St. Paul Highland Park defeated Simley 4-3 on Wednesday night in dramatic fashion, with the game-winning goal coming with less than two minutes remaining. In the grand scheme of Minnesota high school hockey, the game is barely a footnote. It was the 8/9 play-in game in Section 4A, and the Scots are more than likely to get trounced by top-seeded private school St. Paul Academy in the quarterfinal round on Friday night. The Scots are about as far from the bright lights of the XCel Energy Center and the state tournament as can be, despite the school only being five miles away. But for a school tasting its’ first post-season success in over 30 years, the win is still significant.
Like most public schools in Minneapolis and St. Paul, Highland Park’s hockey program faced dwindling numbers of hockey players in the ‘70s and ‘80s, and eventually had to give up their varsity hockey program in 1987 due to lack of players.
But nine years ago, a push was made to bring the team back. After two years of a JV-only team, the Scots varsity program returned in 2010-2011. The beginning was rough. They went 0-24-0 in their first varsity season. They never had more than five wins in any of the next five seasons.
But slowly, the tide is starting to turn. Last year, the Scots were able to begin construction—quite literally, with parents and players handling much of the work— on a new locker room for their team to help convince more youth hockey players to stay at Highland Park in high school. The results are starting to show on the ice too. The Scots went 15-10-0 this year, and have now won a playoff game.
In an era where community-based high schools programs are dwindling and dying, it’s awesome to see a community band together to help build something, and to see their efforts rewarded.