The NHL may not allow us to see the best players in the world, but people in Minnesota do get to see some of the finest under-18 talent outside of Canada. High school hockey here is not only competitive but it's basically a supermarket for college programs across the country, and the sliding doors for recruiters has just opened.
The Central Lakes Conference season just began, with Brainerd winning 4-1 over Fergus Falls. How do the schools right here in the KNSI listening area stack up in 2012-2013?
SAUK RAPIDS-RICE (12-13-1 last season): Tied 2-2 at Rogers to start their season under first-year head coach Brian Nyholm. Young team with only six seniors led by Blake Chapa and starting junior goalie William Mortenson.
ST. CLOUD APOLLO (11-13-2 last season): Coming off their best year with coach Pete Matanich, the Eagles are another young team (five seniors and nine freshmen) who started the year with a 5-4 win over Cambridge-Isanti. Jared Christen and Paul Kenney will have to lead their offense as they are carrying two freshmen goalies.
ST. CLOUD TECH (8-16-2 last season): First-year coach Joel Heitkamp inherits a veteran team who could turn the 8 and 16 on its head this season. We shall see when they begin their season December 4 against SRR.
SARTELL- ST. STEPHEN (7-18-2 last season): Coming off one of Ryan Hacker's toughest seasons, this one got off to a rough start with an 8-2 loss to Cathedral of the Granite Ridge Conference. They do have a lot of upperclassmen, so they should rebound from last season. Time will tell.
While we're talking about them, if there's any team from the area who could make the ice at Xcel Energy Center it may very well be Eric Johnson's Crusaders who made it to state in '08 and '09. Last year's 21-6 record was not a fluke, with Cathedral starting the new year 2-0 outscoring the opposition 11-3.
Enjoy the hockey.