Jared Festler can finally take a deep breath.
After being badgered for months about his hockey future, the Little Falls Flyers standout has decided to forego his senior year in high school and play the 2007-08 season for the Lincoln, Neb., Stars of the United States Hockey League.
Festler is one of the most prolific scorers in Central Minnesota boys' hockey history. Last season he had 71 goals and 125 total points, helping the Flyers to their third-straight Class 1A state tournament.
The leading scorer in Little Falls hockey history said it was an agonizing decision but one he is relieved to have finally made. He believes he's ready for the competition in the USHL, the opportunity to better himself and to compete every day.
"It was very difficult, especially my senior year," Festler said Wednesday. "All the guys I know who went through their senior year say it was their best year, their best year with their friends.
"It was really tough. It was very close to being even, but I just thought I should take the next step in hockey."
The 2008-09 St. Cloud State University recruit said the Huskies didn't try to influence his decision.
"They backed me up, whatever way I went," he said. "They were good about it."
Festler said Lincoln likes his nose for the net and ability on the power play.
"They said I would be a top two-liner for sure, as long as I work hard and keep competing every day," he said.
Age: 17 (Oct. 14, 1989)
Weight: 170 pounds
Position: Left wing
High school career: 136 goals, 111 assists, 247 total points
Festler conceded it will be a bit daunting to leave family and friends in Little Falls and meet new people in Nebraska. He plans to leave Little Falls in mid-August and start school Aug. 22 in Lincoln.
"It will be different, especially since as a senior I will only have about seven months I will be there because I will come back and graduate in Little Falls," he said. "It's going to be tough to meet new kids, especially at this age."
Festler played three seasons for the Flyers, helping them to sixth place in 1A in 2005, fourth in 2006. Last season Little Falls did not place.
"It's been great," Festler said of his high school career. "When (Flyers head coach) Tony (Couture) started coaching he didn't have the greatest teams. He kept working with kids at the youth level, building them up for when they got to high school to make a run for the state tournament. The coaching staff was great. They've done a great job through the years. The kids were great.
"We had great leadership when I was younger. We had a great group of kids around me. That's what I'm going to miss a lot, I will miss those kids."
Mike Bialka can be reached at email@example.com or at 855-5861.
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