Kelly: Max Johnson shows staying in high school isn’t so bad

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Max Johnson looks downfield to make a play during the 2016  state tournament, which he would not have played in if he left early for the USHL.

Jim Lindquist

Max Johnson looks downfield to make a play during the 2016 state tournament, which he would not have played in if he left early for the USHL.

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Staying in high school for four years isn’t so bad. Just ask Max Johnson.

A forward on the hockey team and a face-off specialist on the lacrosse team, Johnson experienced no shortage of success in his high school career. He played on two-fourth place lacrosse teams, a boys hockey team that took second and then completed a perfect season with a state title the following year.

He added a boys lacrosse state-runner up finish on Saturday, which would not have been possible had he decided to go to the United States Hockey League early, a decision many high school kids make.

The USHL is just one place high school athletes many times have the opportunity to leave for. Some leave for other hockey leagues. Others may join their college team early.

Some circumstances make sense for an athlete to leave early—it’s not all bad.

But one thing remains constant for most in the high school sports world: you will have a difficult time finding an athlete who regretted staying in high school.

Johnson is among that majority.

“I definitely don’t regret it,” said Johnson after the loss in the state title game to Prior Lake. “It is an amazing thing to stay and graduate with all of your buddies.”

Johnson had several opportunities to leave. He, at one point, had the chance to forgo his senior year of hockey and lacrosse. Johnson, however, decided to come back for hockey, the sport he will play at the Division-I level for Bowling Green State University.

His college coaches pushed him to stay, seeing the value in staying in high school just as Nick and Jack Poehling and Jack McNeely did for their senior year of hockey.

Oh, and did I mention they had a season for the history books? Those three also completed the 31-0 state championship season with Johnson.

Johnson was smart and realized the value in playing one more year alongside his best friends he grew up with, something he won’t be able to do again.

Despite NHL aspirations, Johnson realized he did not have to make it happen as a 17 year old.

“(Nick, Jack and Jack) impacted me because they taught me you don’t need to rush things to succeed,” Johnson told me last summer.

Although he decided to come back for his senior hockey season, he originally did not make that decision for lacrosse. He planned to leave Lakeville North early to go play for the Sioux Falls Stampede of the USHL this spring.

The Stampede told him they would not need him this spring, though. But Johnson still was not sure about lacrosse.

He eventually came to the decision to return to play his second sport, and his team was certainly glad he did.

“Having him come back was a huge boost of confidence for our team,” Lakeville North coach Jeff Wright said. “Quite honestly, without Max competing with us this year, it would be a very, very different team. He is the heartbeat of our team.”

Thanks to Johnson’s efforts, the Panthers finished with their best finish in program history. Not to mention, he grabbed a spot on the all-state tournament team.

If he had left early, forget both of those accolades—not to mention the memories he created over the course of Lakeville North’s 16-3 season.

And he will still have the opportunity to play in the USHL next year before he heads to Bowling Green.

Leaving early does not always produce bad results. But I guarantee you this: if you stay in high school, you won’t regret it.

Just ask Max Johnson. 

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