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Hockey reaches out to youth to renew the base

Dan Tollefson, front, and Jim Anderson are eager to launch a new hockey program for the younger generation at the Civic Center arena in Willmar. Tribune photo by Rand Middleton

im Anderson had just started coaching and Dan Tollefson was a kid lacing up skates for the first time.

Thirty-five years later, both are still on ice and full of passion for the game.

Back in 1975, the coaches mostly were "Brown Booters" -- dads who were non-skaters. Unlike "up north," the railroad town had little hockey tradition to draw on.

Hockey was an outdoor sport then, at Garfield and Lincoln parks. Indoor hockey came along in January, 1980.

Hockey numbers grew with a boom in school enrollment (the 1977-78 class had a record 380 students). There were champions and championships galore, in all sports, in the Golden Decade of the 1980s.

Hockey had rec leagues and traveling teams practicing indoors and outdoors. But numbers begin to shrink by the late 1990s and they haven't come back. The rec leagues closed down and the Willmar Hockey Association has condensed teams.

Together, Anderson and Tollefson have set out to build a base of little skaters for both the boys and girls programs. But as with youth tackle football, it's not just about feeding the varsity. This is a chance for kids to find joy in physical exertion through a sport.

The opening act is an Open House from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Oct. 31, which is Halloween, of course. A hot-dog lunch will be served. The target group is the Mini-Mites and Mites, grades K-3.

Tollefson, the boys varsity coach, and Chad Akerson, the first-year head coach of the girls varsity, will oversee the program. Anderson, who works for HRA Cold Spring after 19 years with the local office, will be the on-ice manager.

"This is new. We're really excited," said Tollefson. "We'll teach fundamentals, but we want to bring out the fun in hockey."

Registration and fees will be handled by the Community Education and Recreation office.

Anderson emphasized parents and coaches will be welcomed on the ice to help the neophytes. The introduction to hockey is free of outside regulations since it no longer is going through USA Hockey.

No equipment is needed to start; it can be rented for a small fee. An inexpensive pair of skates can be found at a store like Play it Again Sports or rented at the Civic Center.

Civic Center manager Kevin Madsen is enthusiastic to get boys and girls on skates, whether its figure skating or hockey. The Civic Center offers Learn to Skate classes each ice season.

The city once boasted a lively rec hockey program along with the traveling teams. But the rec league disappeared in the 1990s and organized hockey has been confined to the WHA teams and high school.

Director Steve Brisendine said that WCER would be open to restarting rec leagues, but the impetus should come from the community.

"We'll do what's best for everybody," said Brisendine. "We'll take our directions from the head coaches. We're not interested in controlling this sport or any other. What we offer are options for scheduling facilities, arranging officials and registration."

City rec and youth sports groups have clashed in the past. Brisendine's goal is to get everyone pulling in the same direction. Indeed, WCER seems more focused and streamlined than it has ever been.

The fall catalogue outlines the Mites program. It runs Saturday mornings and Tuesday evenings starting Nov. 7. Thursdays will be added in January. The fees are around $50 per child.

Cobbers' Dunham

Mike Dunham, who quarterbacked the Cardinals for three years and whose brother Mark now calls the signals, had a remarkable game on Saturday.

The sophomore backup to senior Andrew Larson entered in the fourth quarter with Concordia down 20-3 to Augsburg. He would complete 19-of-35 passes and two touchdowns to send the game to overtime where the Cobbers fell 27-20. He also ran for 53 yards, but was sacked twice so he netted 34 yards.

CLC bests

Two Willmar athletes were honored as Performers of the Week by the Central Lakes Conference; Football-Defense, senior outside linebacker Taylor Filipek had two interceptions and seven tackles at Rocori .... Girls Soccer-Offense, junior midfielder Chloe Donohoe scored the game winner in one game and had the first goal in another win.

Rand Middleton
Tribune photographer/videographer. Began working in radio and at weekly newspaper in Munising, Michigan, in 1972. Started parttime at West Central Daily Tribune Sept. 1974. Fulltime news/sports beginning Feb. 1979. Married to Tribune news clerk Donna (Miller) Middleton, formerly of Kerkhoven. 2 grown children. 
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