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Dahle resigns as Willmar hockey coach: Mustangs ride again

Willmar businessman Rick Dahle said he felt the need to leave behind his part-time work as Willmar Cardinal girls hockey coach to concentrate full time on his business.

"It's never a good day to resign, but it's the right thing to do at this time," he said.

The stagnant economy, more than wins and losses, influenced his decision, he said.

Rick and his wife, Kelley, own Cullen's Home Center near the Skylark Mall. In difficult times for retailers, it's demanding all his attention.

He coached girls youth hockey for six years, then became the program's second-ever varsity coach in August 2006, after Ross Dahl resigned.

The season records (8-19, 11-14, 9-17) are not impressive, but the program hasn't enjoyed the run of exceptional athletes that populated the program in its early years.

"There's the pressure of wins and losses," Dahle said. You're aware of that. And there's pressure in business. Both are very competitive. But I've always enjoyed coaching and I had one hundred percent support from the administration and school board."

Dahle's role was year round when it came to hockey. The head coach must be sure the varsity program coordinates with the Mites, 10U and 14U, as well as junior varsity program.

That meant working closely with both the Blue Line Club on fundraising and the Willmar Hockey Association, and also city recreation.

Hockey, in rural communities, fights for numbers. It's regarded as expensive and time-consuming for parents. But the association strives to make start-up hockey inexpensive by providing free equipment, if needed.

There is a movement to get more ethnic diversity in the program, too.

Dahle is proud of his tenure, though he feels badly that there will have to be another coaching change. "I know all programs look for coaching stability," he said.

"We battled hard every night and I always emphasized that hockey is a great sport and should be fun," he said. "But I know the record is the record and that's how we are judged. That's the reality of coaching."

He added that Willmar plays smaller programs in youth hockey, but when it gets to the CLC it often is playing paired programs, like the St. Cloud Icebreakers, River Lakes and Sauk Rapids/Sartell.

"I'm not sure our girls are always ready for the next level where you have to skate all out every shift," said the Crookston native.

Cullen's is looking at expanding into several new areas which will require additional time, plus Dahle expressed the desire to spend more time with family.

A daughter, Brittin, is a junior in college, Mackenzie is a junior here and a son, Tanner, is a fourth grader.

Activities director Jamie Thompson said the hockey opening will be posted, but like football, things are moving slowly until all the teaching openings are known for 2009-10.

Dahl, the current boys junior varsity coach, said he is not interested in the opening at this time.

Mustangs return

The Willmar Mustangs amateur football team is preparing for their third season, which starts May 9 at Duluth against the Shoremen. The schedule has been pared down to six games followed by a two-stage playoff with the title game at Collegeville on July 11.

Running back David Blom will takes over the coaching duties. He said that about 35 players have committed and that a scrimmage is tentatively planned for April 25 at the junior high field.

The new schedule looks to be a better fit. Willmar also plays Brainerd, Melrose and Monticello, plus two teams based in the metro.

The team practices at Robbins Island. For information on joining the Mustangs, go to

Play that again

Play it Again Sports, which opened its doors here in 1992, is looking for a fresh start.

The situation painted by owner Doug Quick is dire. He's has partnered, "50-50", with Jeff Melby in an attempt to save the franchise.

"Jeff's strengths are my weaknesses," said Quick.

Melby, a 1988 Willmar graduate and former Nike salesman, now sells medical equipment. He lives in Spicer and helps coach the River Lakes boys hockey team.

Melby will network with school and community recreation programs to build orders.

Selling bats and cleats are especially important, said Melby.

The immediate need though, both men stress, is to move out the current inventory at reduced prices and pay off suppliers, and then start with fresh goods.

"The economics are tough," said Quick. "We need a cash flow to keep the doors open."

Willmar/Litchfield Golf Invitational

Bloomington Jefferson returns to defend its title at the Willmar/Litchfield boys invitational golf tournament, played Friday beginning at 1 p.m. at Eagle Creek and Saturday starting at 9 a.m. Litchfield Golf Club.

Willmar coach Dave Ellwood expects to use nearly the same lineup as in the opening meet Monday when Isaiah Streed's 78 led Willmar to a 328 score. The Cardinals placed sixth last year, led by Colin Erickson, who tied individually for seventh place with a 36-hole score of 180.

Litchfield, which was fifth a year ago, is led by Andrew Whitchurch. He placed 10th a year ago.

Defending individual champion Jon Blazek of Owatonna has graduated.

The 18-school, 20-team tournament also includes area schools from Benson/KMS, Lac qui Parle Valley, Dawson-Boyd, and New London-Spicer.

On the fly

n Willmar boys hockey and girls hockey have named their "Hobey Baker" award winners. They are, respectively, Trent Fader and Amanda Croonquist.

n Ex-Ridgewater College ballplayers are having an impact at NCAA Division II schools. At St. Cloud State (8-4 in NSIC, 29-9 overall), Tyler Horning (Willmar) is hitting .347 with 33 hits and 20 RBI in 35 games while pitcher Dave Deminsky (Sartell) is 5-0 with a 3.56 ERA and 70 strikeouts in 48 innings. At Southwest Minnesota State (5-3 in NSIC, 15-4 overall), Matt Bauer (Tracy) is hitting .356 with seven home runs and 27 RBI, both team highs, and Scott Rambow (New London) is batting .392 in 18 starts. All four are juniors.

n Bonnie Henrickson's Kansas Jayhawks didn't win the WNIT championship -- they lost 75-71 to South Florida on Saturday in Lawrence -- but it was a special night. The 16,113 fans set a women's record at Allen Fieldhouse and was the second largest crowd ever for a WNIT final. The Jayhawks finished 22-14, the best record in 10 years while winning 9 of their last 12 game to end the season. Henrickson, a 1981 Willmar graduate, is 79-79 in five seasons at Kansas and 237-141 in her coaching career, or at the major college level.