After last summer’s worst-case scenario, the fact Carson VanZuilen was able to even participate in the tryout for the Upper Midwest Elite League was an improvement.
Last year, VanZuilen strained his MCL the day before in a summer hockey tournament with the Northfield High School team, meaning he was forced to skip the tryout and not receive an invite to play in the high-profile youth hockey league in the fall.
This year, VanZuilen, an incoming senior at Northfield High School, entered the one-day tryout healthy and impressed enough to earn a spot on one of the seven teams that will play in the league along with a team from Shattuck-St. Mary’s and a team of players from Wisconsin.
“Obviously the Elite League is the league to be in in the fall in Minnesota,” VanZuilen said. “It’s full of good players and has a lot of exposure. It was nerve-wracking, yeah.”
The tryout was July 19, and consisted of six teams that each played a game in the morning and another in the afternoon.
“There’s a good group of guys up there at the tryout, obviously, and there’s a good group of players from Minnesota,” VanZuilen said. “It went well. I had a couple buddies I played with on my team, so that kind of helped me with the nerves of being there. I felt like I had a decent tryout, and it worked out and I made it so it was good.”
In the month leading up to the tryout, VanZuilen resumed a somewhat normal schedule of training.
In addition to the three practices a week as part of Northfield High School’s summer training, he also skated additionally with a trainer.
“That’s kept me going,” VanZuilen said. “Then just a couple other little tournaments and camps have been good.”
The Elite League is scheduled to begin Sept. 12 and stretch through the end of October with playoffs taking place in early November. VanZuilen is the only player from a school in the Big 9 Conference to earn a spot on one of the teams.
The forward, who has tallied 60 goals and 103 assists in 77 games through his first three high school seasons, will play on the team sponsored by TDS Transportation, and will be teammates with Dodge County’s Brody Lamb, who racked up 46 goals and 20 assists in 22 games last year. Also on the team are former Section 4A opponents Damon Furuseth from Gentry Academy and Blayde Pogreba from St. Paul Johnson.
“It should be fun,” VanZuilen said. “Being from a small town, it can be harder to get your name out there, but obviously playing in the Elite League, that should help out a little bit and get my name out there and get some exposure leading into my senior year. It should be a fun senior year, if everything goes to plan and we’re able to play.”