Duluth East claimed the Summer Festival title with a 5-2 win over Eastview at Braemar Arena. Credit: Peter Odney.
After nearly three decades as a coach, including 14 years as a member of the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association board, Farmington native John Barger is still keeping the State of Hockey on its toes.
Barger is the driving force behind the annual Summer Hockey Festival, a tournament played each July since 1998, featuring several prominent high school programs and the majority of players who will makes waves and headlines come hockey season.
Last weekend's Festival action saw Wayzata, Duluth East, Lakeville North and Eden Prairie, among other Division I hotbeds, descend on Edina’s Braemar Arena and the Bloomington Ice Garden in a culmination of the work teams have put in during the offseason.
In this season’s final, Duluth East downed Eastview 5-2 to go 5-0 on the weekend, scoring victories over 2016 Class AA state tournament participants Wayzata and Lakeville South in the process.
The origins of the Festival were rooted in Barger’s ingenuity and connections across the state’s coaching ranks.
“I just called a bunch of coaches, we had 16 teams the first time, and it’s been going ever since,” Barger explained.
Barger spent time as the head coach at St. Louis Park, Burnsville, Brainerd, Austin and New Prague in addition to a stint as an assistant at Northfield, and was inducted into the MHCA Hall of Fame in 2013.
In his time on the MHCA board, Barger and his colleagues were tasked with finding new ways to entice talented players to stay in Minnesota and complete their high school careers. Barger added that the Upper Midwest Fall Elite League also plays an important role in addition to the summer work in retaining players.
“We fought all the time to keep our kids from going to juniors, and worked really hard (for the ability) to work with our kids in the summer,” Barger said.
The extra time on the ice also gives players who may be on the bubble between junior varsity and varsity squads more of a chance to make an impression on their coaches, and not just while skating between traffic cones in a controlled practice environment.
“Now you get to see the kids all summer, and in really good situations when it counts,” Barger said.
Credit: Peter Odney.