Coaching foes and ex-Cards collaborate
In March, Lee Smith (WHS 1984) and David Aus (WHS '87) faced off in the Class AA boys hockey semifinals with Smith's Eden Prairie Eagles prevailing over the Blaine Bengals on the way to winning the championship.
The girls hockey season began for Willmar last night with Chad Akerson (WHS '98) up against North Wright County. coached by Tim Hanson ('92). It's Akerson's seventh season coaching high school, but first as the helmsman. Hanson is starting his 13th year, including a year at Willmar during Akerson's last year in high school.
Hanson, who married classmate and basketball star Lori Roufs, coached seven years at Buffalo (three as co-head coach) and the last five at NWC, a program that includes St, Michael-Albertville and Annandale.
Hanson had 121-59-5 career record after beating the St. Cloud Icebreakers 3-2 Thursday.
Last year, the River Hawks had their best season (22-5) while winning the Mississippi Conference.
Tuesday's game was arranged when both programs had an opening after St. Cloud Tech merged with the St. Cloud Icebreakers.
I contacted the third-grade teacher at his St. Michael classroom during his prep period Tuesday and asked him if he had provided Akerson any direction when it comes to coaching girls hockey?
"I said the first thing is to be patient. Compared to boys, "girls are a little more afraid to make mistakes. They don't want to be embarrassed in front of their teammates ... but they want to learn. They will listen to you. They look you right in the eye. Allow them to make mistakes until they get into their confidence zone."
Hanson said Willmar made a good choice: "Chad has got the experience. He's great with people and I like his energy."
The Hansons are a coaching family. Lori, a sixth grade teacher in Monticello, is the Magic's softball coach. The couple has two children, Olivia, 5, and Wyatt 3.
Though Hanson has scrimmaged his alma mater before, including Saturday at Brainerd, Tuesday was the first meeting that counts.
"It's so cool to play Willmar," said Hanson. "I love the town and the people. When we scrimmaged, Chad introduced me to the team as a former Cardinal. I told them how much fun I had in high school playing sports."
For his part, Akerson said he looks up to Hanson and welcomes the advice. He has introduced new concepts on offense and defense that will take time to absorb, but the girls are eager to learn, he said. The new head coach also added that former coach Rich Dahle, a local businessman, has been a "phenomenal help" during the transition.
Days of healing
If these were normal times for 13-year-old Brady Damhof, he'd be playing basketball on the eighth-grade team at the middle school.
But nothing has been ordinary in the Damhof family since Brady was injured in a hunting accident Oct. 3. He's been through five surgeries, so far, to repair damage to nerves and tissue in his back left shoulder and left arm, said his mother Betty Damhof, a teacher at Kennedy Elementary.
Brady, who was on the eighth-grade football team at the time of accident and also plays baseball, has not yet returned to school. He wears an arm and a hand brace. He is taking occupational and physical therapy and has slight movement now of the fingers off the injured limb.
The family has received a lot of emotional support during what Betty calls "a life-changing" event. The community has a chance to further express its support on Saturday. A pancake breakfast with free-will donation will be held from 7-11 a.m. at Kennedy with both a silent and live auction.
On the fly
n This column reported on Kelsey Evans last week but we must add this notation: In her third game, the freshman guard from Willmar scored a game-high 24 points to lead the Briar Cliff Chargers to a 102-60 victory over Waldorf on Nov. 10 at Sioux City, Iowa. In 16 minutes, Evans hit 10-of-14 field goals (3-of-6 three-pointers), grabbed four rebounds and had four steals. The Chargers are off to a 5-0 start.
n It's quite a feat to reach state six years in a row. Alissa Tinklenberg has done just that. When the senior finishes her prep swimming career this weekend, she will have competed in 23 swim events, one less than the maximum of 24. This is the first year she didn't qualify in all four. The 400-free relay came up 0.89 of a second short of the cut. That was despite a furious .53.94 anchor leg by Tinklenberg. She plans to attend Gustavus Adolphus, which has one of the top programs in the MIAC.
n When Willmar plays at Moorhead (Jan. 2) in boys basketball, the Spuds will seem a little different to coach Steve Grove. Chuck Gulsvig, the Spuds' coach for 27 seasons, decided to go another direction earlier this month and resigned. Grove has known Gulsvig since he was a student in the late 1980s at Concordia. He and Terry Horan, another Cobber football player, would take their intramural hoops team to the high school to scrimmage the Spuds. Gulsvig retires from coaching 445-222 but 1-4 versus Grove the last five years. He's going to work for Sanford Health-Merit Care in Fargo.
n Michael Dunham, quarterback at Concordia College, finished his sophomore season throwing for 1,213 yards on 97 of 168. He started the last four games. The Cobbers lost 20-19 to Gustavus Adolphus on Saturday when the Gusties returned a kickoff 89 yards with under a minute left.
n The Willmar girls hockey teams has four opponents in the Let's Play Hockey pre-season Class A top 20: Fergus Falls (sixth), Mankato West (10th), Hutchinson (14th) and Alexandria (16th). On Friday, the Cardinals host the new St. Cloud Icebreakers, fortified when St. Cloud Tech merged with the existing co-op of Apollo and Cathedral. Little Falls paired with Brainerd last year to form the Flying Warriors. River Lakes is a six school coop.