Archived Story

Progress: No Ordinary Quitter

Published 12:00pm Tuesday, March 8, 2011

After weighing many options to play hockey after high school, Royce ultimately chose to stay in Albert Lea and play for the Thunder, a Tier II Junior A hockey team.

Adam Royce, sitting, signed with the Albert Lea Thunder after weighing other options in the fall of 2008. He eventually left the team after becoming suspicious of favoritism, which turned out to be a pay-to-play scandal. -- File photo

He was meant to be the hometown star who brought locals to the City Arena.

“I thought it was going to be a great opportunity for me and a great thing for the community,” Royce said.

But into his first season with the team, in 2008, Royce started becoming suspicious. He noticed the general manager’s son was on the team and his son’s friends, too. Certain players were getting to play, even though they weren’t as good as some others. He came out and told the community as much in the Tribune, too. It was the first hint of the scandal to come.

“It all started to add up and make sense,” Royce said.

Then the Thunder’s head coach, Paul Willet, left the team.

“I realized he was upset that he didn’t have a input on who made the team,” Royce said. “There were players at tryouts who played for other junior programs and had more talent than players who made the final roster.”

Royce said he wondered why the team wasn’t signing United States Hockey League players who were cut or veterans from other junior programs.

“At that point I knew something illegal was going on,” Royce said. “There was little potential in the program being successful.”

Adam Royce follows through on a shot attempt on Feb. 15, 2008, when he was a senior on the Albert Lea High School boys’ hockey team. The game was against Winona, finishing the regular season. The Tigers finished with a 15-3 regular-season mark. -- Jeff Budlong/ Albert Lea Tribune

Royce told the coaches he wanted to quit but they encouraged him not to. They offered him to be traded but Royce declined.

“If I wasn’t going to play in my hometown, I didn’t want to play at all,” he said.

Royce said he heard rumors that some players were paying to play but didn’t know for sure if that was true at the time.

The news of the scandal broke in the Albert Lea Tribune in November 2009. The team allowed parents to pay to ensure playing time for their sons for two years. When the team didn’t uphold that deal for one player in the second year, the father came forth and told the Tribune everything. Royce’s suspicions were confirmed.

“I wished the coaches and player only the best and just went on my way,” Royce said. “It was very unfortunate how everything turned out. It truly could have been a great thing for all the players and especially our community.”

The North American Hockey League revoked the ownership and ran the team for the remainder of the 2009-2010 season. After, the roster was sold to a franchise in Amarillo, Texas.

Hero: Adam Royce

Secret identity: student at Minnesota State University-Mankato and part-time server at Perkins Restaurant in Albert Lea
Base of operations: Mankato and Albert Lea
Superpowers: dedicated and passionate, a hard worker and understands hockey well.
Kryptonite: procrastinating
Affiliations: dad, Kerry, 55; mom, Nancy, 53; sister, Kelly, 24
Origin: After playing hockey since age 5, Royce made a major impact for the Albert Lea boys’ hockey team. He holds most scoring records for Albert Lea defenseman, was All-State honorable mention twice and a captain during his senior year.