By Dan Marrazza, NBCOlympics.com
In the hockey world, the fame this high school’s ability to develop hockey’s elite attracts is only exceeded by the mystery surrounding it.
Sidney Crosby. Zach Parise. Jonathan Toews. Jack Johnson. Kyle Okposo.
These names, all Olympic probables for their respective nations, all once had their paths to the pinnacle of the hockey world pass through suburban Faribault, Minn., -- 50 miles south of the Twin Cities -- to play high school hockey at Shattuck (pictured below), the Hogwarts-looking boarding school that only enrolls about 440 high school students per year.
To outsiders, the questions are usually the same: “What is it about Shattuck-St. Mary’s that both attracts the most talented youngsters in North America and molds them into hockey stars?”
To those who attend the school, however, Shattuck’s track record is far less mysterious.
“It’s just the entire environment,” says Jack Johnson, an Indianapolis-born, Michigan-raised defenseman for the NHL’s Columbus Blue Jackets who won a silver medal with the U.S. men’s Olympic hockey team in the 2010 Vancouver Games.
“Everything’s hockey. Weekends or nights when you don’t have a game or you don’t have practice and your homework is done, you can just go over to the rink and play pickup hockey -- basically pond hockey -- for hours.
“That’s the special thing about that school and the environment. You just go out and play with your classmates and teammates who are all these good hockey players -- you just get better without even realizing it.
“I can’t imagine a much better place to send your kid if he’s serious about being a hockey player.”
“You have the ice right there and can skate any time you aren’t in class,” adds Crosby, whose one year at Shattuck as a 15 year old in 2002-03 landed him in the school at the same time as Johnson.
“The school and the hockey there is the best of both worlds."
Besides being something out of "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" -- a curious place surrounded by high fences that outsiders don’t know much about except for its incomparable finished products -- of the hockey world, in terms of the Olympics, what’s so unique about Shattuck is not just that it cultivates hockey virtuosos who’ll represent their countries in Sochi.
What's so unique about Shattuck is since it attracts students from such a wide range of hometowns -- Crosby having grown up in Nova Scotia, Canada, and Johnson in Ann Arbor, Mich., for example -- it actually might be the only high school on the planet that creates Olympians competing against one another in Sochi.
“There’s obviously bragging rights,” says Johnson, who won a silver medal with the U.S. in 2010 after being denied gold by his former classmate Crosby’s Canadian squad.
“But there’s also a lot of respect -- if you were a Shattuck guy, there’s that bond.”
In the case of Johnson and Crosby -- the best of friends in high school -- the bond is as solid as granite.
Because at Shattuck, Johnson and Crosby played hockey together, attended classes together, lived in dorms together, ate together and even FOUGHT together.
“Once hockey season’s over -- that’s obviously fall and winter -- you still have a couple months of school left,” says Johnson. “It’s mandatory to do a spring activity, and they don’t want you just sitting around the dorms twiddling your thumbs. So I just did baseball because some of my buddies (Crosby) were doing it.
“Someone threw kind of high and hard at him (Crosby) once,” added Johnson. It just missed him and looked like it was pretty blatant. I decided there’s only one way you can have a legit reason to go on out after a pitcher -- so (next time up), I just stepped into a pitch and got hit on purpose, and then I went out after him (the pitcher).
“I chased the pitcher way out past second base. Sid came out and went after their catcher or something.”
“I was just off to the side holding their catcher, I think,” confirms Crosby. “I think Jack was throwing most (of the punches). It was a little of bringing the hockey mentality, I guess.”
“I got thrown out of the game, and thrown out of the league,” added Johnson. "But I wasn’t too devastated -- it’s not like I ruined my baseball career or anything."
Ruin Johnson’s career his baseball fisticuffs did not. But strengthen his friendship with Crosby, it most certainly did.
Just don’t expect that friendship to get in the way of their competitive spirits with gold medals on the line in Sochi.
Because after all, what’s a little fighting among friends, anyway?
I love that this article translates "some of my buddies" to Crosby.