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The Thompson Boys, A Pair of Aces, changing HS hockey

By frederick61, 01/17/13, 1:45PM CST


Baron Thompson scoring one of his five goals against Highland Park in the Aces 8-0 win last night at Richfield

Change can’t be stopped; it can only be encouraged or nudged in some direction.  But be careful of trying to direct change without knowing what you are changing from.

Two teams played last night that contrast change potentially in the Minnesota High School hockey.

At the youth level, you would think high school hockey is solid; not subject to change, just evolving.  High school hockey isn’t solid, it is fluid and about to change in some direction.

The nudge maybe may come from the Achiever NE Academy, a high school whose 80 students spend 2-3 hours on the ice at the Richfield arena every day learning the sport from September to May.  They study on line courses to gain an education.  Last night, the Aces beat Highland Park High School 8-0 at the Richfield arena in rink 2.

Highland Park High School has long been recognized as a high school that offered a good education to all 1,200 students.  The Highland high school just happens to play hockey, one sport among many.  The players on the Highland hockey team are there after years of playing association hockey in the winter.

Both these teams are in Section 4A and both play an independent schedule.  They have no conference affiliation.  Both teams could play each other in the Section 4A playoffs at the end of the season.

The new last night was the favorite.  In the Section 4A playoffs, the Academy Aces will likely rank ahead of Highland at the end of the season as well as being ranked ahead of South St. Paul, Simley, and St. Paul Johnson.  The Aces are playing .500 hockey.  The others are playing below .500 hockey.

Highland is likely to be ranked last of the 12 Section 4A teams.  They have won one game this season, beating Pine City/Rush City 8-5.  They are a young team.  They have 6 ninth graders on their team.  The Aces have two ninth graders and two eighth graders.

NE is led by a line that features a YHH top 50 peewee A player from last year, Baron Thompson.  He is an 8th grader at the Achiever NE Academy and plays wing on a line with two 10th graders, Cory Sprague and Ryan Finnegan.  Thompson’s brother, Tyler, also plays for NE.  The two brothers are often paired on the ice.  The Aces are also young.

In last night’s game’s opening period, it took Baron Thompson 20 seconds to score.  After an opening rush off the face off failed to score for the Aces, Thompson pick up the puck in neutral ice and with a burst of speed along the right side boards, beat the Highland defense.  Thompson took a shot from the top of the right face off circle that blistered the Highland goalie.  The puck was in the net before the Highland goalie could react.  The goal was unassisted and gave the Aces a 1-0 lead.  It would be the first of 5 goals Baron Thompson would score.

The Aces picked up the pressure on the ensuing faceoff, but the pressure ended with checking from behind at the 13 minute mark (a 5 minute major).  The two Thompson kids were paired for most of the Aces’ penalty kill.  They never let Highland get organized on the power play.

At 8 minute mark, Highland took a roughing penalty.  It took the Aces Garrett Martin 30 seconds to score on a wraparound.  He beat the goalie on the left corner firing the puck between the goalie’s skate and the left post.  The Aces led 2-0.

At the 4 minute mark, the Aces’ Cory Sprague scored on a breakaway to put the Academy up 3-0.  Ryan Finnegan got the assist.

Highland played their best hockey in the last four minutes of the first period, pressuring the Aces’ goal; but they started to take the long shot instead of carrying the attack low.  The Aces physical play in the corners slowed the Highland forwards.  The first period ended with the Aces leading 3-0.
The second period was all Baron Thompson.  At 12 minute mark, Baron Thompson physically worked the puck down low and with Highland defenders all around him, pushed the puck through the goalie into the crease where puck bounced off a Highland defender into the net.  The Aces led 4-0.  Martin and Finnegan got the assists.

Thirty seconds later, Baron Thompson scored again.  The goal came off a left faceoff.  The puck came loose in front of Baron who simple turned, took one stride towards the net and fired beating the goalie high.  Sprague got the assist.  The Aces led 5-0.

At the 8 minute mark, Ryan Finnegan came out of the left corner in the Highland zone and swept alone in front of the crease and beat the goalie on a high backhander.  The Aces led 6-0.  In three minutes in the second period, the Aces had doubled their lead over Highland.

With two minutes left in the second period, Thompson struck again.  He came out of the left side as the Highland goalie was attempting to cover the puck with his glove on a rebound from shot from the right.  Baron beat the attempted cover and put the puck in the net.  The Aces led 7-0.  Finnegan got the assist.

Thompson scored his fifth goal at the 10 minute mark of the third period to end the scoring 8-0.  The Aces out shot Highland 50-19.  The Aces won the game and moved up in the Section $A seeding.

These two teams are equally young, but will Highland or can Highland ever match the Aces skill level.  With the amount of ice time that students of the Achiever NE Academy will receive from September to May each year, they will have gotten far more reps in on ice drills than the Highland kids will see.
The Highland kids will be hard pressed to catch up.

The Aces school has to be a major benefit for the Richfield ice arena.  By buying ice during the day that normally goes unrented for 9-10 months, the Aces are helping to sustain ice that is being used by Holy Angels, Richfield, Kennedy, Edina, and Apple Valley programs in prime winter hours.

In the end, the Aces could nudge change the current high school hockey paradigm of recruitment of younger players by private schools that in turn dominate the public schools in especially at the Class A level.  The Aces approach could force private high schools that are serious about hockey to adapt to the Aces style.

Certainly, if the Aces can keep their current players through the next two years, they will wake up St Thomas Academy and Totino Grace, both Section 4A powerhouse teams.  Certainly, there are changes in the wind, based on political and economic changes that are about to happen and the Aces could nudge the sport in their direction.

Will high school hockey be nudged in some other direction by those who believe they are in charge or will high school hockey ride in the wind?  At YHH we have said it before, where is the Herb Brooks to do the nudging, someone who is truly understands the sport and seeks to have it continue to grow in this state.

Until then, catch an Aces game just to watch the Thompson Brothers and rest of the Aces.  They are becoming a very good team.

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