(Note: The following article was written by me back in 2007, and appeared in the February 22, 2007 edition of Paul Shaheen's Research on Ice newsletter)
It’s not uncommon to see elite hockey players come out of the small town of Faribault, Minnesota. Players like Sidney Crosby, Jonathan Toews, Jack Johnson, and Kyle Okposo all spent part of their high school careers in Faribault. But all of those players, along with dozens of other NCAA and NHL players attended the famed Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep School. It is much less common to see an elite hockey player come from two miles down the road at Faribault High School.
But Faribault High School has their own elite hockey player in sophomore defenseman Seth Helgeson. Helgeson’s outstanding play this year earned him a scholarship to the University of Minnesota, which he accepted in November, and recently, the opportunity to play with the United States Under-17 team at the Four Nations Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia earlier this month.
"It was one of the best experiences I’ve ever had, just being able to put on the USA jersey. It was an honor," said Helgeson of the trip.
Helgeson quickly learned that the travel involved in international hockey is a bit more rigorous than in high school hockey. Helgeson had to fly from Minneapolis to Detroit, where he met up with his teammates. From Detroit, the team flew to Amsterdam and then to Austria, before taking a two-hour bus ride to Piestany.
"It was a grueling trip," said Helgeson, who was flying overseas for the first time in his life. Despite joining the team for the first time, there was at least one familiar face for Helgeson. NTDP defenseman Sam Lofquist, who is also committed to Minnesota, attended Shattuck-St. Mary’s last year, and played hockey with Helgeson over the summer.
Faribault High School head coach Josh Solem was more than willing to part with his star player, despite the tournament occurring in the middle of Faribault’s season.
"When you’ve got a player that has an opportunity like that, you’ve got to encourage it," said Solem. "Not everybody gets the opportunity to go play in Slovakia with Team USA."
The loss of Helgeson was made a bit easier by the fact that Faribault only played one game while he was in Slovakia, which Faribault won. There were other benefits to Helgeson’s trip, as well.
"He’s been more of a leader after coming back from an experience like that. I’ve heard him speak up a little more in the locker room," said Solem.
Though Helgeson is slowly assuming a leadership role with his own team, he has been a focal point for opposing teams since his commitment to Minnesota was announced earlier this year. He is the only player in the Big 9 Conference to have already committed to a college, and he has had to deal with the pressure of being labeled a "Future Gopher".
"There’s definitely more pressure. You have to live up to the expectation that you’re going to pretty much the best school in the country for college hockey, and everybody notices even the slightest mistakes. It’s a lot of pressure, but I like it. It gets me going."
Helgeson will still have at least two more years before enrolling at the University of Minnesota. In the meantime, he hasn’t made any decisions about where he will be playing the next two seasons. His coach would like to see him stay in Faribault, where he could be a captain of his high school team and play with the kids he grew up with. But Helgeson acknowledged that Sioux City of the USHL, which drafted him in this fall’s Futures Draft, has shown a lot of interest in him, and that he would be interested in joining the National Development Program on a more permanent basis if a spot opened up this summer.
Regardless of where he plays, Helgeson will be one of many players representing Faribault, Minnesota, but one of few doing so as a homegrown product.