If you’re like most local hockey nuts, you scour every draft board, prospect ranking and USA Hockey national team roster to see how many Minnesotans made the cut. “One, two, three, four … oh, there’s another … five, six.” Developing elite talent is something we take pride in.
While we’ve come to expect Minnesotans on almost every list, the release of the 2014 U.S. Under-17 Select Team roster was an eye-opener. Nine Minnesota natives were chosen to represent Team USA in the 2014 Five Nations Tournament, which will be held Aug. 13-17 in Crimmitschau, Germany.
The State of Hockey is definitely doing things the right way, says Ken Rausch, the U.S. Under-17 team general manager.
Minnesota Hockey caught up with Rausch, a Connecticut native and former Boston University assistant coach, just before his flight to Germany to talk about the Minnesota model.
Minnesota Hockey: Nine Minnesotans on the team this year. Not bad.
Ken Rausch: Nine. Nine of them. How about that?
MH: Why do you think Minnesota has been able to consistently produce elite-level talent?
KR: I think the big thing is that, for the most part, Minnesota has maintained the community hockey model. Kids grow up playing in their hometown and they strive to be high school hockey players for their hometown. You don’t have a lot of kids jumping from team to team. It creates that sense of community and bonding within the community.
MH: What other benefits are there with the community-based model?
KR: It also allows for some patience in long-term athlete development. They’re not in a rush as much as people in other parts of the country.
MH: Staying within your community and your hometown association allows you to be more patient?
KR: For sure it does. There’s always a place to play in Minnesota, whether it’s Squirts, Peewees or Bantams. Sometimes there’s an A-team and sometimes two B-teams. Look at a guy like Dustin Byfuglien. He didn’t make the A-team growing up very much, but he kept playing. There was always a place to play for him.
MH: So there’s no rush to the top in the community model. You can develop at your own pace.
KR: Exactly. Derek Stepan is on record saying his dad didn’t let him play travel hockey until he was a Peewee. It’s not what you do at 8, 9 and 10 years old that make you a pro. But what you do at 8, 9 and 10 is going to help foster your passion for the game that may allow you to become a pro.
MH: Does the sense of community and pride stand out to you?
KR: I think so, for sure. They all have that sense of pride and community. For the most part, most Minnesota kids still want to grow up and play for their high school team. They’re not looking to drive an hour-and-a-half to go play on the best AAA team or whatever it may be. I think that passion is there for a lot of those kids and they grow up with it in their blood.
MH: Do you think some people who have grown up in Minnesota might take that for granted?
KR: There’s no doubt people take community hockey for granted there. Some of that might be the grass-is-greener mentality that might be creeping in a little bit. You need to be careful with that. This is what’s working for you and it’s producing.
MH: Do you think coaches recruit Minnesotans because of the systems in place here?
KR: I think they want to recruit Minnesotans because they’re good hockey players. That’s what it comes down to. But it’s kind of the chicken and the egg, because that’s why they become good hockey players.
MH: What about the coaches in Minnesota? What do you know about the quality of coaches in the state and how has that helped consistently develop top talent?
KR: The coaching there is really good. Again, I go back to the sense of community. The high school coaches in a certain town – they know the Bantam, the Peewee and the Squirts coaches. There’s that mentorship, where they give back to their communities probably more than any other place.
MH: What about the future of Minnesota Hockey? Do you see this output of talent and development continuing?
KR: I certainly hope so, for the sake of Minnesota and for the sake of USA Hockey. They’ve consistently produced the most NHL players and college players in the country. We certainly hope that continues.