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McFeely: Moorhead High, NDSU grad the money behind controversial hockey power Gentry Academy

Chuck Lucius made his fortune in wealth management and insurance industries before founding school that beat Spuds girls in state tournament.

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Gentry Academy forward Cara Sajevic (7) puts the puck past Moorhead defender Olivia Dronen (7) and Moorhead goaltender Taylor Kressin (30) to score in the first period Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

MOORHEAD — Moorhead High School's girls hockey team was overwhelmed in the quarterfinals of the Class 2A state tournament last week, losing 7-0 to the team that eventually won the championship. That would be Gentry Academy, identified as a charter school in the St. Paul suburb of Vadnais Heights.

One thing your intrepid, extremely casual hockey observer columnist has since learned: If you want a strong opinion from rabid hockey followers, particularly those from Minnesota, simply say two words.

Gentry Academy.

The columnist also learned most rabid hockey followers with strong opinions don't want to be quoted about Gentry Academy. Most, not all. We'll get to that later.

Such is the controversial nature of Gentry, which is either just another charter school with good hockey programs or an elite hockey academy masquerading as a legitimate academic enterprise.


It is the hottest debate in Minnesota hockey circles, which is saying something because it's not like suburban and outstate high schools and hockey families haven't dabbled in transfers and open enrollment for years.

Gentry Academy was founded and is owned by the husband-wife pair of Chuck and Tami Lucius, who made a fortune in the wealth management/insurance world with their Gradient Financial Group.

Here's the local hook: Chuck Lucius is a 1966 graduate of Moorhead High School who played hockey for the first Spuds teams, later graduating from North Dakota State University with a degree in psychology.

Also, the head coach of the boys team at Gentry is Joe Cullen, a member of the well-known local hockey family who played for the Spuds in the 1990s.

According to his website, Lucius was in the Air Force ROTC at NDSU, joining the Air Force to become a pilot. He flew planes during the latter stages of the Vietnam War, returned home and worked in the insurance business before starting his own company and eventually founding Gradient.

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Gentry Academy forward Cara Sajevic (7) sends the puck past Moorhead goaltender Taylor Kressin (30) for a hat trick in the first period Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Gentry Academy opened for the 2014-15 school year and offered boys and girls varsity hockey, plus about a half-dozen other sports in cooperation with nearby private schools. Gentry also ran an under-16 travel hockey team, on which the Luciuses youngest sons, Chaz and Cruz, competed.

Chaz and Cruz made headlines when they committed to the University of Minnesota at ages 14 and 13. They never played for the Gentry high school team. Chaz was a first-round draft pick of the Winnipeg Jets and signed with the NHL team in April 2022 after battling injuries during his lone season with the Gophers. Cruz switched destinations and went to Wisconsin, where he is the leading scorer on a last-place Badgers team this season.

There seems to be two issues traditional high school hockey people have with Gentry: 1) It's viewed as a hockey training academy more than a high school and 2) the fact the Minnesota State High School League approved Gentry to compete against traditional public and private schools.


One person closely involved with high school hockey who was at the girls state tournament last weekend said the biggest beef is with the MSHSL, which oversees high school activities in the state, for allowing Gentry into the league.

"What I heard was why did they let them in? If it wants to be an elite hockey academy, why doesn't it just do what Shattuck-St. Mary's does and go play in Tier I?" the person said.

Teams can't have their cake and eat it too by offering a class AA schedule to their recruits, transfers, and open-enrollees and a guarantee to play on television in the state Class A tournament.
"I think we were really nervous," said Spuds coach Ryan Kraft after the game.
A look back at a dozen or so of the defining moments of the past 12 months for the Gophers men's hockey team, which enters 2023 with high hopes and high expectations.
After one productive but injury-shortened college hockey season, Minnesota Gophers freshman forward Chaz Lucius signed his first professional contract with designs on playing in the NHL next season.
The streaking Stars beat every team ranked above them on their path to a first girls state championship.
Minnetonka scored just two minutes into the game but couldn't find the back of the net for the rest of the 49 minutes of the semifinal match.

Shattuck is a prep school in Faribault that's produced NHL superstars Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise and Jonathan Toews among many others. Tier I teams play a national schedule against other academies. There is no smokescreen about Shattuck's purpose: It develops elite hockey players.

In media interviews, Gentry's director has vigorously defended the school's academic standards. Others aren't so sure.

MSHSL executive director Erich Martens says Gentry meets the criteria to be a league member.

"Gentry Academy is a Minnesota Department of Education approved public charter school authorized by a state approved authorizer, Innovative Quality Schools. Similar to all other Minnesota public schools, Gentry Academy has the opportunity to voluntarily join the Minnesota State High School League with an approved membership application indicating their commitment to meet the rules and expectations of member schools," Martens said in an email.

The specific issue with Gentry seems to be that hockey players can use their physical education option to walk to an arena across the street from the school to skate. It gives them extra ice time in addition to daily practice that traditional schools don't get.


Those gripes about Gentry jibe with what the Star Tribune reported recently.

"Their kids are skating when mine are in calculus," one perturbed girls coach told the newspaper. "They are not trying to conform to the values of the MSHSL. They want to be different and have everyone conform to them. Fine, then go be different and compete in Tier I like Shattuck-St. Mary's."

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Gentry Academy goaltender Zoe Laming (35) and forward Elsa Myers (12) keep out a shot by Moorhead forward Addie Salvevold (25) in the first period Thursday, Feb. 23, 2023, at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
Jason Wachter / The Rink Live

Many traditional schools in the Twin Cities area are refusing to schedule Gentry in protest.

One hockey coach who has no problem with Gentry is the coach of Moorhead girls team, Ryan Kraft. The former Spud, Gopher and NHL player says a model like Gentry's will push public schools to be better.

"I have no problem with it. I think it's great," Kraft said. "They are bringing better players into Minnesota and raising the bar. It forces teams in Minnesota to be better. It forces everyone else to work a little harder. From a pure developmental standpoint, it improves our game."

Kraft believes if the state high school league is going to allow the model, then it's up to the rest of the teams to figure out a way to match Gentry.

"It's not about the ice time for me. It more about the 'Let's get this group of kids together who are really talented and go win a state championship,' " Kraft said. "The high school league is either going to have to pull the reins back on one school or allow everybody else to do it."

Chuck Lucius and Joe Cullen, the Moorhead connections to Gentry Academy, didn't immediately respond to messages seeking comment.


Twin Cities radio personality Justin Gaard summed up the feelings of many with a Twitter post Saturday after Gentry beat defending state champ Andover 4-1 for the state title.

"Gentry Academy kid thanking her family back home in California after winning State pretty much says it all, does it not?" Gaard wrote.

Of note: Gentry beat Minnetonka (semifinals) and Andover (championship) en route to the title. Both traditional powers are known for being transfer destinations for skilled female hockey players.

Opinion by Mike McFeely
Mike McFeely is a columnist for The Forum of Fargo-Moorhead. He began working for The Forum in the 1980s while he was a student studying journalism at Minnesota State University Moorhead. He's been with The Forum full time since 1990, minus a six-year hiatus when he hosted a local radio talk-show.
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