By Dave Krider
Jordan Schroeder lives in a highly accelerated world – and he loves every minute of it.
Ranked as the No. 1 high school hockey player in the USA, Schroeder is on a fast track toward greatness. He is in such a hurry, in fact, that he is going to graduate a year early, at age 17. He attends Pioneer High in Ann Arbor, Mich., often called Hockey High because most of the players in USA Hockey’s National Development Program take classes there.
The 5-foot-9, 180-pound forward leads the U.S. National Under-18 team with 38 points on 14 goals and 24 assists. He has scored four game-winning goals and five power-play goals. In international competition, he also is the pacesetter with 13 points (six goals and seven assists) in eight games.
He took five online classes last summer and is carrying a heavy load during the school year, too, so he can graduate this spring following what actually is only his junior year. That means he can realize his life-long dream a year earlier than expected.
“I always dreamed of playing for the Gophers (University of Minnesota),” he told MaxPreps. “I never thought about being No. 1 in the country. I grew up south of Minneapolis and was able to go to games when I was younger. To be one (a Gopher) is a dream come true. I’m real excited about it (No. 1 ranking). It’s an honor, but I don’t focus on it right now. I just focus on my game. I’m kind of trying to keep that out of my mind and stay humble.”
John Hynes, who has coached Schroeder for the past two years, says he “has got a very high, high hockey IQ. He has a great sense of the game. He understands when to make plays and when not to. He is an excellent skater, has very good hands and is pretty complete as far as mental and physical skills. He’s a real focused, focused kid.”
Ron Rolston also has coached Schroeder during international competition. He calls him “an exceptional offensive player. He has real good speed and excellent hockey sense. He’s going to be an elite player now and for years to come.”
Schroeder concedes that as far as hockey is concerned, “I was born into it. I started skating at four and playing at five. Everyone around me was playing hockey. We had a pond in the neighbor’s yard and during the summer we played street hockey. I’d have to say I was more of a natural skater. Puck handling is hard to work on, but that came pretty quickly.”
He also played baseball (shortstop) until ninth grade and still plays a lot of golf in the summer. Those sports helped add to his natural speed and hand-eye coordination.
Playing for the Minnesota Blades traveling team at age 10, he received a big thrill when his team won the prestigious Winnipeg Champions Cup in Canada. With the Blades trailing by two goals and only a couple minutes left, he rammed home a pair of game-tying goals just 30 seconds apart and his team won in a shootout.
As an eighth grader, Schroeder helped the varsity at St. Thomas Academy in Mendota Heights, Minn., place fourth in the Class A state tournament. In fact, he was the team’s leading scorer with 48 points.
Then, as a freshman, he again was the leading scorer with 64 points as he sparked the Cadets to the Class A state championship. He had one goal as St. Thomas edged Duluth Marshall, 4-3. “That’s something I’ll never forget,” he stressed, noting that it still is his greatest thrill.
Greg Vannelli, co-coach with his brother, Tom, recalled that when Schroeder appeared at tryouts the first day, “We were stunned. We had never even thought about playing an eighth grader (on the varsity). We asked his parents to let him skip bantam hockey altogether. He was the real deal. He could do things that were so amazing.
“It was funny seeing him with seniors. He had to get a ride each day with a senior. You hardly could see his head above the window. He’s just so humble. As an eighth grader he had a hat trick in the first state tournament game. At breakfast the next day he wouldn’t read the paper. The kids were saying, ‘Hey, your picture’s in the paper.’ ’’
Losing a player of Schroeder’s caliber after his freshman year “was a sad thing,” Vannelli conceded. “As a teacher and coach, we want a player to develop off the rink, too. Colleges are taking kids earlier now and that all trickles down to us. From a teacher’s standpoint it’s not good, but in Jordan’s case he was 14 going on 18. Most kids are not that mature at that age.”
Though Schroeder was on top of the world, he suddenly had a momentous decision to make when USA Hockey came calling. Actually, it wasn’t really that hard. After all, his life already was dominated by hockey, so off he went to Ann Arbor.
“Being away from home is a little challenging,” he conceded, “but I love it here. I’ve felt comfortable and I’ve never really doubted anything. I have five classes and put in five or six hours a day at the rink. I come home, eat dinner, do homework (he has a 3.85 GPA) and basically have no free time. I knew I was ready and could step up to the college level. I’ve really boosted my confidence and I’m so glad I accelerated.”
The rugged international competition also has made him a smarter and stronger player. He says, “I’ll take a body when I have to, but I’m not going to go around trying to kill guys.”
His two years of wearing the Red, White and Blue of the USA have produced many memorable moments. He fingers his best performance as a six-point effort (three goals and three assists) in a 6-5 overtime victory against Finland earlier this season at the Four Nations Tournament in Switzerland. His goals included the game winner. He’s won a gold and silver medal in international competition.
During the 2007-08 season, he already has played in Switzerland, the Czech Republic and Finland with Russia coming up in April. The players did have one off day to visit Lucerne in Switzerland, but as far as regular sight seeing, forget it! It’s hockey, hockey, hockey. It’s also homework on the plane, in the airport, etc. He estimates that players miss about 35 school days each year due to travel.
Asked about goals, Schroeder replied, “This year to win gold at the Under-18 World Championships (in Russia). Long-term – to be an impact player at the University of Minnesota and make it to the NHL.”
The NHL goal would enable him to tangle with his idol, Sidney Crosby of the Pittsburgh Penguins. “He’s such a great guy on and off the ice,” Schroeder praised. “He was the captain at age 19. He’s very humble and a real classy guy.”
Ironically, however, Schroeder will not be eligible for this spring’s NHL draft. Though he is the top-ranked high school player and has accelerated his classes tremendously, he still is too young to be draft-eligible until 2009. That means he will be able to live out his dream – being a Gopher – for at least one year and perhaps more.