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Staying home for the last hurrah

By Adam Somers, 12/22/08, 8:08AM CST


Do what is right, do your best and care about others are values every hockey team should carry.

At the Marshall School in Duluth those values are not only carried on the ice, but in the fabric of everyday school life. However, many Minnesota high school players are carrying out their values on the road, not in their home schools.

A growing trend in Minnesota is high school hockey players defecting early to junior leagues such as the United States Hockey League (USHL) and North American Hockey League (NAHL). While the players still attend and graduate high school abroad, they are leaving behind not only their family and friends, but also their school and teammates.

One school that has offset this trend is Duluth Marshall, whose players stay in high school and graduate before leaving for juniors or the college ranks.

“Hermantown has lost kids and so has Hibbing and Duluth East,” Marshall head coach Brendan Flaherty said. “Kids are leaving early all around, but we’ve been fortunate.”

It should be known that Marshall’s fortunes are aided with the success of the program. The Hilltoppers have reached the state tournament four times this decade so far, including the last three years, making it to the championship game the last two years. This year, they have been one of the best teams in Class A, ranked near the top of the state all season.

However, success isn’t necessarily the catalyst to retaining players. There are plenty of examples of kids who have won individual accolades or state championships who still leave early for juniors.

Hockey is unique from other varsity sports where kids are able to play on the junior level before graduating high school. Because of this, there can be added pressure from higher ranks to advance players at a younger age and, according to Flaherty, it starts at the very top.

“It appears to be trickle down effect, from the pros to college, college to juniors and juniors to high school kids.”

While it is getting more uncommon for high school players to go straight to college hockey, especially Division I without a stop in juniors first, the opportunities to play junior hockey are still there after graduating high school.

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