Willmar grad coached Wild's No. 1 draft pick
Nick Leddy, the first pick of the Minnesota Wild in the National Hockey League entry-level draft, might have skipped his last year two years of high school to play at the high-end development camp in Ann Arbor.
Instead, he stayed with his high school team and helped head coach Lee Smith and Eden Prairie win the school's first state title in boys hockey.
Smith watched the draft Friday on Versus at his parent's home in southwest Willmar. When Leddy went No. 16 in the first round, his two Mite-aged sons screamed joyfully and Smith's cell phone began to rumble.
Minnesota's Mr. Hockey was the first player from the United States chosen.
To Smith, and others, it showed a teenager can stay home and still get noticed.
"Nick was twice invited to join the developmental team, but he chose to stay with his high school buddies and try to do something special for the school and community," said Smith on Wednesday during a break in at the summer hockey camp he helps runs.
Leddy is the fifth player Smith has coached picked through the entry draft. None have yet made the NHL.
Smith believes Leddy, who is 5-foot-11 and 185 pounds, fits in with the new style blue liners in the NHL, who have the skill and speed to maneuver with the puck.
"Nick has the skating ability to play in any situation," said Smith. "We preach skating here and we think its starting to show."
On the Wild website, Smith is quoted: "He's got a great shot, he's unselfish."
Leddy will play this season for the Gophers.
Smith hopes Leddy's decision to remain an Eagle will influence the 10 sophomores who played for Smith's championship team this winter.
He claims there are no hard feelings when a player opts for the developmental USHL. But the 1984 Willmar graduate stresses that a player should be the dominant player at his current level before it makes sense to move early to a higher level.
He's seen players from Eden Prairie go to the USHL in their junior or senior years, only to end up in the background.
"You've got to have the puck on your stick and making decisions if you're going to improve," said Smith. "Otherwise, you're just skating."
Smith got his first coaching assignment while in college at Mankato State, heading up the VFW team here under Elsie Klemmetson in the mid-1980s.
Klemmetson moved to Willmar from the back country of northwest Minnesota as a teenager in the late 1940s. He'd never seen a baseball game, let alone played.
He's now in his 40th season with VFW baseball, a program he started in 1969.
The Army veteran guided the young players to the state tournament multiple times in the 1970s and early '80s before turning the coaching reigns over to younger men. He continues with the team at home and on the road. He wears the team uniform proudly and keeps the scorebook.
He says this will be his last year, but he concedes that he said that last year, too.
He will see how he feels. After a grave illness three years ago, the life-long bachelor is in relatively good health.
Elsie (Ellsworth is his given name) has praise for current VFW coach George Jacobson. He frets each year if he will be back now that his son has advanced through the program.
On the fly
n The Rice Classic comes up at the end of the month (July 31-Aug. 2). There are sixteen age and skill divisions. To register go to www.ricetennisclassic.com.
n Willmar Cardinals sports teams this spring were middle-of-the pack in all seven standings in the 10-team CLC: Boys tennis, baseball and softball were each fourth; boys golf and boys track took seventh, girls golf and girls track each were fifth. Brainerd teams took four championships, Alexandria both golf titles and Rocori finished first in softball.
n The 10th annual "Long-ago Gridders Ride Around Green Lake" was held Friday morning with only Don Phillips representing the 1961 Cardinal football team. From New London's team came Craig Nelson, Perry Nelson and Ed Huseby to ride. New London won the West Lake that fall and Willmar the West Central Conference. All four men are 1962 graduates and 65 years old.