I started the Minnesota high school hockey season with this anecdote from inside the hockey world:
Back in September, I was at a game and talking with a fairly connected hockey person(unaffiliated with any of the players involved). Our discussion eventually turned to high school hockey. "You hear anything about the big guys coming back for the high school season?" I asked. He frowned and said "I've heard they might," in the same tone one might say "We're still waiting on the biospy, but the doctors aren't optimistic."
In mid-December, I was getting a haircut in Blaine. The woman cutting my hair happened to be a hockey mom whose daughter played at Blaine High School. We talked a little bit about the boy's team, and inevitably, Tufte.
"I think there were a lot of people in my world who were surprised he came back to play high school hockey," I said.
"I'm not sure those people understood how much it meant to him to play with his friends and [try to] win a state title. He's a really good kid."
She paused for a second.
"I think that counts for something".
Riley Tufte is this year's Minnesota Mr. Hockey, given annually to the state's top senior high school hockey player.
I couldn't tell you his exact stats, other than that they were very good. I couldn't tell you Blaine's exact record, other than that it was also very good, save a shocking and heart-breaking loss to Maple Grove in their section semifinal. I can't tell you where he'll go in this summer's NHL Draft, other than that it will be very high. .
I can tell you a few things having watched Blaine play half a dozen games this season: I can tell you he is an outstanding hockey player. I can tell you he is one of the 30 best prospects eligible for this year's NHL Draft. I can tell you that fact meant he skated with a target on his back--from opposing teams, opposing fans/parents, sometimes officials--and he handled it with dignity and class. .
The most important thing I can tell you is that he made Blaine's team way more than one Riley Tufte better this season. Coming back to Blaine wasn't the easy choice for Tufte. He was making a sacrifice to do so. His teammates understood that and played just a little bit harder because of it. His classmates understood that too, and Blaine's crowds were bigger and louder because of it. As public interests grow increasingly fractured and high school hockey loses stature in the hockey world, that may have been his greatest accomplishment this year. He made high school hockey matter.
I can't tell you what the future will hold for him next year at Minnesota Duluth. I can't tell you how, or even if, he'll ever play in the NHL. I can tell you that I hope he does, and I hope he does well.