The tournament attracts more than 100,000 fans annually and produces more than $1 million in revenue, almost double the amount of money football generates and three times more than boys’ basketball. The tournament’s director is Craig Perry, whose son, Chase, left Andover after his junior season to play goaltender in the North American Hockey League.
“When you’re sold out, like we are for the Class 2A, you can’t get any better than that,” Perry said.
MacMillan sees the hugely popular hockey fixture as an opportunity to ramp up his group’s “Nothing Compares” campaign though digital mediums.
Planting the seed
In delivering his message about the value of sticking around, Minnetonka’s Urick points to alumni such as NHL defenseman Jake Gardiner as proof that players can reach higher levels after fulfilling their high school careers.
“You plant the seed early about all the work these guys have put in together as a team,” Urick said. “They have to decide for themselves, ‘I can’t let my buddies down.’ That’s one thing that might keep kids home.”
Peltier said more hockey leaders skating in the same direction would help. He acknowledged, “We’ve all fallen short,” adding that “synergy” is needed among high school coaches, Minnesota’s five Division I college coaches and the high school league.
Lucia, Nanne, Guentzel and others feel high school hockey remains strong and will continue to endure early departures. Pauly isn’t so sure.
“I’d rather be an alarmist than complacent,” Pauly said. “I believe there are some things worth preserving. Across the country people look at Minnesota hockey and say they wish they had what we have.”
Massachusetts is a cautionary tale, said Bertagna, who played high school hockey there in the late 1960s. Players flock to Midget AAA and prep school teams but fewer college players are being produced.
In 2002, Massachusetts counted 200 Division I hockey players. By 2012, the number dropped to 102. During the same span, Minnesota dropped from 211 to 182 Division I players, still the most in the country.
Perry said college scholarships “can’t be the focus of a high school program. It has to be overall preparation and development.”
As a result, more local puck chasers with big dreams are questioning high school’s place on their journey.
“I don’t think we’re ever just going to be able to stand up as a body and say, ‘Listen, let’s stop this,’ ” said Guentzel, who had two sons, Gabe and Ryan, play their senior seasons of high school hockey and one, Jake, who left early. “Can we slow it down a little bit? Maybe.”
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574