At first glance, the story of the Minneapolis Novas has the makings of a movie script: a once thriving hockey area is down to one team, losing players to the “rich” private schools. Rivals from a year ago are forced to come together as one team. And a young coach comes home to Minnesota from the East Coast to lead them, not fully aware of what he’s getting himself into.
There are just two problems that would get the script tossed out: things have gone way too smoothly for the team, and the dramatic turning point came way too early in the season.
Still, it’s a story worth telling, because this is the State of Hockey. The game doesn’t just belong to the big suburbs and the little hockey towns in the outstate areas.
Despite what you may have heard, high school hockey is still alive and kicking in the big city limits of Minneapolis.
Sure, the private institutions of Blake, Breck and Benilde-St. Margaret’s have been thriving for years. And at least for now, you’re not going to see Minneapolis Southwest or Minneapolis Roosevelt make a dominating run to the State championship.
These days, there is one Minneapolis high school team left: the Novas, which is open to players from all seven Minneapolis high schools, but currently has players from three: Southwest, South and Washburn.
The team is led by first-year head coach, Shawn Reid, a former Minnesota Wild employee and a player and assistant coach at Gustavus Adolphus, who spent the last three seasons coaching at a suburban Boston boarding school.
The stage is set for the coach to come into a situation where he can’t control his team, begins to doubt his leadership abilities and wonders if he’ll ever be able to get the players to respond to him.
“It’s been a lot smoother than I anticipated, so I’ve been real fortunate with that,” Reid said, dismissing that notion. “On top of that, they’re just a bunch of great kids that are really easy to coach.”
Reid returned to his home state unsure of what he had just inherited as a team. He knew that his team was made up of players that were opponents one season ago. For the last five seasons, Interstate 35 served as a divider for two Minneapolis public school hockey teams: Minneapolis East and Minneapolis West.
It was determined last year that the high school hockey numbers had decreased to the point where Minneapolis would not have been able to field two high school teams for 2010-2011. The decision was made to combine the teams, and Reid would be the leader.
The Novas were born, and they came together with Reid in the summer for the first team meeting.
“You could tell there was a bit of a divide,” Reid admitted. “The East kids stood on one side of the room and the West kids stood on the other side.”
So there you go. We’ve got two factions in the locker room to spew venom at each other for about half a season before some tragedy brings the team together to turn things around.
The only problem is that the players immediately started to click.
“As the summer went on and as we had some practices together and had some functions to get to know each other, there has not been a single problem as far as past rivalries are concerned, or anything like that,” explained Reid. “They’re a great group of kids.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t some adversity.
The first game of the season pitted the Novas against St. Peter on Nov.30. Reid was excited, not because it was the first game, but because he was so encouraged by his team flying around the ice during up-tempo preseason practices. However, when Reid went into the locker room before the game, half his team hadn’t shown up yet, and eventually arrived late.
He responded by benching half the team for the first period.
“That’s something that I don’t think had been done in the past,” said Reid. “And it was kind of an eye-opener.”
The Novas headed into the first intermission down 1-0. All but two of the kids returned in the second, and the Novas took a 2-1 lead. The entire team was available for the third period, and Reid’s club easily skated to a 6-2 victory.
“That was really symbolic of the fact that, hey, we need everybody,” Reid pointed out. “I think right there, the players understood that the coaching staff has higher expectations. They bought into it right away. And they saw the benefits of everybody pulling on the same rope.”
With everybody pulling on that rope, the Novas have rattled off an impressive run, going 14-2-4. A berth in State Tournament is still a long shot, considering the Novas would have to come out of Section 6AA, which features Benilde, Eden Prairie, Wayzata and Minnetonka.
“That’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Reid with a loud laugh.
But that’s missing the point.
Reid and his group of players are showing that hockey is alive and well in the Minneapolis public school system, and that a lot can be accomplished when coaches, players and administrators are all on the same page.
Reid points to a concerted effort between the high schools and the Minneapolis youth programs to show the public schools as an appealing option once kids reach the high school level. The hope was that more kids would continue to represent their area as opposed to moving on to a private school.
“That hope has now turned into a belief that Minneapolis hockey can be a very strong hockey program,” contends Reid. “Now they can see the benefits of a united, hard-working contingent from youth to high school.”
Success won’t be measured on a state championship, or even a state tournament appearance. It will be measured on how Minneapolis is able to build off of this season’s success, and perhaps the ability to bring hockey back to several schools.
If Disney decides to pick up the movie script, that might be a success story as well.