Left without a Division I men’s hockey college commitment after Arizona State pulled the plug, Garrett Worth decided to take a new approach this spring.
As in a new program, a new city and a new coach.
The 2018 Duluth East graduate last week chose to commit to Long Island University, which became the 61st NCAA Division I program earlier this year when it announced it would begin play this fall. He plans on signing a national letter of intent later this week.
“I’m excited, I think it’s going to be great,” Worth said when contacted Monday.
Worth was the News Tribune’s All-Area Player of the Year in 2018 when the 5-foot-10 forward scored a Minnesota-high 47 goals.
He committed to Arizona State University, then embarked on a two-year journey of junior hockey that saw him play for three teams in the British Columbia Hockey League in the 2018-19 season and with the Des Moines Buccaneers of the United States Hockey League and the Cloquet-based Minnesota Wilderness of the North American Hockey League in 2019-20.
Worth didn’t play much in the BCHL and ended up tearing the medial collateral ligament in his knee. He says he didn’t fully recover the rest of that season, stymieing his progress and lowering him on Arizona State’s radar.
“He’s a very gifted offensive player; you saw that in his high school career,” Wilderness coach John Vaillancourt said. “His first year in junior hockey was tough — he probably didn’t have the guidance to deal with that — and when he came to us, I sat down with him.
“For me, it was about evolving his game and making him a more complete player. Garrett did everything I asked of him and the results showed.”
Worth was taken in both the USHL and the NAHL drafts.
“I loved it in Des Moines, loved all the coaches and the guys,” he said. “I suited up but wasn’t getting enough playing time there so Arizona (State) made the choice to put me back to the Wilderness. That was really good for me because I played a ton with the Wilderness. Throughout juniors, it’s all about improving and you can’t do that if you aren’t playing much.”
Worth scored 14 goals and totaled 25 points in 28 games with the Wilderness after not scoring a goal in nine games at Des Moines.
Shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the sporting world in March, Arizona State decided to renege on Worth’s commitment.
“It just didn’t work out with Arizona (State) and I decided to keep looking and found LIU,” he said.
Vaillancourt sought out new Long Island coach Brett Riley shortly after the former Colgate assistant was hired in late May.
“After talking with (Riley), it seemed like it was the right fit,” Vaillancourt said.
Worth, who also talked to Division I American International of Springfield, Massachusetts, made the move to Brooklyn after about two weeks' worth of discussions.
“This was the right fit for me,” said Worth, who also had several Division III programs interested in him. “I didn’t have a lot of interest in playing Division III. It was really important to get this done.”
Worth resumed on-ice practicing after Essentia Health Heritage Center reopened two weeks ago and is excited about his impending move to the East Coast.
Vaillancourt believes LIU will appreciate Worth’s overall improvement and his penchant for scoring goals.
“We didn’t want to take away from his ability to be a goal-scorer, to have that offensive niche in his game. That’s the type of player that he is and that’s the type of player colleges were going to look at him for,” Vaillancourt said. “But at the college level you have to be more responsible with the puck, your decision-making has to be improved and you have to be good defensively as well as offensively.
“He should have the tools now to step in and be a well-rounded player and make an instant impact at the Division I level. And I think he will be.”
Vaillancourt said the NAHL is planning to start its season on time. As of Monday, summer combines were still scheduled to be held in July. The biggest question is whether the United States-Canadian border will open to allow players to cross back and forth.