MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Jake Hale is an assistant captain and the best player on the Minneapolis boys high school hockey team – as just a sophomore.

“He just competes harder than most players out there,” said coach Joe Dziedzic.

But it’s another attribute that makes Hale so unique. He goes to Minneapolis Southwest High School and is committed to play in college for Minnesota-Duluth.

That makes him the first Division I player from a Minneapolis high school team in nearly 30 years.

The last to do it? His coach. Dziedzic signed to play for the Gophers back in 1990.

“It’s been a long time since I’ve been out of high school,” Dziedzic said. “And I would have thought there would have been four or five, maybe seven players come through the ranks. But nobody has.”

Minneapolis is a co-op team of the city’s seven public high schools. It’s not so much that the Minneapolis youth system hasn’t produced talented players – it’s actually pretty strong – but that they’ve gone elsewhere once they’ve gotten to high school. Private school or the suburbs.

Knowing he had a bright future in front of him, Hale was faced with the same big — and difficult — decision. And weighed it heavily.

“Yeah, we talked about it quite a bit,” he said.

He’d grown up playing in Minneapolis, since he was 4 years old.

“I lived on 46th and Drew my whole life,” he said.

And here’s the kicker: His family actually moved to Edina last year, a haven for promising hockey players if there ever was one – especially compared to Minneapolis and its 25-year streak of no D-I kids.

But he stayed at Southwest.

“Green and yellow aren’t my colors,” Hale said with a big smile. “I’m a big respect guy. And just everything that Minneapolis has done for me, I can’t turn my back on them like that.”

Dziedzic understood how difficult a decision it was.

“I think there was a lot of pressure,” Dziedzic said, “because he knows a lot of these good players. Kids get together and play in the summer, and so they’ve got friends in other programs, and so I think there was pressure for him, you know, ‘come on and play with us,’ and I think he just bucked the trend and said ‘no I’m gonna stay here.’ And I think that shows his character and it shows you what he’s made of.”

Hale is quite conscious of what his choice means not just for him, but for hockey in the city. And says the coolest thing would be if he’s the one to start a trend.

“I’m just glad we’re starting to get good kids back in the program,” he said, “and starting to see kids go places and stuff.”

“It’d be great (if he started a trend),” Dziedzic said. “We definitely have the room and we definitely could use some of the quality kids that have been leaving – we could use them on our team. And I think him doing that is a statement, and I think hopefully that will start a trend.”

For Hale, his success has provided validation of his choice, and he takes pride of being an example.

“I’m just kind of glad that I can prove that,” Hale said. “Show all the younger kids from Minneapolis that you don’t need to go anywhere to be successful.

“What I’d really say to them is, you really don’t need to go anywhere. Just take it easy, take the slow ride…You’ll be fine where you are. You just need to work hard.”

Hale is now living, skating proof.

David McCoy

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