Gauntlet is thrown in battle for star high school players

  • Article by: DAVID LA VAQUE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: February 27, 2013 - 2:45 PM

Hockey coaches are tired of losing players to Major Junior teams.

hide

Benilde-St. Margaret's freshman Alec Baer (center, facing camera) will watch his former teammates play Wednesday night for a chance to return to the boys' hockey state tournament. The 15-year-old missed a practice earlier this month to visit Vancouver of the Western Hockey League. Three days later he found out he was no longer a Red Knight.

Photo: Bruce Bisping, Star Tribune file

CameraStar Tribune photo galleries

Cameraview larger

In the shadow of the heralded boys' state hockey tournament, another battle is being joined regarding top players who are steadily leaving Minnesota high schools to pursue their puck dreams out of state.

One of them, Benilde-St. Margaret's freshman Alec Baer, will watch his former teammates play Wednesday night for a chance to return to St. Paul, where last March they won one of the most stirring state championships in recent memory.

The 15-year-old missed a practice earlier this month to visit Vancouver of the Western Hockey League. Three days later he found out he was no longer a Red Knight.

Last spring, a member of the state's high school hockey coaches association, which advocates for players to remain in high school through their senior years, left the executive board after his highly regarded son left to play in the WHL, part of Major Junior hockey.

Six promising high school players left to join the league in the past two seasons. They share the ice with others who have signed NHL contracts. In part because they are paid, they lose their NCAA eligibility.

High school hockey advocates, while acknowledging player departures are inevitable, say it's time to draw a line.

"I don't think we're trying to send a message of, 'Don't come into our backyard,' " said Ken Pauly, coach of Benilde-St. Margaret's and president of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. "But we want it to come through loud and clear what we are about, what the high school experience is about and continuing to stand by those things."

Conflicting visions

Baer made an impression at the Vancouver Giants rookie camp in August. Rated the No. 1 freshman in Minnesota by a college hockey blog, Baer led the camp in scoring and drew comparisons to Giants alum Gilbert Brule, a former first-round NHL draft pick.

Making good on what Bob Baer, Alec's father, called a "sort of open invite" to attend a game at Vancouver, the two of them visited on Feb. 1. Three days later, Bob Baer said, Pauly told Alec "he was not on the team and didn't really see a way it could be reversed."

"It's clear to me that our son's consequence had a lot more to do with this ongoing battle than missing a team practice," Bob Baer said. "If he is being used to send some type of signal to others, that is quite infuriating."

Out of playing options, Baer signed with Vancouver on Feb. 15. He plans to make his on-ice debut with the Giants on Friday. Bob Baer said his son will finish this year at Benilde-St. Margaret's, a Catholic school located in St. Louis Park, and play with the Giants on weekends.

Darryl Wolski, an agent with The Sports Corporation working as the Baer family advisor, said he is "concerned a kid can go visit Duluth or Wisconsin on a weekend without repercussions."

Pauly said his decision to dismiss Baer "is related to Major Junior hockey" but declined to comment further because Baer remains a student.

Speaking as the president of the coaches' group, Pauly said: "A trip to a college is in keeping with the overall mission and vision of high school athletics. I don't believe the Major Junior and Minnesota high school model are complementary pieces."

Major Junior is seen primarily as pipeline to play pro hockey, not graduate from college. Players who don't sign a professional contract can get scholarships to a postsecondary institution of their choice.

Crookston coach Jon Bittner remains an advocate of the Minnesota high school hockey mission even though his son, Paul, left to play in the WHL. Bittner later had an hour-long phone conversation with Mike MacMillan, executive director of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association. They agreed Bittner, the board's executive dirctor for about 10 years, should resign.

Bittner, a social studies teacher and high school hockey coach for 28 years, said he understood the "contradictory" nature of his decision.

"I still take pride in community-based programs," Bittner said. "The only problem is I had one of those kids" who wanted to play in the WHL.

Paul Bittner joined Cody Corbett, Keegan Iverson, Travis Wood and brothers Ben and Jack Walker as players who left local high school programs early for Major Junior.

Seeking boundaries

Competing hockey interests also affected Tommy Vannelli, a top Minnetonka defenseman, who was asked by USA Hockey to play with the Under-18 team for two games in February. One of those games would have meant missing a key game against Eden Prairie.

Top boys' and girls' players often compete with national teams overseas, generally in lieu of local holiday tournament games with less at stake.

Minnetonka coach Brian Urick said a compromise was reached, allowing Vannelli to play against Eden Prairie and with the U-18 team on a Sunday.

"Families have a choice in terms of what's best for their kids, and I'm not here to tell them what that is," Urick said. "But once you commit to your team, the borders should be closed for that season."

Baer said he learned too late "that showing interest in a non-NCAA program might not be met with roses at a college preparatory school."

WHL Vice President Richard Doerksen said Baer's situation raised awareness about keeping better boundaries with Minnesota players and their teams.

"We're going to do everything we can so that this doesn't happen again," Doerksen said. "We weren't bringing him in as anything different than a recruiting trip. It's just unfortunate that high school hockey in Minnesota looks at us as something other than an opportunity to develop hockey skills."

David La Vaque • 612-673-7574

  • PREP HOCKEY

  • get related content delivered to your inbox

  • manage my email subscriptions

ADVERTISEMENT

Tennessee 7:25 PM
Jacksonville
Philadelphia 12/20/14 3:30 PM
Washington
San Diego 12/20/14 7:25 PM
San Francisco
Minnesota 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Miami
Baltimore 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Houston
Detroit 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Chicago
Cleveland 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Carolina
Atlanta 12/21/14 12:00 PM
New Orleans
Green Bay 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Tampa Bay
Kansas City 12/21/14 12:00 PM
Pittsburgh
New England 12/21/14 12:00 PM
NY Jets
NY Giants 12/21/14 3:05 PM
St. Louis
Buffalo 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Oakland
Indianapolis 12/21/14 3:25 PM
Dallas
Seattle 12/21/14 7:30 PM
Arizona
Denver 12/22/14 7:30 PM
Cincinnati
New York 7:00 PM
Chicago
New Orleans 7:30 PM
Houston
Milwaukee 9:00 PM
Sacramento
Oklahoma City 9:30 PM
Golden State
Florida 6:00 PM
Philadelphia
Colorado 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Toronto 6:00 PM
Carolina
Washington 6:00 PM
Columbus
Anaheim 6:30 PM
Montreal
St. Louis 9:30 PM
Los Angeles
Edmonton 9:30 PM
San Jose
St Thomas (TX) 61 FINAL
Rice 72
Stony Brook 6:00 PM
Canisius
Temple 6:00 PM
Delaware
FIU 6:00 PM
Long Island
Lehigh 6:00 PM
Quinnipiac
South Alabama 6:00 PM
Richmond
Seton Hall 6:00 PM
South Florida
Ga Southern 6:00 PM
Stetson
Yale 6:00 PM
Vermont
Cleveland State 6:00 PM
Virginia
Wright State 6:00 PM
Western Carolina
Nicholls 6:30 PM
Louisiana Tech
Morgan State 6:30 PM
Rider
Idaho State 6:30 PM
South Dakota St
Oakland City 7:00 PM
Austin Peay
Eureka 7:00 PM
Bradley
Appalachian St 7:00 PM
Charlotte
Connecticut 7:00 PM
Duke
Southern Miss 7:00 PM
Jackson State
Coastal Carolina 7:00 PM
Ole Miss
Montana State 7:30 PM
South Dakota
LSU 8:00 PM
UAB
Ohio 8:05 PM
Evansville
CS-Dominguez 9:00 PM
Cal State Fullerton
Walla Walla 9:00 PM
Idaho
DePaul 9:00 PM
Oregon State
Nevada 9:00 PM
Pacific
Portland State 9:00 PM
San Francisco
CS-Bakersfield 9:05 PM
Utah State
Nevada 12/20/14 10:00 AM
Louisiana
Utah State 12/20/14 1:20 PM
Texas-El Paso
(23) Utah 12/20/14 2:30 PM
Colorado State
Western Mich 12/20/14 4:45 PM
Air Force
South Alabama 12/20/14 8:15 PM
Bowling Green
BYU 12/22/14 1:00 PM
Memphis
Marshall 12/23/14 5:00 PM
Northern Ill
Navy 12/23/14 8:30 PM
San Diego St
Central Mich 12/24/14 11:00 AM
Western Ky
Fresno State 12/24/14 7:00 PM
Rice
Niagara 76 FINAL
Cleveland State 58
High Point 59 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 81
Towson 64 FINAL
Wake Forest 74
Presbyterian 50 FINAL
Charlotte 66
Chicago State 62 FINAL
Bradley 59
Northwestern Coll 58 FINAL
Drake 102
Vanderbilt 67 FINAL
Marquette 80
Temple 39 2nd Half 18:37
Howard 23
Southern Miss 35 2nd Half 16:01
Ole Miss 35
UMBC 28 2nd Half 14:51
Rider 33
Miami-Florida 8 1st Half 15:40
UCLA 4
St Mary-KS 2 1st Half 16:17
South Dakota 9
William & Mary 11 1st Half 14:50
Wofford 5
Troy 5:30 PM
Evansville
Loyola Marymount 6:00 PM
USC
St Francis-PA 6:00 PM
Duquesne
Indiana-Southeast 6:00 PM
IUPUI
Delaware State 6:00 PM
Detroit
Tenn Temple 6:00 PM
Gardner-Webb
West Virginia St 6:00 PM
Radford
Fairfield 6:00 PM
Seton Hall
Dartmouth 6:00 PM
New Hampshire
Ball State 6:00 PM
Pittsburgh
Jacksonville 6:00 PM
Tennessee St
Trine 6:00 PM
Western Mich
Tenn Tech 6:30 PM
Lipscomb
Samford 7:00 PM
Tulane
New Orleans 7:00 PM
Tulsa
Incarnate Word 7:00 PM
TX-Pan American
Ark-Little Rock 7:00 PM
South Dakota St
CS-Northridge 7:30 PM
Northern Ariz
Santa Clara 8:00 PM
Oregon
(19) Oklahoma St 8:00 PM
Weber State
Washington 8:00 PM
San Diego State
Cal Poly 8:00 PM
New Mexico
(10) Louisville 8:00 PM
Grand Canyon

ADVERTISEMENT

question of the day

Poll: Who is your favorite pro sports coach in the Twin Cities?

Weekly Question

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

Connect with twitterConnect with facebookConnect with Google+Connect with PinterestConnect with PinterestConnect with RssfeedConnect with email newsletters

ADVERTISEMENT

 
Close