Willmar notebook: New breed of rink rats

"Family, Friends, Fun!" That's the new slogan for youth hockey here. It's the sport that has to recruit, somehow. Basketball has an edge because every school has a gym and it doesn't take much to outfit a kid in sneakers and shorts. Football and ...

Mites hockey
Tribune photo by Rand Middleton The Mites (K-third grade) take over the Cardinal Arena in two sessions, depending on grade, from 6 p.m. to 7:45 on Tuesdays. Here, former Cardinal hockey great Darin Strand (WHS 2001) lines up little skaters for a sprint.

"Family, Friends, Fun!”

That’s the new slogan for youth hockey here.

It’s the sport that has to recruit, somehow.

Basketball has an edge because every school has a gym and it doesn’t take much to outfit a kid in sneakers and shorts. Football and baseball are all over TV and most dads had a try at them growing up.

In the old days here, hockey was an outdoor sport. Kids walked to the neighborhood ice patch and it was the best place a kid could spend four hours on a frigid night. Now the ’hoods are scattered and the rinks diminished to mainly Lincoln on the east and Garfield on the west.


But Willmar does have two marvelous indoor sheets and the numbers are again growing.

Matt Dawson, who grew up in a white two-story stucco one block off Garfield, reports numbers are at 102 in the hockey association and 73 in WCER programs, up 24 from a year ago.

Tuesday evening in the Cardinal Arena, Dawson, Jim Anderson and Darin Strand, plus several Cardinals in full gear, and a bunch of dads were on the ice with Mini Mites and Mites, to be followed by the fourth- and fifth-graders.

Outside the boards, little rink rats donned the heap of equipment with the help of Mom and Dad, who pulled, tugged and tied. No question, hockey is a hands-on sport for parents.

Anderson, a Vietnam vet, who began playing hockey on figure skates in the late 1950s, has never not been around Willmar hockey in the modern era. He’s encouraged by how well everyone is pulling in the same direction, starting with Dan Tollefson, coach of the boys’ high school team. “There are no barriers,” Anderson said.

Dawson, who graduated in 1987 and was a standout in both hockey (captain on the Cards’ last Central Lakes Conference championship team) and tennis, (Section 2AA singles champ ’87), credits the expansion to the support of the WCER, Kevin Madsen and the Civic Center staff, the leadership of the WHA board and hockey boosters fundraising.

While the Civic Center provides everything organized hockey can ask for, Dawson and Anderson promote outdoor skating at the two city rinks just as hard - Thursday at Lincoln and Garfield on the weekends.

There’s an in-house Squirt program that involves no travel. Every effort is now made to keep traveling teams inside a 75-mile radius.


 We’d rather have them on the ice than riding in a mini-van,” said Dawson.

Wrestlers go for 8-0

The Cardinal wrestling team already has tied the school record for most Central Lakes Conference wins in one season with seven, which was accomplished 1989-90. A win tonight over underdog Fergus Falls would set a new standard of eight wins.

Tonight’s match - it’s Pack the Gym - is not expected to be close. Willmar’s only tight dual this season in conference play was 35-24 at Alexandria, and the Otters are on the bottom of the standings.

A match of special interest that could materialize would pit Willmar’s Colten Carlson, ranked No. 1 at 160 in Class AAA, against the Otters’ Dane Ringquist, No. 4 at 160 in Class AA. Carlson won his 125th match on Saturday at Anoka. The sophomore is sixth on the school’s all-time list within striking distance before he graduates of his father Carl (No. 5, 142 wins) and his uncle, Chad (No. 1, 167 wins).

This week, Cardinals’ head coach Ed Oehlers had praise for the entire team, citing especially heavyweight Leon Richards, 106-pounder Clay Carlson, Travis Deegan (ranked No. 6 at 152) and Jon Linden, a first-year wrestler showing “Vast improvement helping to win duals with tenacious battles to minimize opponents’ team scores.”   

Roelofs to run at NSU

Miranda Roelofs will sign a National Letter of Intent with Northern State University to run track and field. The three-sport senior didn’t sign the documents yesterday, the first winter signing date, because she was on a choir trip.


Roelofs is a sprinter and hurdler. She also is in volleyball and girls hockey.

Miranda is a second-generation athlete. Her mother Darlene (Boersma) Roelofs was a sprinter and long jumper at KMS, graduating in 1984. Her dad Kevin Roelofs, is a CMCS graduate where he played soccer. Darlene remains active playing with long-time friends in the WCER semi-power volley league.

NSU, in Aberdeen, S.D., is a member of the NCAA Division II Northern Sun Intercollegiate Conference.

Playoffs at Hutchinson

The Cardinals’ girls hockey team plays a winnable game at Hutchinson at 7 p.m. Thursday to open the postseason. The teams have near identical records and have not met this winter: Willmar 5-18-1 and the Tigers 5-17-1. The survivor advances to the 2A semifinal game 7 p.m. Saturday at No. 1 Mankato East/Loyola. No. 2 Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato (8-17) also has a bye to the semifinal and will host 2 p.m. Saturday at the Litchfield Civic Center.

CLC swim here

The Willmar High School pool is the site of the CLC Swimming & Diving championships. Diving prelims are this evening with swimming and diving finals starting noon Saturday. Brainerd finished 8-0 duals and Fergus Falls 7-1.

Willmar finished 1-7 and will likely fight it out with Rocori (2-6) and Apollo (0-8) for sixth. Eighth-grade diver Gerson Maldonado-Garcia shows promise achieving good height off the 1-meter board. He is seeded fourth of 26 divers. Senior Trent Flegel is No. 6 in the two sprints while the 200-free relay with Flegel, Charlie Hopman, Teman Miller and Sid Sieu is fifth.

Twin bill at Moorhead

The basketball teams play a girl/boy doubleheader starting 1 p.m. vs. the Spuds in Moorhead this Saturday. The Willmar girls have a tough assignment. Though the Spuds are just 7-11, they have won three straight and earlier beat both Alexandria (9-1 in the CLC) and Brainerd.

Same for the boys. The Spuds are 8-10 but have two double-digit wins over Brainerd (9-2 CLC), which handed conference leader St. Cloud Tech (11-1) its first CLC loss on Monday, 68-66, at Brainerd.

Next week, thanks to postponements, the Card boys and Brainerd will tangle twice in three days: Tuesday at Brainerd and then Thursday at Willmar.

The Cardinal boys have exceptional balanced scoring this winter: Adam Nibaur 13.4 ppg, Austin Grove 8.7, Joel Carter 10.4, Dylan Schueler 6.8, Kyler Johnson 14.2 and Tyler Stegeman 13.7. Since a 63-42 loss to New London-Spicer in the Bremer Classic when they locked up in the second half like a broken gear box, the Cardinals have averaged 77 points a game while going 8-2.

On the fly

n Former St. Cloud Tech and Edina head basketball coach Patrick Dorsey (WHS ’88) reports that his son, Zach Benning of Hastings, has signed a national letter to attend UW-Madison to run cross country and track. He placed fourth in the 3,200 (9:02.2) as a junior and fifth in XC as a senior (15:36).

n Gustavus swimmer Alissa Tinklenberg won the backstroke (58.6) and the 100-free (53.18) at the six-team MIAC Invite at St. Thomas. Bennet Woltjer was the Gusties top diver on the 1-meter board with a six-dive score of 230.2, good for third.

n Concordia College freshman guard Emma Peterson (Benson) scored a team-best 17 points in a three-point loss Saturday to St. Mary’s in Winona. Senior Alex Lippert (Willmar) had 13 points and 4 blocks and freshman Greta Walsh (Litchfield) 12 points. Lippert and Walsh had the same point outputs on Monday in a lopsided win at Augsburg.

n North Dakota State freshman sprinter Rose Jackson (Willmar) ran a season-best 25.34 200-meter dash at the Bill Bergan Invite at Iowa State on Saturday to place 14th … .Valley City State freshman forward Austin Rambow has 25 points and 21 rebounds playing in 14 games for the 10-11 Vikings.  

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