The 21 selectees and 9 alternates gathered together at the Schwan Super Rink in Blaine this week for the sixth (and final Minnesota based) phase of the Reebok Boys High Performance 15 Program.
When Phase 6 is completed this week, the Minnesota kids traveling to New York will be evaluated as potential future players for the USA youth hockey teams at USA Hockey’s Youth Select 15 Player Develop Camp. They will have successfully undergone a four month long High Performance Program to prepare for the trip. Hopefully, the majority will end up playing on the USA national youth teams in the coming years, but as the past years have shown the majority will return to play high school hockey in Minnesota.
YHH has followed this story since late February. We have covered each phase of the program starting with their associations/coaches nominations when about 500 kids entered the program. Those kids played and practiced March and April under the tutelage of high school level coaching playing with kids from within their districts. The 100 plus kids chosen to go to St. Cloud played under the tutelage of a mix of college and USA coaching. But at Blaine the emphasis had shifted to USA coaching to playing serious hockey.
There comes a time in each kid’s life where they move from being “that kid” to being “that young man”. For some kids, it can happen earlier in their teens or late in their teens. Sometimes it seems to happen over months and sometimes overnight. All parents recognize the change after it happens. Suddenly, that boyish thing their child has had is gone. Its then parent realizes that their relationship with their kid has become a relationship with a young adult.
It is part of life. This type of change happens in hockey as well. When a talented kid moves to the higher levels, the hockey becomes serious; skating well on the ice has to be balanced with coping with a strange environment off the ice.
Minnesota hockey kids start out in an association environment where each year things are familiar, the tryout process the same, the coaching is tempered, and the environment supportive. That environment goes out the window with serious hockey. Things are not familiar, the tryout process can be strange, the coaching gruff and the individual support nonexistent. Reebok’s program trys to get kids to understand new environment. Phase 6 tries to provide that focus and from the feedback they get at the USA Hockey level, they have been successful.
Mike MacMillan, the Chief Architect of the program, designed the program not only to allow kids to prove their worth on the ice, but he designed the last phase (Phase 6) to give the Minnesota kids an idea what awaited them in New York. Making a USA youth hockey team is serious hockey. The kid may still be a kid off the ice, but at New York they will be evaluated as young adults.
The remarkable thing is how distant and sophistcated the Reebok program is from the past method. In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s, Minnesota kids were selected by season end and sent letters that invited them to go to New York. There was no tryout program. Today the Reebok High Performance Program is that tryout program.
The Reebok High Performance Program gives Minnesota kids the opportunity to play and to learn to play “serious hockey”. The program is not just a tryout where a Dad says “Lace up your skates and show them what you can do, son”. It is more than that. Those have gone through the process have been exposed to high school level coaching, college level coaching and finally USA Hockey coaching. Mike MacMillan, understood how to create a program that makes sense and that builds on each surviving kid’s knowledge as they move through the program phase by phase over the four month long journey.
If a Minnesota kid is going to be “wearing the flag”, he has to be prepared to succeed in that different and strange environment. Minnesota Hockey recognized that a long time ago. And those Minnesota kids that participate in the Reebok High Performance Program get a taste of serious hockey. Then they become known as a serious hockey player.