Puck Drop
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Are you looking for some high-end high school hockey and don’t want to wait until November, when Minnesota’s prep season starts? You’re in luck because you can see it beginning this weekend.

The Upper Midwest High School Elite League opens its season Saturday with boys’ games at New Hope Ice Arena and girls’ games at the National Sports Center Super Rink. The leagues are designed to provide standout players supplementary games to the Minnesota State High School League schedule, with the hope that players choose to stay with their high school programs rather the leave for junior hockey or AAA teams.

“It’s the best-kept secret in Minnesota,’’ said Bob Fallen, a member of the league’s board of directors. “… To be show up and see literally dozens of people who’ll be on the Gophers, the Bulldogs or the Huskies, it’s amazing.’’

The boys’ league, in its 18th year and started by Herb Brooks and Ted Brill, among others, will run eight weeks leading to the high school season and have games in seven cities: Duluth, Faribault, Mendota Heights, New Hope, Grand Rapids, Eau Claire, Wis.; and Fargo, N.D. The games are open to the public, and admission is $5.

Players are selected by the league with consultations with high school coaches, NHL Central Scouting and Minnesota Hockey officials, among others. There also is a tryout process to qualify for the league.

The level of the players is impressive, with 27 boys this season who have committed to NCAA Division I schools, led by seven to the Gophers and five to Wisconsin. Minnesota Duluth, the two-time defending NCAA men’s champion, had 18 Elite League alumni on its 2018-19 title team. During the 2018-19 season, 54 Elite League alums played at least one NHL game. Included in that were stars such as Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Jake Guentzel, Nathan MacKinnon and Jonathan Toews.

“There’s generally 20 to 40 NHL scouts at every game,’’ said Fallen, a former commissioner of the United States Hockey League.

Most of the teams competing in the Elite League feature MSHSL players, but it also includes Shattuck-St. Mary’s of Faribault, a squad of Wisconsin players and the U.S. National Team Development Program’s Under-17 team.

On the girls’ side, the league will have more than 80 players who have made college commitments to NCAA Division I or III schools. “We have some [Elite League] teams that have 80 percent of their players committed,’’ Fallen said.

Elite indeed.