There was never any doubt they would play, nor was there ever much of a question where.
But, for what was left of the North Metro boys hockey program, the trepidation was unavoidable.
They could count.
“We saw what the numbers were, and we knew it wasn’t going to be enough,” said Chris Madsen. “It was sad, but we knew it was coming to an end.”
The news was made official shortly after the 2011-12 boys hockey season concluded. The North Metro high school program was being shut down.
The cooperatively sponsored group, which was formed nearly a decade ago and pulled players from Fridley, Columbia Heights, Brooklyn Center and Park Center High Schools, fell victim to a numbers crunch.
After graduating much of last year’s varsity team, only eight returning players were scheduled to try-out this winter, and there were not enough sophomores in the program ready to replenish what was lost to graduation.
That meant what was left of the North Metro players needed a home, and luckily, there was a natural fit nearby.
The primary feeder system for the Osseo boys high school hockey program is the Osseo/Maple Grove Hockey Association, but it also pulls some of its players from the youth ranks in Brooklyn Park; players who grew up skating alongside kids who would one day play for Park Center, or more recently, North Metro.
“A lot of us play with each other growing up,” said Madsen. “It made the most sense for us to play with Osseo. But until the decision was final, we didn’t really want to count on it.”
When the decision was finalized, there were eight players from the defunct North Metro program signed up for try-outs at Osseo. Four of them – all Park Center students – made the cut and earned a roster spot with the Osseo varsity.
The Orioles were also hurt some by graduation last spring, and at the very least, Osseo was willing to take on the experience the four had from playing a varsity season with North Metro a year ago.
“They had all played varsity hockey for at least a year, which is nice,” said Osseo co-head coach Mark Phenow. “We were a young team coming into the year, so it is nice to have a few more veterans that have gone through the whole varsity experience. And they’ve come in and fit in. We’ve found a place for them, and they’ve helped out.”
Madsen scored one of Osseo’s two goals in a loss at Blaine Dec. 6. Fellow North Metro holdover Tyler Stroh assisted on the Orioles’ game winning goal in a 2-1 victory over Buffalo Dec. 4.
Defensemen Austin Ledin started the game against Blaine, and Josh Stromberg has played a regular shift at forward.
“We wanted to come in and contribute,” Madsen said. “I think we all probably felt a little pressure to do that. It was awkward walking in that first day and not knowing half the guys, but I think we’ve found a way to fit in pretty well.”
That they are playing at all is what really matters, said Osseo activities director Ray Kirch.
The politics within high school sports circles can oftentimes be fickle, and when mergers transpire between major, metro-area high schools, eyebrows are generally raised.
But in this case at least, common sense outweighed any other determining factor.
“Standing on their own, they could no longer field a team,” said Kirch. “It was a no-brainer form our perspective. Park Center is a sister school. They had kids that wanted to play hockey, so we absorbed them. We wanted to make sure they had a chance to play.”
Said Madsen, “That’s all we wanted. For me, this is my senior year. I wanted to make sure I got to play hockey this winter. That’s all I’ve known, and I didn’t want it to change.”