Creating Chemistry – a core value of the Elite League
Above, the forward trio of, from left, Wes Berg (Benilde-St. Margare'ts), Javon Moore (Minnetonka) and Teddy Townsend (Eden Prairie) has piled up the goals since being put together in the third week of the season. Below, Tommy Cronin (St. Thomas Academy) and Jake Fisher (Cretin-Derham Hall) have been high-scoring linemates for MAP South all season. Photos by Loren Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com
It took all of about a minute this fall for a get-to-know-each-other session for new Upper Midwest High School Elite League teammates to morph into comedy hour.
Put players from Minnetonka and Eden Prairie, fierce rivals during the high school season, on the same team and it’s inevitable that sparks are going to fly. Even if it’s just in the form of good-natured verbal jousting.
“When we had everybody introduce themselves and one of the Tonka players said, ‘I can’t wait to beat Eden Prairie this year in sections,’ ” TDS Transportation coach Mike Phillippi said. “There’s a big rivalry between them for sure, but when they put the TDS sweater on they put that aside. It’s great.”
There’s no better illustration of the Elite League’s rivals-turned-teammates Petri dish than the high-flying TDS Transportation forward unit of Teddy Townsend, Javon Moore and Wes Berg.
Moore led Minnetonka in scoring last season. Townsend was second on Eden Prairie in points. The teams split their two regular season games and, more often than not, face each other at some point in the playoffs each season.
TDS Transportation coaches Phillippi, Dan Sova and Sova’s father, Gary, paired Moore and Townsend, juniors who have committed to play at Minnesota, on the same line by the league’s second week. Berg found a home as a wing on the line about a week later. The trio has been dominant at times as the team has ascended to the top of the league standings.
“It’s been fun playing together outside of the rivalry before the high school season … see what it is like,” said Moore, who is tied for third on the team with 24 points. “We hang out together outside the rink and try to build that bond with each other.”
Trips to the outdoor rink adjacent to the St. Louis Park Rec Center and meals at favored destination Chipotle have helped build camaraderie among the linemates.
“I think we just get along together off the ice,” said Townsend, the team’s leading scorer with 35 points. “When we’re on the ice we always have our heads up trying to find each other. “
Berg, who transferred from Gentry Academy to Benilde-St. Margaret’s in the offseason, said he was thrilled to learn he’d be playing with Moore and Townsend.
“Oh yeah, let’s go,” said Berg, a senior who led Gentry Academy with 30 goals last season, said about his initial reaction. “They are really good guys, they are super fast and they move the puck really well. They are always looking to make a play. It clicked right away.”
MAP South coach Sean Toomey has pieced together an equally explosive line in seniors Jake Fisher, committed to Northern Michigan and Tommy Cronin (Colgate) along with junior Ben Miller (Northeastern). Fisher was second on Cretin-Derham Hall in scoring last season and Cronin was St. Thomas Academy’s No. 2 scorer. Fisher and Cronin, also on opposite ends of a heated high school rivalry, have been paired since the start of the season. The chemistry between the duo has helped vault Fisher to the top of the league’s scoring charts with 40 points, just nine behind the single-season record set by MSP Magazine's Demetrios Koumontzis of Edina in 2017. MAP South is third in the league standings.
“You’re not really thinking about wins and losses when you put these players together," Toomey said. "It’s more, ‘How am I going to best develop and showcase these players as individuals and as team players for the scouts.’ The wins and losses will come when you, and the players, figure it out.”
Cronin is tied for second on the team in scoring and Miller, from Hill-Murray (a rival of both St. Thomas Academy and Cretin-Derham Hall), is tied for fifth.
Toomey doesn’t hesitate to pair players from rival teams if he thinks their skillsets are complementary.
“These kids have played so much hockey with one another in the spring and summer, I think the rivalries are much healthier now,” he said. “I don’t see those guys being ruthless to each other like in the past.”
So that means, for example, Townsend can be expected to take it easy on good buddy Moore during the high school season?
“Definitely not,” Townsend said. “No.”