Duluth native attracts youth hockey players from across the West
The Stuart family from Phoenix is doing the touristy things in Duluth -- golf, fishing, hotel water park, alpine coaster, Duluth Grill. And there's hockey. Connor Stuart, 13, an eighth-grader this fall, is a center for one of six Team Northwest e...
The Stuart family from Phoenix is doing the touristy things in Duluth -- golf, fishing, hotel water park, alpine coaster, Duluth Grill.
And there's hockey.
Connor Stuart, 13, an eighth-grader this fall, is a center for one of six Team Northwest entries in the Northern Exposure AAA youth tournament that began Friday and runs through Sunday at six rinks in the area.
Team Northwest is based in Arizona and run by Duluth natives Todd and Pamm Collins, a husband-and-wife team. They organize one summer tournament trip a year, taking applications from youngsters in the western United States.
"One of my best friends, a girl, has older brothers who are good hockey players," said Stuart, who had two assists in a 3-3 Friday afternoon tie against a Team Wisconsin at Hermantown Arena. "They had a hockey net outside their house and shot all the time on Rollerblades, and that's how I started when I was 6, playing street hockey.
"I like the adrenaline rush you get playing. I like the excitement of scoring. Almost everyone plays baseball at our school, but I like hockey."
Parents Trisha and Rick Stuart, Connor and younger brother, Riley, 8, are here for a week, including three practice days when Team Northwest players got to know each other. Families pay their way, and the Stuarts figure to spend about $4,000 in travel, food and hotel expenses in the Northland, including an $800 player participation fee.
Trisha and Rick are native Arizonans who have developed a fondness for an ice sport. They're often at the rink and recently met a youth coach new to the Phoenix area, Duluth native Sean Hill, a former NHL defenseman.
"This is a good family vacation. We're getting a chance to see a city where we might not have come otherwise, and it's a chance for Connor to play games at a high level," Trisha Stuart said. "Hockey has become our favorite sport."
Todd Collins, 46, played adult hockey after moving to Gilbert, Ariz., and was asked to help a youth team in the area. That started him toward founding Team Northwest in 1991, and he gives clinics and directs Collins Hockey Schools. While most of the school participants are from the Phoenix area, the summer trip elicited more than 1,000 e-mail inquiries this year from 10 states -- Arizona, North Dakota, Montana, Minnesota, Colorado, California, Utah, Idaho, Alaska and Texas. There were 102 players selected through a screening process.
In recent summers, Team Northwest has played in Banff, Alberta; Vancouver, British Columbia; Winnipeg, Manitoba; and Canmore and Calgary, Alberta, the past two years, which the Stuarts attended.
"We've gotten a pretty good reputation because we've been around for almost 20 years, and we bring in some experienced coaches," said Todd Collins, who works in ground operations for Southwest Airlines, and has had two sons go through the Team Northwest program.
Coaches this week for Team Northwest include Chad Johnson, coach of the U.S. Hockey League Lincoln (Neb.) Stars; Derek King, assistant coach of the American Hockey League Toronto Marlies; Alex Hicks, who played in 247 games over six years in the NHL; former U.S. Hockey League coach Scott Pionk, now in the Hermantown youth program; and former Cloquet, University of Minnesota and NHL player Corey Millen of Anchorage, Alaska, who helps direct the Alaska All-Stars youth organization.
Millen, 46, a former U.S. Olympian, completed a 14-year professional career in 2003, including 335 games in the NHL. His son, Luke, 11, is plays for Team Northwest, while a daughter, Mackenzie, 14, is participating in a USA Hockey Girls Select camp this weekend in Rochester, N.Y.
"I've been able to coach my son and daughter on teams (in Anchorage), which has been fun and rewarding," Millen said. "I've stayed close to hockey, and if the right situation came along, I'd be interested in looking at coaching or scouting at the professional or college level."
Championship games for the Northern Exposure tournament are Sunday starting at 11 a.m. A schedule is available at northernexposureaaahockey.com.