The East Coast’s Shattuck St. Mary’s
It’s hard to imagine a youth hockey organization feeling that they fell short of their goal for the season when their two midget hockey clubs reached the quarterfinal stage of the Tier I National Championship, but for Connecticut’s Selects Academy the goal now is National Championship or bust.
South Kent School, home to the Selects Hockey Academy, is nestled off the beaten path in a hilly section of Connecticut where one’s GPS might lose track of the roads. For city folk like myself, a drive to South Kent’s campus on a winter night is reminiscent of the snowy landscapes only known from classic oil paintings. It’s picturesque, with little indication that a world-class youth hockey program operates inside a brand new facility at the top of a hill. The games themselves are seemingly attended by more scouts than parents.
Owned by Legacy Global Sports, the Selects Hockey group boasts an impressive list of alumni that includes 171 NHL Draft Picks (34 in the first round), 109 first-round CHL Draft Picks, and 274 NCAA Division I commitments since it first hit the ice in 2003. In North America, Selects Hockey squads were put together for tournaments, showcases, and camps rather than to be full-season youth hockey teams. Since opening the Selects Academy in 2011, the team has taken strides towards being looked at as one of the top programs in the country. As one parent put it, “soon enough we’ll be the East Coast’s Shattuck [St. Mary’s].”
“I think the biggest difference between this experience and past travel hockey teams is the bonding experience,” said Selects U18 center Connor Sundquist. Sundquist is committed to play Division I hockey at Colorado College, and after three seasons at Selects is looking to make the move to the United States Hockey League. “We’re able to live together, go to classes together, and eat all our meals together. It really helps up as a team and especially with the schedule starting in early September, we get to know each other well very quickly. By the end of the year, we’re easily the tightest-knit team around.”
The day-to-day life of Connor and his teammates is fairly regimented. From 8AM to noon they attend classes, followed by a mandatory lunch and then an “affinity class” where the team is separated to go out with other students and do different activities around the campus. There’s also a “sports” period, a physical education class which for the Selects Academy students is an extra training session. After school is a ninety-minute on-ice practice each and every day.
Sundquist’s father Erik was a defenseman for Providence College from 1992-96, where Selects Hockey Academy Director Devin Rask also played his college hockey. Though they never played together, they had met at alumni functions and become friendly. When Erik’s first son Connor was entering his Freshman year, the family was approached by a few prep schools before Rask contacted Erik.
“We attended serveral prep games and most of the playing time went to Post-Grads, Seniors, and Juniors. We were a bit concerned about missing a year or two of that development path by not playing a lot of minutes.” When Rask reached out to the family, it seemed like Selects Academy was the perfect choice.
With a student body of under 200 students and very small class sizes, South Kent School is “the best of both worlds” for families like the Sundquists who are looking for the perfect blend of education and hockey development. South Kent’s faculty members keep in contact with the students of the school and are asked to work extracurricular events to become a part of the boys’ lives outside of the classroom.
Selects Academy does not play the average prep hockey schedule of somewhere between 30-40 games with preseason and playoffs included, opting instead for U16 and U18 AAA schedules that has them competing in the United States Premier Hockey League and non-league games against teams from the High Performance Hockey League, Atlantic Youth Hockey League, and other top programs from around the nation. Between their regular schedule, showcases, and tournaments like Nationals, the team can compete in over 70 games per season at South Kent.
Players flock to this quaint campus from all parts of the world. Selects Academy’s U18 team this year featured players from Sweden and Canada alongside kids from as far away as Alaska and as southern as Florida. At the U16 level, there was a real international flair with standouts Jacob Schmidt-Svejstrup of Denmark and Mathias Emilio Pettersen of Norway. This is where Corson Sundquist, Erik’s middle son, played.
“Corson told us he wanted to try to get into South Kent, which shocked us because he was always looking to get away from what his older brother did, not follow the path.” Erik had assumed Corson, a skill forward whose game is fairly dissimilar to his older brother’s, would attend public high school and play for the local AAA program. For Corson, the decision was more based on academics than hockey. Don’t take that the wrong way though, Corson is an extremely talented hockey player who will get quite a few Division I looks of his own.
“I believe that everyone has the goals of developing as players every day and getting to the next level,” Connor Sundquist said in describing why the team has been so successful. “The coaching staff here at Selects Academy is a huge factor in all of the players’ success. We also have the opportunity to get on the ice as much as we please and we are fortunate enough to have a state-of-the-art weight room facility that is open at all times down at the rink.”
Get on the ice as much as they please? Yes, at South Kent if a student has a free period, they can take it to run down to the rink and skate for a bit. As long as they’re not too busy with their studies, of course.
After getting off to a slow (by their standards) start in the USPHL, the U16 team finished the season on a 14-1 run to complete a 23-4-1 season. Overall, only 8 of 187 Tier I teams nation-wide were able to claim more wins than Selects, who finished 51-16-4. While they weren’t able to take home the USPHL crown, they did qualify for Nationals by winning their region.
For as good as the U16 team was, U18 was even more dominant. Their 26-2-0 record in the USPHL was the best in the league and they cruised to the league championship. Selects went into USA Hockey Nationals ranked 6th in the country, and many would consider their quarterfinal loss to the North Jersey Avalanche (who eventually finished second) to be an upset.
As good as these performances are, “the East Coast’s Shattuck” is, at least for now, a bit of a stretch. Shattuck St. Mary’s is the prestigious Minnesota-based prep school where NHL stars like Sidney Crosby and Jonathan Toews starred before moving on to higher levels. Shattuck has 18 USA Hockey National Championships under its belt, and as Sports Illustrated once famously said “the school is to hockey what Harvard is to law.”
But it’s a start. And a great start. By the end of the season, Connor and six of his teammates had committed to play NCAA Division I hockey, with another opting to go the Division III route. As the oldest players from this team were born in 1996, every player on that team has a minimum of two more seasons to play minor or junior hockey before committing to play at the next level. Five U16 players have verbally committed to Division I schools. As a comparison, Shattuck St. Mary’s Prep team has ten players committed to Division I programs.
If prep school isn’t for everyone, a prep school with a serious focus on sport ceraintly isn’t either. Connor and Corson have a younger brother Garrett, an 01-born defenseman, who is excelling in the Connecticut Wolf Pack system. “He hasn’t shown too much interest and is more of a social butterfly than his older brothers,” Erik said. “Every kid is different and their paths may be different.”
It’s called the Selects Academy for a reason. It’s not for everyone. There’s a certain type of kid who can handle the rigors of academic life at South Kent School coupled with a 60-70 game hockey schedule. So while the scenic campus continues to exist in comparable anonymity, it will also continue to grow as a factory for producing some of the best hockey talent in the country.