Delano senior defenseman Jack Keranen just completed a grueling six-week stint playing on one of the best teams against many of Minnesota’s top players in the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. It would seem now is perfect time for some rest and relaxation before the Minnesota State High School League season gets underway at the end of the month.
Sitting out and shutting down just isn’t the hard-driven Keranen’s style. While skipping the Minnesota Hockey-sanctioned Bridge League — a mini-high school season before the start of the MSHSL season — was an option, he never considered taking a pass.
The love of hockey is too strong in Keranen, the lure of the rink impossible to ignore. More than anything, he just likes hanging out with his buddies.
“Our team is really close, and it is really fun being in the locker room and playing with them,” Keranen said. “We joke around and laugh a lot. We are missing eight games I think because of the pandemic, so this is a good way to get some of that time back.”
The MSHSL pushed back the start of the regular season two weeks and cut the maximum number of games to from 25 to 18. It has not committed to hosting a state tournament. To “bridge” the gap between what would have been the early-November beginning of the season to it’s new Nov. 23 start date, the mostly parent-organized Bridge League was created. Delano is one of about 40 teams that are participating.
“I’m really thankful we have this,” Keranen said. “Some moms volunteered to set it up and get games, and our coach (Troy Collings) is a dad of one of the players. We’re really thankful for them giving their time to make this happen.”
Keranen and his teammates wore orange and white jerseys featuring old-school horizontal stripes and emblazoned with “Delano” on the front for their game Tuesday night against Benilde-St. Margaret’s (aka the black-and-white Fortis Wolfpack). Because the teams aren’t affiliated with or funded by their schools, several have sought out corporate sponsorship to help defray costs. In Delano, Collins said several parents began working to secure ice time as soon as the Bridge League concept started gaining traction. League start times for weekday games range from as early as 3 p.m. to as late as 9:45 p.m.
Both Benilde-St. Margaret’s, projected to be one of the top teams in Class 2A this season, and Delano (a top-five preseason pick in Class 1A) played a mixture of varsity and junior varsity players. Keranen was the only one of three Delano Elite League picks playing; Jonah Mortenson, Jackson Bisson and Grant Ellings were three of the eight BSM Elite Leaguers in the Fortis lineup.
“There’s not too many opportunities I pass on when it comes to strapping on my pads and playing with my friends,” said Mortenson, who played with Keranen on regular season champion Twin Cities Orthopedics and was picked to play on one of two Elite League all-star teams in its season-ending International Invitational Tournament.
There are no divisions or conferences in the Bridge League. Teams are free to schedule as few or as many games as they want (Delano has nine games on its schedule; BSM has seven). There is no season-ending tournament, although a league-high 13 games are scheduled for Saturday, Nov.
“The games don’t really mean much, but when you start playing you aren’t just not going to try because it doesn’t mean anything,” Keranen said.
Mortenson, who scored one of the Wolfpack’s goals in their 4-2 triumph over Delano, said the Bridge League is like an extended preseason — an opportunity for players looking to fill varsity spots to showcase their skills.
“There are guys out there who are playing for a spot,” he said. “It’s not like a regular high school game, but the boys definitely still get after it, it’s still competitive.”