Gentry Academy F Barrett Hall thrives in stints with NAHL's Minnesota Wilderness, commits to SCSU
After averaging nearly a point-per-game playing for the Wilderness, the wing garners attention from NCAA Division I programs, chooses to play for the Huskies. The 18-year-old from Apple Valley also has an outside shot at being selected in the 2022 NHL Entry Draft and is a former competitive mountain biker.
On the surface, it does not seem like there would be a lot of crossover between competitive mountain biking and playing hockey.
But if you think about taking on a steep hill on a bike and going into a corner in hockey and winning a battle for the puck, there is some common ground.
"The biggest thing for him is how smart he is, his hockey sense, hockey IQ," Minnesota Wilderness head coach/general manager Dave Boitz said. "There was hardly any adjustment period for him, which is really unusual for a kid coming out of high school. Some guys, you think they are going to be no-brainers (with adjusting) and it takes time for them to adjust because the game is coming at them faster and the brain has to react quicker.
"Barrett is so cerebral a player that he made that adjustment immediately," said Boitz, who coached Hall in the North American Hockey League this season. "He can do everything. He's got a really good stick, can handle the puck, can shoot it, a good skater. I think his other intangible is his tenacity. He was a (competitive) mountain biker and he was really into it. You can see that tenacity when he plays the game (of hockey). He's going to get where he needs to go and he's going to win that puck battle.
"When you meet Barrett as a person, he's a tall, slender, unassuming kid. You don't really think that about him," Boitz said of the 6-foot-1, 170-pound wing. "But when he's on the ice, that's exactly who he is."
That tenacity helped Hall to a productive senior season with Gentry Academy and with the Wilderness. His 25 points in 28 NAHL games ramped up the NCAA Division I hockey recruiting interest in Hall, who announced on Twitter on June 3 that he has verbally committed to play for St. Cloud State.
"St. Cloud was the last school that I visited," Hall said. "I was in contact with a lot of other schools, but as soon as I got to St. Cloud, I knew that there was no way I was going anywhere else. I didn't really have to think twice about it. I got that feeling and I knew that's where I wanted to be.
"I went on three other visits and I was in contact with quite a few other schools besides that. I'm super excited. When I went on my visit to St. Cloud, I knew that St. Cloud was right for me and that I was going to be a great fit for St. Cloud."
SCSU ties at Gentry
Hall played six games with the Wilderness as an affiliate player before the 2021-22 high school season started. He had a goal and three assists and was a plus-2 in the NAHL, but went back for his senior season at Gentry Academy in Vadnais Heights.
At Gentry, he led the Stars in assists (30), points (55), power-play assists (9), short-handed goals (4) and tied for the team lead in power-play goals (7) in 25 games and was the team's captain.
"Everyone's goal is to make it to the state tournament and win that state championship and, unfortunately, we didn't quite make it there," said Hall, whose team won the Class A state title in 2021. "It was our first year playing a (Class) AA schedule and I think we did pretty good (20-7). We lost to Hill-(Murray) in sections and they were an unbelievable team this year. But I'm quite proud of what we accomplished as a team."
There are some ties to St. Cloud State at Gentry. Joe Jensen, who played hockey for the Huskies from 2002-06, is the school's activities director. Billy Hengen, who also played for the Huskies from 2002-06, is the team's co-head coach.
"Those two guys are the guys that I train with every day during the summer," Hall said. "It's awesome to end up at the same school that they attended. They're super excited about it."
When St. Cloud State showed up on the recruiting trail, it does not sound like they tried to influence his decision.
"Surprisingly, not," Hall said with a laugh. "They left it completely up to me and were pretty unbiased."
^^^ TV story on Hall from 2020
Catching the eyes of NHL scouts
The recruiting interest in Hall really picked up when he rejoined the Wilderness to finish the regular season. He had at least one point in seven games from March 18-April 8 and had 11 assists, 15 points and was a plus-7 in that stretch.
"He was getting some interest and went to play high school and high school can be a little deceiving," Boitz said. "Barrett is so terrific with all his teammates, though, and when he played at a higher level, I think he actually was more attractive to the schools and the NHL scouts.
"They could really see who he was at the next level. I had a lot of guys tell me that he looked better playing for us than he did in high school. Some kids, the better and the higher the level that they are playing, their brain doesn't need a lot of time to adjust. Their talent really shines when they're playing with other good players.
"We don't do a lot of before and after (high school seasons) with kids," said Boitz, who has been the general manager for the Wilderness since 2015. "A lot of times, kids go and get acclimated playing at our level, go and play high school and all the other guys that stay on the junior team continue to progress and the league gets better as the season goes on ... What happens is a lot of kids come back from high school and it's a real struggle. Barrett seemed to be at another level when he came back."
Hall helped the Wilderness, who took fourth in the division during the regular season, reach the Midwest Division championship series. It sounds like he took a lot away from his time in the NAHL.
"It was nice to take in that next level hockey and play at a higher pace and I think it did wonders for me going into the high school season," he said. "To go back after the high school season and get more experience and just grow as a player and as a person was just awesome."
Hall is not likely to go back to the Tier II Wilderness. He was taken in Phase II of the Tier I United States Hockey League Draft (third overall) by the Green Bay Gamblers. Then it will be a matter of how his development goes and how many forwards the Huskies will need after the next season or two as to when he joins the college team.
He could also be taken in the late rounds of the 2022 NHL Entry Draft, which will take place July 7-8 in Montreal. Boitz said that the NHL scouts he has spoken to see Hall's upside.
"He's really strong for the size he is and if he continues to fill out that frame, what's he going to be in 3, 4, 5 years?" Boitz said. "That brain is not going anywhere.
"When you watch Barrett play, you don't go, 'wow, what an unbelievable skater,' or 'wow, what an unbelievable shot,'" Boitz said. "But what you do come away saying is, man, this kid can shoot, he's a good skater, he's strong ... What a lot of non-hockey people don't understand — and the hockey guys do — is the brain. They see how he gets to open ice and the plays he makes. That's the stuff that wows the college and NHL guys. That's what sets him apart ... Those are the guys that usually make it and play a lot of hockey down the road."