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Prep hockey team proves there's more to Texas than playing football

Members of the Mansfield (Texas) hockey team leave the warming house at the Lincoln School outdoor hockey rink Wednesday night with complimentary cups of hot chocolate provided by Willmar Cardinal hockey parents. (Tribune photo by Rand Middleton)

WILLMAR -- High school hockey in Texas? You bet your spurs.

There are 22 indoor sheets in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex.

Mansfield High School, 30 minutes southwest of Dallas, will play 30 games this winter, including three this week at the Willmar Bus Cup at the Civic Center.

Wednesday night they enhanced their North Star immersion playing shinny hockey at the Lincoln Rink on the east side of Willmar. Both the Tigers varsity and JV skated, about 30 boys in all.

"We wanted that cold-weather experience of skating on an outdoor rink," explained the Tigers' head coach Jeremy Law, no stranger himself to Minnesota hockey.

The Canada-born 31-year-old is a 2003 graduate of Concordia College where he played Cobbers hockey.

He said the competition at the Bus Cup is "Very comparable" to their AT&T High School League. Law said the league, a breakdown similar to Minnesota's AA and A classes, is divided into Varsity Gold and Silver, plus the same two levels for JV. Mansfield is in the Silver division.

School-boy hockey is concentrated in Austin, Houston and Dallas/Fort Worth.

Two years ago Mansfield played in a tournament at Thief River Falls. Through a local contact with Minnesota roots, the Mansfield Hockey Association began discussions with Willmar activities director Jamie Thompson in May with the aim of filling a spot in the eight-team holiday tournament.

Pam Rodrigues, the MHA board president, handled many of the logistics of flying 34 hockey players, plus coaches, to Minneapolis/St. Paul and then transporting them to the windswept prairie.

"We worked with American Airlines, the Holiday Inn and a van company," said Rodrigues, a native of northern California who jokes she got to Texas "As fast as I could" after graduating from the University of Southern California.

It took four rental passenger vans and two cargo vans to get to Willmar from the airport. The 16 or so parents who made the trip were on their own as far as air and ground travel.

Rodrigues said the usual fundraisers (car washes, bake and candle sales) raised $14,000. Another $20,000 was needed from the MHA account to finance the overall cost. Annual dues, she said, are $2,500, down $600 from a year ago.

"We pay $370 per hour for ice," she said. "We have no school support and no feeder program."

Players come out of the four high schools in the Mansfield district.

The Tigers (9-3) lost to Wadena/Deer Creek, beat Becker/Big Lake and beat River Lakes to finish fifth in the Willmar tourney.

"This has been a great trip for us," said Law. "It's been well worth it."

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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