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On the fast track

It's beginning to become a habit.

For the second-straight year -- and the fourth time this decade -- a Park girls hockey player has garnered some serious national attention.

Anna Keys, who will be a freshman at Park High School this fall, was one of only 15 Minnesotan girls hockey players selected to participate in the elite 2010 Minnesota Hockey Girls Advanced 15 USA Hockey program.

Keys, a defender, joins teammate Allie Morse -- the Wolfpack's current goalie who was selected to the team last year -- along with 2008 Park graduate Jac Daggit, who is a junior defender at St. Cloud State and Missy Elumba, who was a four-year player at Northeastern University, as the only other Park girls hockey players ever selected to the national program.

"I think this says a lot for Anna as an individual and for Cottage Grove girls hockey," Park head girls hockey coach Steve Morse said. "For Anna, this recognizes the caliber of player that she is -- which we know -- and it gives her a chance to play against the best players her age and get some great coaching."

Being chosen to the clinic means Keys will join 102 hockey players from across the United States for a hockey camp in Rochester, N.Y. from July 22 to July 28, and puts Keys among the top six defenders in the state of Minnesota and the top 36 players in the country in her age group.

To reach the final 102 players nationwide, Keys took part in a six-phase selection process that began back in March and culminated with the Minnesota Hockey Summer Camp from June 12 to 17 at Minnesota State University - Mankato.

Anna's father, Doug Keys, didn't fully believe his daughter would be among the final 102 players from across the country chosen for the camp.

"We were kind of surprised, but it's great," Doug Keys said. "She's pretty fortunate to have this opportunity. She's excited."

Doug Keys said Anna is one of the youngest girls selected to the 15-and-under camp and that her style of play is more like that of a stay-at-home defenseman.

"She sees the ice really well," Doug Keys said. "She makes the correct plays and good passes. She's a good skater. She's just steady and overall a well-rounded player and a good team player, too. She doesn't look flashy, but she must have done the right things, because she caught somebody's eye."

At the national camp, the 102 girls invited will be split into six teams. On top of daily training, those six teams will play against each other every night.

Doug Keys said Anna has talked to Allie Morse about her experience at the camp.

"Allie has just told her it was a great experience," Doug Keys said. "I heard it's tough on them, though, and they work them pretty hard.

It's some of the best players around,

so you have to do your best to stay with them I hear."

Being chosen for the camp will put Keys on the radar at every Division I college and could put her in a position to play internationally for USA hockey some day -- maybe even in the Olympics.

However, those things aren't the focus for the Keys family at this point.

"I think deep down playing college hockey is something she'd like to do," Doug Keys said. "We try not to talk about that stuff too much. But, I could see that being one of her goals. Whatever happens will be great."

Keys began playing hockey at a very young age.

There are many hockey players in the Keys family, including Anna's older brother, Trevor, who will be a senior at Park in the fall and her father, Doug, who is a coach at Park and played hockey almost his entire life -- in college at Gustavus Adolphus and professionally in Europe. Also, Anna's grandpa played hockey and two of her cousins both played Div. I women's college hockey -- at Ohio State and at Bemidji State.

Anna played boys hockey until she was a Pee Wee.

"We had a little rink in the back yard and she was out there trying to chase her brother right away when she was 3 or 4-years old," Doug Keys said. "I think you learn a lot just watching the game. If you're interested in it and are around it you really pick up a lot. She's a rink rat, too. She just loves being at the rink, skating and being around it."

Anna accomplished a rare feat last year, playing an entire season of varsity hockey as an eighth-grader.

Steve Morse said Anna played a key role for the team last year.

"We saw her mature as a player from the beginning of the season to the end of the season," Steve Morse said. "Seeing her play this summer, she's gotten even more mature as a player, pretty quickly. What that says is that when she has an opportunity to raise her game she will do that. She has a lot of potential to be a really great player."

Steve Morse said the thing that sticks out in his mind about Anna's is her overall game.

"She is a very well-rounded player," Morse said. "She's really very athletically gifted and she is a very balanced player. She can score goals, but she does her job defensively. She is a very levelheaded player and is a very mature player.

"Also, she's just a great kid. last year she came in and fit in well as an eighth-grader. She always has a smile on her face, even while she's working her butt off."

Steve Morse, who watched his daughter Allie compete in the National Select Camp, said going through the process and playing in New York will be good for Anna and the Park girls hockey team.

"It will be an experience that will, surprisingly in just over a week's time, mature her as a player," Steve Morse said. "Most players don't get an opportunity to do that."

Now, the only things unsettled prior to the camp are the travel arrangements.

"We've talked about it," Doug Keys said. "I think my wife, Karen, and myself are going to go out there and spend at least a couple of days. But, whatever happens, it's going to be a great opportunity for her. I think this will help her be a lot more confident next year coming back as a freshman. I think she'll know she can play with some of the best players around."

Patrick Johnson
Patrick Johnson has been the South Washington County Bulletin’s sports editor since 2008. He reports on and oversees coverage of high school and amateur sports in south Washington County and Woodbury. Prior to joining the Bulletin, Johnson worked for other Twin Cities suburban newspapers. He is a University of Minnesota graduate.
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