Four hockey standouts to pass up senior seasons

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: June 27, 2012 - 8:55 PM

Jordan Gross, Jake Guentzel, Connor Valesano and John Wiitala will pursue USHL or national team opportunities.

Four high school hockey players, including two among the state's elite, will forgo their senior seasons in Minnesota to play elsewhere.

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 tournament.

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

"It definitely was a very difficult decision, but looking forward, this is his best option to improve and not plateau," Kevin Gross, Jordan's father, said Wednesday.

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 tournament runner-up team. He earned Star Tribune All-Metro second-team honors.

Both of Guentzel'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," said Mike Guentzel, Jake's father and a Gophers assistant coach.

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.

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

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