For players the stakes include more than the high school hockey championship
At the Xcel Energy Center this weekend, there's more at stake than just a state high school hockey Championship.
St. Paul, Minn. — Inside the arena the energy crackles as the stands start to fill up for the Little Falls Flyers game against the top-seeded Hermantown Hawks.
The stands are ablaze with competing yellow and blue colors as the audience puts on a show of school and civic pride.
The puck drops. The first shot is blocked, and the fans go crazy.
But for some in the arena, tonight is about business. John Harrington is head coach of the St. John's University hockey team. He's here tonight scouting talent.
"There are kids that we've been watching throughout the year that we've had contact with," Harrington said. "We get a chance to see them in a high-pressure environment and see how they perform in the bright lights."
For the players and coaches at the tournament, the presence of scouts adds another layer of pressure. But it also provides an opportunity -- because It's not just the star players who get scouted. Harrington said scouting the state tournament is a great way to find unknown talent, too.
"You can find some guys who all of a sudden stick out in this tournament and are going to gain a lot of interest from a lot of schools, not just Saint John's," Harrington said.
With all of the pressure, players try to stay calm. Outside the locker room more than an hour before his game, you can sense the adrenaline in Dustin Arendt, captain of the Albert Lea team. He's well aware that scouts will be watching him play.
"That's one of the things about playing here ... all the scouts that are hopefully here, getting a look at all the players, trying to find somebody," he said.
Arendt says it's sometimes tough to know how sincere a scout really is when they express interest.
"As a player, hopefully they're not telling you something that isn't true because I know that a lot of players really run on that hope," Arendt said.
That's why he tries not to let impressing scouts be his first priority.
"You've just got to play well every night because you never know when they're there or not," Arendt said.
During the break after first period, the Little Falls players and coaches stream off the ice and into the locker room. The team's assistant coach, Bob Stark, says the attention from talent scouts can be a distraction for some players.
Stark says the coaches decide on a case-by-case basis whether to tell a player when he's being scouted. He says in the past the coaches didn't tell anyone. But then, they decided to tell one player who they felt needed a push.
"The last time we knew there was somebody there watching him and we told him and put the pressure on him to perform," Stark said. "That seemed to work."
But Stark also says he wants to protect the kids from the distraction the scouts can cause.
"[We] just try to have the kids focus on the game. You come down to the state tournament and it's the biggest tournament of the year, the biggest games of the year, you have to bear down and focus on what you came here to do, which is play hockey, not who's watching you.
Stark's Little Falls team lost to Hermantown 6-3 on Wednesday night. Dustin Arendt's Albert Lea team lost as well. The semi-finals continue Friday and the finals are on Saturday night.
- Morning Edition, 03/09/2007, 7:50 a.m.