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St. Paul Revival

By Loren Nelson, 12/12/21, 1:15PM CST


Highland Park has bright future despite dwindling numbers at nearby programs

St. Paul Highland Park junior Charile Eischens heads up ice with the puck during Saturday's game against South St. Paul. Photo by Loren Nelson,

St. Paul Highland Park's Javier Hamlin.

Charlie Eischens’ skates were nothing more than blur. Sort of like the Roadrunner’s legs when they really get spinning during those classic old-school cartoons.

Eischens, a junior forward, used his very particular set of skills — speed, tenacity and “feistiness,” as St. Paul Highland Park coach Brandon Ferraro puts it — to almost singlehandedly kill a second-period penalty during the Scots’ 3-1 victory over South St. Paul on Saturday at Doug Woog Arena in South St. Paul.

Eischens’ tornado-like destruction of two South St. Paul defenders drew a collective round of applause from the Scots’ cheering section. It was one of many moments Saturday in which the Scots’ leaders played their roles to perfection.

Javier Hamlin, a senior forward with a rocket shot, scored twice for Highland Park. His goal with 3:45 left in the second put the Scots ahead 3-1. 

“He's definitely our best shooter,” Eischens said about Hamlin, who shared the team lead in points last season. “He can place it wherever he wants, high or low. It’s good to see him bury some there.”

The feel-good triumph was much needed for Highland Park. The Scots lost to Section 4A rival Simley 3-2 on Thursday on a goal that just beat the buzzer to end the third period.

“I couldn’t sleep for three hours after that one,” Ferraro said.

“We just didn't get the little things right in the big moments,” Eischens said about the Simley loss. “So it was kind of good to get another win here today.”

Added Hamlin: “I think we all had a sour taste in our mouth. So we wanted to get one back here.”

Last-second dramatics never were a consideration Saturday, as Highland Park (3-4-0) played mostly shutdown defense in the third, limiting South St. Paul (1-2-0) to five shots.

The Packers are a sophomore-dominated team (15 are listed on the roster) still learning the intricacies of varsity hockey.

“You don’t realize it all the time, but we’re young,” South St. Paul coach Pete Schultz said. “We’re going through (starting lineup) introductions and you go sophomore, sophomore, sophomore, ninth grader, and you're like, OK, that’s interesting.”

While the immediate future looks promising for both Highland Park and South St. Paul, other programs in the St. Paul area have struggled to keep their programs alive. North St. Paul merged with Minnehaha Academy a few years ago, and St. Paul Como Park shut down its program in 2016. St. Paul Johnson, the standard-bearer of St. Paul hockey with its four state championships amassed in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, is also facing a numbers crunch.

“Numbers are down in a lot of places, including communities like ours,” Schultz said. “You know, the sport is expensive.”

Ferraro, in his second season leading Highland Park, is working to ensure the Scots not only survive, but thrive. There are about 38 players in the Scots’ program, which co-ops with St. Paul Central and was re-born at the varsity level in 2010-11.

Ferraro oversaw the startup at the junior varsity level two seasons before that. In previous decades, most hockey players at Highland Park migrated to nearby private schools Cretin-Derham Hall or St. Thomas Academy.

“He's done a great job going to our youth games, the St. Paul Capitals, and persuading those kids to come here, and it's helped us out a lot,” Eischens said. “We have the most numbers right now than we ever had."

Highland Park was deep enough to win Saturday despite the absence of top-line forwards Jacob Bell and Peter Douma, who have been out for an extended period because of illness and injuries. Losses such as those would have been devastating for a Scots program that barely had enough players to field a team when it re-started a decade ago.

Now? Just define everyone’s roles, open the gate and let them play. Eischens, especially, needs little in the way of extra motivation.

“Chuck’s insane, he's a madman,” Hamlin said about Eischens’ superb second-period penalty kill. 

“Yeah, I was pretty gassed after that one,” Eischens said.

St. Paul Highland Park sophomore Emmett Eischens fires a backhand shot at South St. Paul sophomore goaltender Wyatt Cheney. Photo by Loren Nelson,

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