Jalen Suggs announced his verbal commitment to Gonzaga earlier this month live on ESPN2 surrounded by Minnehaha Academy classmates and local basketball enthusiasts.
About 20 months ago, Edina’s Quinn Carroll revealed during the 10 p.m. news broadcast on KARE (Ch. 11) his intention to play football at Notre Dame.
Such showpieces are commonplace in basketball and football, where a buzz follows the colleges’ courtships of top recruits. Hockey is a blip by comparison, even in talent-rich Minnesota.
Take Jake Ratzlaff, for example. Identified three years ago as one of the nation’s top hockey players in his age group, the defenseman verbally committed to the Gophers in July 2017. The news arrived via Ratzlaff’s modest Twitter message. He started ninth grade at Rosemount a few weeks later.
A junior this season, Ratzlaff remains an elite prospect. The NHL Central Scouting Midterm Rankings released Monday tabbed Ratzlaff as the 103rd top prospect among North American skaters and sixth among Minnesota high school players. He is eligible to be drafted June 26-27 at the Bell Centre in Montreal.
Ratzlaff has something his local hockey peers don’t. Recent scholarship offers from the football programs at Iowa and Wisconsin provide a potential a twist to Ratzlaff’s future. A Star Tribune All-Metro first team selection at defensive back, Ratzlaff has two paths he can travel.
Following hockey could mean Ratzlaff forgoes his senior season at Rosemount to play for Green Bay of the United States Hockey League — one of college hockey’s finishing schools.
Football, meanwhile, means playing as a senior next fall and then likely redshirting as a freshman. Ratzlaff and his family are weighing both options.
“If I’m fortunate enough to get drafted, at least that path is set for me,” Ratzlaff said. “Football is a different deal. You could play four or five years of college and then you’re done after that. Hockey might be there, football maybe not so much but we’ll have to find out.”
Ratzlaff is something special as a top prospect in two sports. He is also the last of a certain breed, a promising hockey player with a college commitment in place before high school starts.
Contact between college hockey coaches and high school recruits is no longer permitted until Jan. 1 of a recruit’s sophomore year. And scholarship offers are not allowed until Aug. 1 before a recruit’s junior year. Changes have come to women’s hockey as well. No contact — or verbal offers from coaches — is permitted until June 15 after a recruit’s sophomore year of high school.
The NCAA Division I Council approved the changes last April, an attempt to bring order to what longtime Air Force Academy coach Frank Serratore called “the wild, wild West” of some schools offering scholarships to players before they ever skated for a high school varsity team. Former Gophers coach Don Lucia said in recent years, his staff was keeping tabs on six class cycles.
“We wanted kids to be recruited instead of being identified and offered a scholarship,” said Tom Serratore, longtime Bemidji State coach and Frank’s brother. “Both parties should get to know one another so that they feel good about the process.”
Ratzlaff has no regrets about his process. But he added the change is for the better.
“A lot of kids don’t develop until around sophomore year, which is where they put the rule now,” Ratzlaff said. “For me, all of a sudden a hockey opportunity was right there and I decided to go with it. Minnesota is still a great place, and I’m still going there as of right now. But I was probably a little young, to be honest. So, I’m happy they made the change.”
Shortening the time between early verbal commitments and signing periods might add more buzz to hockey recruiting. Then again, the majority of Division I players go to college only after some sort of higher-level hockey and don’t sign a national letter of intent until after high school. Ratzlaff could find himself signing with the Gophers in Green Bay.
Ratzlaff said he plans to “keep as many of my options open” as possible, though he knows time is short.
“It’s going to be the love of the game,” Ratzlaff said, “that pushes my decision.”