect it was an education — and hockey — decision."
Minneapolis Hockey is a co-op squad, cobbling players from the city's seven public high schools. But most hail from Southwest, Washburn, South, and Edison. In 2012, U.S. News and Report ranked Southwest the best public high school in Minnesota.
Hale's scholarship can only benefit the State of Hockey's largest city, according to Waggoner. But whether it's the long-needed bump that marks Minneapolis' return to relevance depends on what Hale decides to do after his sophomore year, he says.
"If you're trying to really resurrect hockey in the city, I look at it as two-fold," Waggoner says. "You need on-ice success. Hale is a nice story, but you need team success. Secondly, you're going to have to convince these parents their kids can get a quality education at a Minneapolis public high school. Because if there are spitballs flying everywhere in little Johnny's classroom, it doesn't really matter what the hockey team is like."
Minneapolis' last state tournament appearance was 1993.
"Where it leads from here, I don't know," says Roosevelt High alum Reed Larson, who played 14 years in the NHL. "I think what it does say is people are paying attention to hockey in the city. It says if you're a good player there, they're going to find you. Yeah, it's a team sport and he's one kid, but who knows? It could be the start of something."