Minnesota Model is proven path to Division I college hockey

by Legacy Hockey

Michigan commit and Vegas Golden Knights third-round draft pick Jackson Hallum, who played through his senior season at St. Thomas Academy, finished second in the Elite League in scoring during the 2020 season. Photo by Loren Nelson, Legacy Hockey Photography

Keith Hendrickson has been involved in most every aspect of Minnesota youth and high school hockey during his career as a player, coach and NHL scout.

Maybe Hendrickson hasn’t seen it all — yet. But the former longtime Virginia High School head coach and current amateur scout for the Vegas Golden Knights certainly understands the “Minnesota Model,” the focus of a recent College Hockey Inc. research project, as well as anyone.

“Minnesota high school hockey is a wonderful thing,” Hendrickson said. “Playing with childhood friends in the community they have grown up in can be very gratifying.”

The study by College Hockey Inc. focused on the the paths of 194 Minnesota men who earned NCAA Division I hockey commitments from May 14, 2018 through Nov. 15, 2021. Among its findings:

  • High school hockey is the dominant route for Minnesotans to Division I college hockey. 
  • A significant majority of Division I-committed Minnesotans played high school hockey through their senior year.
  • Minnesota is the only state where high school hockey players earned more commitments than players in any other league.

All of which reinforces what Hendrickson has observed for decades. The stay-at-home, play-for-your-high-school Minnesota Model —  no state or province sends more players to NCAA Division I men’s hockey each year — works. Of the 194 commitments made by players from Minnesota studied by College Hockey Inc., 171 of them played high school hockey and 140 played high school hockey as seniors.

“There is no shortcut to greatness, no matter what some may try to tell kids and parents,” Hendrickson said.

For 21 years the Upper Midwest High School Elite League Hockey has provided players with development and high-level exposure in the months leading up to the high school season. Last weekend Hendrickson was among the representatives from 27 NHL teams evaluating the league’s players. 

The Golden Knights selected Jackson Hallum, a Michigan commit who played in the Elite League for MAP South and high school hockey at St. Thomas Academy through his senior year, with their third-round selection in the 2020 NHL Draft. Hallum went on to play in the 2021 state Class 2A tournament.

“Winning a championship and playing in the state tournament is a special experience that stays with those who have done it for life,” Hendrickson said. “More needs to be said about the quality of the athlete's journey, because that too has an effect on the athlete's development and overall experiences.”