Dave Bakken took over last year for the Hopkins High School team and is part of an experienced and passionate staff that extends all the way down to the Mite program.
Building a successful hockey program in the ever-competitive state of hockey can be as challenging as putting together a jigsaw puzzle.
But for the Hopkins Hockey Association, it appears they have all the pieces needed and are slowly fitting them together to resurrect a program that has produced some legendary pucksters in the past, but has struggled in recent years in the hockey landscape that includes neighboring juggernauts such as Edina and Minnetonka.
One of Hopkins’ key pieces to the puzzle is how they measure their success. Under new leadership, those now driving the bus aren’t as concerned about wins and losses and producing Division I players. It’s more about building a culture where young hockey players can have fun, be a great teammate, and grow not just as a hockey player but also as a person. When that happens, the winning comes.
Dave Bakken and Geno Parrish, two big names in Minnesota hockey with a solid coaching pedigree, are at the high school helm where they hope to set a solid foundation based on a team-first mentality, growth and accountability.
“What we are doing a little bit different than what was done previously is communicating to players that they are not entitled to ice time,” said Bakken, an Apple Valley grad who played for Larry Hendrickson. “The kids are going to have to work hard, improve and be a good teammate. If you want to get the most out of your players, that is the environment you have to have.”
Numbers for the program are solid, but continued growth throughout all levels is a goal for the high school coaches.
“We have competition for spots and that is a good thing,” said Bakken. “It is an ongoing situation that lasts all season and some guys may go back and forth between junior varsity and varsity.”
The Hopkins high school squad is coming off of an 8-18-1 season. Part of the coaches’ improvement plan is to train players for success, something Parrish has been doing for the past 14 years. Parrish grew up playing in the Bloomington Jefferson Association before attending The Academy of Holy Angels in high school. He understands the importance of properly training young athletes both mentally and physically to maximize their potential.
He has trained players from 10-year olds to 10-year NHL veterans. When Bakken invited him to be his assistant, Parrish wasn’t sure at first. But after attending his first practice, he knew he was committed.
“The kids were great, the enthusiasm was great, the environment was great,” he said. “I really respected what Dave had done and couldn’t help but want to be a part of it. There is an infectious team atmosphere.”
Parrish understands the impact a head coach can have on players throughout the program. He recalled the day when Bloomington Jefferson legendary coach Tom Saterdalen pulled him aside at the rink when Parrish was a B Squirt.
“He came up to me and said, hey, you have a great set of hands,’” Parrish said. “It impacted me that the high school coach knew who I was and I know Dave will follow in those footsteps.”
But Bakken and Parrish aren’t the only pieces to the puzzle. Any coach will tell you that in order to have a strong varsity hockey program you need a strong youth program where players receive quality coaching. They believe they have that in place with the likes of Dan Tompkins and Jack Hillen both Hopkins Youth Hockey products who are now back with their association as dads and youth coaches.
Hillen played four seasons for Colorado College where he was named the WCHA Defenseman of the Year his senior season. He went on to play eight seasons in the NHL for four teams. Tompkins was a Calgary draft pick in 1993 and went on to play at the University of Wisconsin before playing two professional seasons. He was also a member of three U.S. National teams and played in World Juniors. Both have played an integral role in developing the youth program, bringing not just experience, but passion to their leadership roles. Hillen will be joined by former Shattuck-St. Mary’s standout Jesse Bull to run the Mite program. Bull was also a member of a national championship team at North Dakota.
“The passion and experience these coaches bring, Parrish said, will seep into all levels and help grow numbers and help retain players. Currently the numbers are relatively small, which will allow for a better coach to player ratio, which in turn will strengthen the program as a whole.”
“We need to create an interest level in playing and working hard and improving at the younger age levels and that is what we have in place right now,” said Bakken.
The coaching staff has already been working with players this summer, skating three times a week and lifting weights three times a week.
Tompkins said having credible instructors such as Hillen, Parrish and former Mr. Hockey Marty Sertich goes a long way in helping prepare young athletes both physically and mentally.
“These are people who have a proven track record, not just with their own careers, but within our program,” Tompkins said.
Bakken said offseason training isn’t just about getting stronger and faster. It’s about camaraderie and building something together.
“It’s a dedication to being part of something positive,” he said. “It’s about being in the weight room, being at captain’s practice. Our kids need to be playing with kids who are doing positive things to become a better teammate. If you don’t have that in place, your better players are going to leave. Now they are sticking around.”
Bakken wants young kids to know that playing in Hopkins through high school can lead to juniors and college hockey. Parrish said there is a misconception that other programs can create an easier path for those who want to play beyond high school.
“There is a perception that if a kid goes to such and such a place it will make that path easier,” he said. “But there is no substitute for hard work and dedication. We have a perfect set of coaches in place who can get players to the next level if that is their goal.”
In addition to investing resources into instruction and training, there has also been substantial improvements made to the Hopkins Pavillion, which is home to the Royals. This is another added benefit for those who sign up to play Hopkins’ hockey.
There is an exciting buzz around Hopkins Hockey these days. With strong leaders who are equally committed to a common vision, Hopkins Hockey has put themselves back on the map. Like a jigsaw puzzle, it is always a work in progress. But together they are doing the required legwork and moving in the right direction, piece by piece.
If you’d like to learn more about becoming a part of Hopkins Hockey email RoyalPride@HopkinsHockey.com.
“Playing at Hopkins was great because I got to play with the guys who I grew up with but also got a chance to play at the next level. I wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.” – Henry Sweeney