The second part of "Game Misconduct," CPs' report on The State of Hockey comes out tomorrow.
Titled, "The Biggest Threat to The State of Hockey Could Very Well Be Itself," the story resumes where its predecessor left off: Inside Minnesota Made, the private, 75,000 square foot hockey palace in Edina, where Minnesotans come to groom their kids to be the next big thing.
Welcome to Minnesota's Youth Hockey Machine.
Inside the machine, it's a a rudderless free-for-all.
It's here where loyalty to the state's community-based, high school centric traditions now take a backseat to individual ambitions, where The State of Hockey's obituary is being drafted.
The story idea originated with a conversation with John Bianchi, the celebrated longtime Bloomington Jefferson assistant coach.
There is no bigger proponent of Minnesota hockey.
"There [once] was an innocence about playing hockey in Minnesota. It was innocent because there was an emphasis on the team structure," says Bianchi. "You played because you loved it. You were playing with your buddies who you grew up with in the neighborhood.... My gut feeling is that the integrity is kind of shot a little bit because the end result is no longer, 'I want to be a part of a high school program.'"
He believes the changes taking place are powered by overzealous parents and hockey powers perched atop the game's hierarchy.
"All parents want their kids to be successful and there's nothing wrong with that," says Bianchi, whose three sons hoisted state championship hockey trophies before moving on to successful collegiate careers. "But some people could care less about their grades in school and care a helluva lot more about [how their kid does]... in hockey."
With so many parents strong-arming their kids' playing years, youth hockey, like other sports such as basketball, has witnessed a shift.
Participation is no longer enough, according to Bianchi. Playing at an elite level has become the grail.
That grail now means only a handful of private and public high school hockey programs -- Hill Murray, Edina, Benilde-St. Margaret's, Eden Prairie, etc. -- are considerations for the promising player shopping his talents to the school that can best facilitate his dreams.
The biggest casualty could be the state hockey tournament.
"The way it's trending," he says, "I would say in 15 to 20 years, I don't know if we'll even have a state hockey tournament anything close to what we have now."
Bianchi also impeaches the sport's higher powers -- scouts, agents, and college coaches --in The State of Hockey's undoing.
"Because of the recruitment game," says Bianchi, "kids are already labeled when they're in 9th grade. Christ, [University of Minnesota men's hockey coach Don] Lucia has got kids committed that are in 9th grade.... It's bullshit!"
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