Derek Forbort said his decision to leave Duluth East and join the U.S. Under-18 National Development hockey team caused several sleepless nights.
"It's the hardest decision I've ever had to make," he said. "I had trouble sleeping at night thinking about it."
Forbort, a 6-foot-5 junior defenseman, told USA Hockey of his decision Friday and informed East coach Mike Randolph on Sunday night. The future University of North Dakota player said he wanted to be better prepared for college.
"The main thing was I wanted to make sure I was ready to play when I went out to North Dakota," he said. "I felt this was the best way to achieve that."
Randolph says Forbort would have been equally prepared by playing his senior year at East.
"I don't think he's any different than the kids who have stayed in high school and went on to the National Hockey League like [Moorhead's] Brian Lee, [Warroad's] T.J. Oshie, [Mountain Iron-Buhl's] Matt Niskanen -- the list is endless," Randolph said. "I think what pushed him to go was North Dakota. First of all, they need him right away [in the 2010-11 season]. I think North Dakota felt he would be more ready to step on the ice and play for them by going in this direction.
"He didn't want to struggle his first year coming out of high school."
Randolph said he doesn't believe the Ann Arbor, Mich.-based program is a cure-all for the freshman blues. In his opinion, former East player Cade Fairchild, who spent two years in Ann Arbor, struggled in his freshman year at the University of Minnesota.
"I didn't feel Cade was any better coming out of Ann Arbor for two years than he would have been coming out of Duluth East," Randolph said.
Mark Abalan, who coached Fairchild and Forbort for two years each in bantams, said Fairchild had a great experience and expects Forbort will, too.
"Representing his country was really important to [Fairchild], and that opportunity was something he took a lot of pride in," Abalan said. "For Derek, hearing that it was a good experience from a fellow East guy had a small impact on his decision."
More influential, according to Forbort, are the longer seasons, better competition -- the U-18 team plays in the United States Hockey League and against college teams -- and state-of-the-art training facilities afforded the U-18 team.
"A lot of people thought playing high school hockey would build my leadership skills and my creativity, but others close to me said I need to get stronger and play better defensive hockey, and that's what they'll teach me to do out there," said Forbort, who scored seven goals and had 21 assists as a junior after turning down an offer to play for USA Hockey's U-17 team last year.
Randolph believes Forbort should have made the same decision as Max Tardy, who stayed his senior year and excelled as a player and leader.
"He's going to go out to Ann Arbor and just be another player -- a very good player, but just another player," Randolph said. "If he stayed here, he would have been our captain, our go-to guy, the guy who everybody is looking to, like Tardy, and lead the way. That would have gone a long way to making him a more well-rounded player."
Abalan, for one, disagrees.
"I think he needs this step for his own growth," he said. "He needs to be pushed; that's the biggest factor for him leaving. He wants to step in as a freshman at North Dakota and play big-time minutes.
"Derek's a unique player. He has [abilities] that most kids don't have. He is the prototype NHL player."