Moorhead boys’ hockey coach Dave Morinville has a pretty simple philosophy for retaining his best players.
While much of the state – particularly outside the Twin Cities suburban ring – is pained by the exodus of its top end seniors to the junior level, the Spuds have barely felt a pinch.
Morinville – who has coached and/or scouted at the high school, college and professional levels – doesn’t ignore the pull of the junior level.
“Going to juniors, we don’t grab onto their leg and hold onto them and not let them go,” Morinville said. “When they get that offer, we’ve sat down and talked to them. ‘Hey, look, here are your options. Weigh it out. What is the best thing for you?’”
As part of that process, he asks his players to step outside their comfort zone and be the best they can be, no matter at what level that comes. More often than not, it’s been at Moorhead.
“If you’ve never been the top player and you get to juniors and they ask you to be the top player, you’re not going to be,” Morinville said about the thought process that should go behind deciding whether a player should leave high school early.
“If you want to move on and really be successful, you have to understand what it takes to be a top player. And the only way you can learn that is to be a top player.
“If you leave after your junior year and you were the fourth best player on the team, but nobody really had to stop you, you had no pressure on you to perform. But as a senior, you’re the best player on the team usually. Guys have to stop you. You’re dealing with difficulties and how will you deal with that? If you’re a guy who’s never been the point man, the go-to guy, how are you ever going to learn to be a go-to guy when you get to the next level?”
During Morinville’s tenure at Moorhead, there have been plenty of players who have been go-to players – and had offers to move on early.
He pointed out the trio of 2005 Mr. Hockey Brian Lee, Jon Ammerman and Chris Vande Velde, all of whom put in their full time with the Spuds and helped the program to its fifth straight state tournament appearance as seniors that winter.
“It meant a great deal to our program to have all three of those guys stick around,” Morinville said, who added that it hasn’t hurt the development of any of them.
“They ended up going on and playing Division 1 hockey. Look at Vandy’s (Chris Vande Velde’s) senior year this past year at North Dakota. He could have left and gone pro after his junior year. But he realized by sticking around and being patient, having a good year and getting more confident, you take a look at the awards he won. If he had passed that up and gone pro, would he have been better off? Time will tell. But he sure ended up with a degree and it paid off for him.”
For his part, Vande Velde has no regrets of his deliberate path to the NHL.
“It’s one of the best and most fun decisions I’ve made,” Vande Velde said on the eve of leaving for training camp with the NHL’s Edmonton Oilers. “You really can’t beat the Xcel Energy Center and the great atmosphere there. I wouldn’t trade it for anything. I think I became more of a leader that year and as a forward, the team was kind of looking towards me. It was one of the best years of my life.”
Vande Velde’s career has mirrored his high school coach’s philosophy. At each level he’s played, he’s put in the time and effort – and ended as one of the true go-to players.
As a senior at Moorhead, Vande Velde helped the Spuds to another state tournament berth with 77 points. He was named a Mr. Hockey finalist, All-State, All-State Tournament and MVP of the Spuds – quite an honor on a team that also included Mr. Hockey Brian Lee and Jon Ammerman, who played at St. Cloud State.
When the Spuds needed a lift, they usually looked to “Vandy”.
Following his stellar career at Moorhead, Vande Velde played four years at North Dakota, where he graduated as the program’s eighth-leading all-time scorer (52 goals, 66 assists for 117 points).
As a senior with the Fighting Sioux, Vande Velde racked up a career-high 41 points and was named third-team All-American. He scored 16 goals, including four game-winners, and had a pair in the WCHA Final Five, earning All-Tournament honors.
When the Sioux needed a lift, they usually looked to “Vandy”.
Following his four-year career at North Dakota this past spring, Vande Velde was signed by the Oilers (who had drafted him in the fourth round in 2005). They invited him to training camp with a promise.
“They told me I had a good shot to make the team, if not right away, then to work my way up there and get some time in the second half of the season,” Vande Velde said.
That’s been a way of life for the 6-foot-2, 204-pound power forward.
Put in the time.
Put in the work.
Become the go-to guy.
Then move up.
Chris Vande Velde
Current team: Edmonton Oilers
High school: Moorhead (2002-2005)
College: University of North Dakota (2006-2010)
Born: March 15, 1987 (age 23)