ROSEMOUNT, Minn. — If you’re hoping to get a few minutes with Jake Ratzlaff to talk about his athletic success and his bright future, you can maybe get him on the phone ... briefly.
If you want to sit down for a cup of coffee and chat in person, forget it. He simply doesn’t have time, even in July.
There’s training for the upcoming football season, where the 6-3, 205-pound rising junior is expected to be one of Rosemount High School’s top defenders, after recording a dozen solo tackles and a sack as a sophomore. There’s getting together with friends to play baseball, coming off a season where he hit .269 while playing catcher for the Irish.
And, oh yeah, there’s that whole “fly to Europe, put on a red, white and blue jersey and play for your country against some of the top young hockey players in the world” thing on this future Minnesota Gopher’s August schedule.
It’s the second consecutive summer that Ratzlaff will be skating in Europe. He has been selected for Team USA’s roster for the Hlinka Gretzky Cup, which will be played Aug. 5-11 in Breclav, Czech Republic and Piestany, Slovakia. Ratzlaff played for Team USA in last summer's Under-17 Five Nations Tournament in Piestany, Slovakia.
“It’s an unbelievable honor. To think of the previous guys that have worn this jersey, and to represent your country — everybody in your country — is super exciting,” said Ratzlaff this week, while bouncing from one athletic pursuit to another. “I’m humbled and honored to be on the team.”
Even without the skills that allowed him to commit to a college hockey program long before he had started drivers’ education. Ratzlaff’s size is eye-catching, and an obvious tool on the rink.
“He’s a monster. He’s just a big athlete who has a high, high ceiling for the future,” said Pat Ferschweiler, the Rochester native who will coach Team USA next month. “Jake is athletic enough to defend against high-end players, and he’s smart enough to stay within himself. He has a simple, repeatable game, which is a compliment. It’s a very trustworthy game, and coaches will put him out there in critical times.”
The debate rages about if and when athletes should concentrate on a single sport. Ratzlaff’s schedule is definitely hectic, going from the rink four or five times a week to the diamond to the weight room to the gridiron, sometimes all in one day. But he said he knows this is the only time in his life he will have a chance to play the three sports he loves at this level, and he has no immediate plans to scale back.
It’s an attitude his coaches have accepted and embraced.
“Jake talks about hockey being a passion of his, but I know football is a bigger passion sometimes, and baseball is a bigger passion sometimes,” said Rick Saintey, the Irish hockey coach. “He’s a kid that’s going to jump on a sport he’s going to love it and enjoy the grind and go about his business full bore.”
And if that means that one particular sport only gets one-third of his attention, they will take it.
“I know that he wants to play high school hockey, baseball and football, so whatever he wants to do, we support him,” Saintey said, after a sophomore season where Ratzlaff averaged more than a point-per-game from the blue line on a team that was 23-4. “I know there are teams out there telling him to stick to hockey, but at the same time he’s so passionate about football and baseball, he wants to stick with those, too.”
Ratzlaff visited the University of Minnesota campus after finishing eighth grade, and knew he had found his future almost immediately, announcing his intent to play for the Gophers sometime after he finishes high school in 2021.
“I’m kind of a homebody, and I knew it was about 20 minutes away from home, which is perfect because my parents can come to the games,” Ratzlaff said. “I just fell in love with the place. You know when you feel at home, and I knew I was home.”
After a few more years of running from venue to venue, from sport to sport, and deciding if and when to focus just on hockey, there may come a day that Ratzlaff is ready for some time close to home.
Today is clearly not that day.