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Four prep standouts won't return as seniors

By David La Vaque, Star Tribune, 06/27/12, 10:31AM CDT

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Jordan Gross, Jake Guentzel, Connor Valesano and John Wiitala are leaving


Guentzel tallied 42 goals and 82 assists in two high school seasons.

Four high school hockey players, including two among the state’s elite, will forgo their senior prep seasons to pursue other opportunities.

Maple Grove defenseman Jordan Gross, Hill-Murray forward Jake Guentzel, Duluth East forward Connor Valesano and Lakeville South forward John Wiitala have confirmed they won’t return, leaving large holes for their former high school teams to fill.

Gross, a Star Tribune All-Metro first team selection, scored 17 goals and added 30 assists to the first Crimson team to reach the Class 2A state tournament.

Gross, who committed to Notre Dame, will choose between the National Team Development Program in Ann Arbor, Mich., and Green Bay of the U.S. Hockey League within the next week.

“It definitely was a very difficult decision but looking forward, this is his best option to improve and not plateau,” said Kevin Gross, Jordan’ father.

Guentzel, one of the state’s most gifted playmakers, will play his senior season with Sioux City of the USHL.

He played two seasons with the Pioneers, tallying 19 goals and 30 assists as a sophomore. Last season he added 23 goals and 52 assists to the Pioneers’ Class 2A state tournament runner-up team. He earned Star Tribune All-Metro second team honors.

Mike Guentzel, his father and Gophers assistant coach, confirmed Jake’s decision. Both of Jake’s older brothers, Ryan and Gabe, graduated from Hill-Murray.

“It’s a tough situation but I’m not going to tell any young man, ‘You can’t do this,’ especially if he’s motivated,” Mike Guentzel said.

Guentzel’s short list of colleges includes Colorado College, Denver, Minnesota-Duluth and Nebraska-Omaha.

Valesano (12 goals, 24 assists) provided some of the skilled depth that propelled the Greyhounds to the No. 1 ranking much of the season. He will join Sioux Falls of the USHL.

“I chose to leave because of more exposure and I think it will be the best choice for the next step of my career,” Valesano told the Duluth News Tribune. “It might not be the most comfortable (decision), but I’ll have to get used to it and not look back.”

Wiitala scored nine goals and added 18 assists as a second-line center for the Cougars, who made the state tournament and stunned No. 1 ranked Duluth East in the quarterfinals. Wiitala will play for Waterloo of the USHL next season.

Lakeville South coach Kurt Weber said Wiitala’s teammates had elected him to be a team captain next season.

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