It's just after school inside the hockey arena at Shattuck-St. Mary's High School in Faribault, and 20 young men huddle around coach Tom Ward. Their blue and yellow practice jerseys are drenched in sweat -- and they're only halfway through practice.
The players have been off for a two-week spring break. Ward knows they'll have to practice hard if they want to win the USA Hockey National Championship in a few weeks.
Ward told his players they'll have very few face-offs during practice as he wants them to keep their pace going and move their feet.
"You're getting back to playing, thinking hockey, not just rolling," he said. "I want some interaction with the puck. So it's a scrimmage. If the pace is high, everything great, we'll scrimmage less. If it's lousy, we'll just pick them up and spray the board. So let's get everything out of it. Team concepts, conditioning, game situation, everything."
Hockey is serious business at the elite boarding school, a powerhouse that produced National Hockey League giants, among them Zach Parise of the New Jersey Devils and the Pittsburgh Penguins' Sidney Crosby.
The school combines rigorous college-level courses with top-notch athletic training. Though it has a relatively low profile in Minnesota, the school is well known in national hockey circles and internationally. ESPN called Shattuck-St. Mary the "Hogwarts of Hockey," and Sports Illustrated said "the school is to hockey what Harvard is to law."
Five players in the Olympic gold medal hockey game between the United States and Canada last month played at Shattuck-St. Mary's -- inlcuding Parise and Crosby, who scored the winning goal for Team Canada.
"It was great to watch those boys play," Ward said. "Three out of the five goals were scored by Shattuck kids."
The school has had a hockey program since 1925. But it didn't become a powerhouse until 1996, when Parise's father, former Minnesota North Stars Coach J.P. Parise, was hired to resurrect the program.
John Sumner, the school's associate director of alumni affairs, said fewer than 200 students attended Shattuck-St. Mary then, and the hockey program drew so few that at one point there were only two players. So the school embarked on a campaign to attract more soccer and hockey players, said Sumner, who has been there 38 years and worked with the hockey program in the late 1980s.
"A lot of it had to do with, how we increase our enrollment? How do we make our school more attractive to more students? That type of thing," he said. "And to do that we really couldn't function under the aegis of the state high school league."
To recruit students, the school opted out of the Minnesota State High School League in 1996. Today, it's the only 18-and-under USA Hockey-registered team in the state.
Before that year, the school had never competed in a state tournament. But in Parise's first year as coach, the school made it to its first National Championship tournament. Three years later, in 1999, it won its first Tier 1 Boys U18 National Championship title.
"We're a bit more well-known outside the borders of the state of Minnesota than we are in state, except for the hockey people. The real hardcore hockey people know who we are, and that's OK," Ward said. "That's just fine with us. We're just a school in the middle of the cornfields down here."
The school has a slew of other regional and national titles, both for its men's and women's teams. Now that the program has taken off, Ward doesn't have to recruit as much because students come to him.
"We're a completely different animal from anybody else in the state of Minnesota," he said. "We have a longer playing season. We play from the first week of September until the middle of April as a group."
The school's eight hockey teams, which have 17 coaches, play between 50 and 70 games a season. A regular high school team in Minnesota plays about 25 games. Ward says the longer season is part of what draws kids to the school.
"They're hungry to play a little bit longer season, more emphasis on hockey," he said. "We skate every day, and so hockey is definitely a big part of the fabric of our school."
Ward is proud of the reputation Shattuck-St. Mary's has built for itself as a hockey factory. This year, three of his players have been drafted by the NHL, including 18-year-old Kirill Gotovets, an international student from Belarus. The Tampa Bay Lightning chose Gotovets, a defenseman.
"I always wanted to play in North America," Gotovets said. "I always was good in school, so I decided to go here because I heard it was the best place to go if you want to be good at hockey and good academically."
Gotovets and many of the other players on his team will end up on elite college teams, and some will make it to the NHL. Gotovets plans to go to Cornell University in the fall.
Joe Basaraba, a 17-year-old from Canada, plans to skate for the University of Minnesota, Duluth. But he's not thinking of college yet. He and his teammates are focused on the USA National Championship next month.
"You're expected to be big, so you step up," Basaraba said. "You want to be the best player. You want to be the best team that shows up, so I think it's pretty much what [we've got] to do. We've got big shoes to fill."
Being the best is exactly what Shattuck-St. Mary's players want to do at the tournament in Chicago. The women's teams also compete in the national tournament in Green Bay.