Photo Credit: Steve McLaughlin
During warmups, Cade Borchardt sat back for a moment, looked around the Pittsburgh ice and remembered the moments in his hockey journey.
“I was getting goosebumps and remembering all the junior games I played in, all the high school games, the Great 8, all these tournaments,” he said. “Every moment (before) has helped me get to that moment.”
This particular moment - being on the ice, playing for Minnesota State at the 2021 Frozen Four - was the latest step for the Mavericks sophomore forward. Five years earlier, Borchardt was one of three Burnsville players representing his high school hockey section in the Ted Brill Great 8.
For 38 years, the Ted Brill Great 8 has annually given the top boys’ high school players in the state the chance to showcase their abilities in front of coaches and scouts from juniors, collegiate, and professional teams over a single weekend. Players looking to continue their hockey careers past high school turned the event into an April staple of both Minnesota Hockey and longtime host South St. Paul.
“The goal of the tournament, number one, is exposure, to honor and recognize our top players at those two groups: The seniors and the juniors who have aged out of our HP 17 program,” said High Performance Director of Player Development Mike MacMillan. “They get one more look as they move through the development process as a player.”
It’s an event that benefitted Borchardt. Getting exposure and playing with new guys he had only faced off against helped lead him to the next place on his hockey journey. The Burnsville native spent three years in juniors after high school, going from Burnsville HS to Brookings (NAHL) to Madison (USHL) to Sioux Falls (USHL), where he won a Clark Cup, to eventually Mankato and Mike Hastings’ team.
He’s not the only current collegian to play in the 2016 edition of the Great 8. Each year the event assists numerous players in advancing their hockey careers, and in 2016, there were 15 players who would go onto play Division I hockey including Burnsville linemate Eric Otto (now at AIC) and then-Stillwater HS goalie Josh Benson.
“It was good exposure to the scouts that were there. It was a fun tournament to help guys decide if they want to move on to juniors or not. I had a lot of fun there,” said Benson.
Benson decided to move on to juniors after his senior year. Stops in Brookings (for a month), North Iowa Bulls (NA3HL), and Fairbanks (NAHL), for a season and a half, eventually led him to Sacred Heart University, where he has been the team’s starting goaltender for three seasons.
At the Great 8, he enjoyed the challenge of being a goaltender facing other top high school players. Playing one half regardless helped prepare Benson for juniors and being ready when his number is called.
Borchardt shares the sentiment.
“Any time you can get your name out there, or play in any type of competition where teams are looking, any time you can get experience or exposure, you never know who is watching. It’s always good,” he said. “I think it helped me. I don’t know who was watching, or how much it helped me, but I had a good weekend (at the Great 8) and it could have helped me with my career.”
This year’s Ted Brill Great 8 was slightly different. There was not the usual congregating of people at Doug Woog Arena as there would be in other years due to Covid restrictions.
However, the competition was as good as it had ever been, according to MacMillan. The event featured 2021 Frank Brimsek Award winner Jack Wieneke of Maple Grove, along with Minnesota Mr. Hockey finalist Cam Boche from Lakeville South. Play with both age groups culminated with the HP Senior group from Sections 2 & 6 defeating the HP 18 team (made up of juniors) from Sections 4 & 5 to take home the championship.
These talented Minnesotans were able to get a normal tournament experience on the ice, all while also getting evaluated for the NIT Tournament that ties into the event.
“One of the things that we pride ourselves on in Minnesota is that we want to make sure that our kids know that we are taking care of them and they are going to be seen,” MacMillan said. “We want to make sure we are providing those platforms for them. We want to do that all the way through their development process from 14s all the way to the time they are seniors.
“So by going all the way through their senior year with an event like the Great 8, it allows for that to continue to happen and for us to provide it for them.”
Both Borchardt and Benson believe Minnesota Hockey helped them be seen. They each turned around and found plenty of college success.
Besides Borchardt contributing to Minnesota State’s WCHA titles and 2021 Frozen Four run, Benson has been a key part of Sacred Heart’s Atlantic Hockey turnaround 1,000 miles east of the “State of Hockey” in Fairfield, Connecticut.
The Pioneers, who recently broke ground on a new, 3,600 seat on-campus arena, won 21 games in 2019-20. Benson was in net in both games when SHU made its claim on being the top team in the state, taking home the inaugural Connecticut Ice championship with wins over neighbors Yale and Quinnipiac.
“I’ve had a great couple years here,” he said about his time at Sacred Heart. “It’s been fun to see the improvement (and added attention), and we’re going to have another good year next season. Hopefully we can keep that going.”
Knowing that opportunities for exposure exist during and after their years of high school hockey, through events like the Ted Brill Great 8, Minnesota hockey players have confidence they can simply focus on getting better and trust they will be seen by the right people.
“Our coach at Mankato, Mike Hastings, gives us a quote. He says this a lot, ‘Day by day.’,” said Borchardt, who five years earlier was warming up for the Great 8. “You don’t know what is going to happen. Your life can change fast so just living in the moment and doing whatever you can do day by day.
“I wouldn’t trade anything back from my journey. A lot of people say that three years of juniors must have been tough, or playing all your years of high school, or never leaving to another city. No matter where you are, you’ll get found. You’ll find a way to do it if you really want to do it.”
With a trip to Minnesota High School Hockey State Tournament as a senior, a Clark Cup in the USHL and now a run to the Frozen Four, it’s hard to blame him. It’s safe to say there are many looking to replicate Borchardt’s journey.