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One Big Family

02/04/2022, 4:00pm CST
By Bryan Zollman

Three schools with vastly different backgrounds have come together as one

Players for the Redhawks line up in their DeLaSalle jerseys they wore for senior night. It was the first time a DeLaSalle jersey was worn on the ice in nearly 50 years.

Last Saturday members of the Minnehaha Academy hockey squad wore jerseys with a large "D" on the front. It represented DeLaSalle and was the first time a hockey player wore a "DeLaSalle" hockey jersey in almost 50 years.

That was during the 1972-73 season and would be the final season for DeLaSalle as a hockey entity until they formed a coop in 2012-13 with Minnehaha Academy. Greg LeBlanc played for DeLaSalle from 1967-71.

"We were known for basketball and football, not necessarily hockey," he said. "We struggled. We had a tough conference and played Hill, STA, Cretin and Benilde. We did our best, but it was tough for us to compete. We'd win maybe three to five games a year."

Hockey in the metro was emerging at that time. DeLaSalle would practice outdoors, and after their final football game of the season they would meet at the shed on the Monday morning after their last Friday night game to put the boards together for their outdoor rink.

"We built it, flooded it and took care of it all winter," he said. "We had all our practices there and a couple non-conference games."

They played their conference games on Sundays at Aldrich Arena.

"We had a mixture of kids from all over Minneapolis," he said. "A lot of kids came from northeast Minneapolis."

Minneapolis and inner-city hockey was thriving. In fact, in 1970, Minneapolis Southwest defeated Edina 1-0 for the state championship.

Today there are two classes and Minneapolis is currently ranked in the Top 10 in the state in Class A. DeLaSalle went dormant until 2012-13 when they joined with Minnehaha Academy.

About four years ago North St. Paul joined the fray and now Minnehaha Academy hockey is better known as Redhawk Hockey.

Patrick Anderson is one of 12 DeLaSalle players on the roster. DeLaSalle is a Catholic school, Minnehaha Academy is a Christian school and North St. Paul is a public school, making for an interesting dynamic in the locker room. North St. Paul has seven varsity players and Minnehaha Academy six.

"It's a great environment," said Anderson, a goalie in his fourth year of varsity hockey with the Redhawks program, and one of the team's captains. "Everyone is so diverse, from every walk of life. Everyone feels at home."

The team isn't exactly lighting a fire on the ice. They are 1-17 this year, but for Anderson, competing with your buddies on a daily basis and creating relationships far outweighs the win-loss column.

"Hockey is such a team sport," he said. "You can't have just one person carry the team. We all work together towards the betterment of the team. We all have a job and we know it is our job. That also helps the schools come together."

That concept has been driven home by new coach Jeff DeGree. A retired criminal defense attorney, DeGree has coached youth hockey in Minneapolis for more than 15 years. He decided he wanted to coach more and after coaching a bantam team last year took the head job for the Redhawks this season.

"I have coached kids from mini mites to college, but never high school kids before," said DeGree, who also served as an assistant coach at St. Olaf College and as head coach at Colorado State University.  "Coaching a Minnesota high school team has a much bigger learning curve than I expected."

DeGree was dealing with kids from three different schools and all walks of life, plus the program hadn't had much success on the ice. But what he witnessed was a passionate group of kids and a passionate group of parents.

"We are trying to build something out of this group," he said. "This year is our first step in the process."

With just one win, it's been challenging, but the team has adopted DeGree's philosophy to play hard, play smart and play together.

"I have been proud of how the kids have progressed and become process oriented," he said. "We define success in how hard we work and if we play together as a team."

Minneapolis Youth Hockey provides a strong feeder program for DeLaSalle.

"It gives a private school option where there is a lot of diversity and different backgrounds," DeGree said.

For the kids from North St. Paul and DeLaSalle, it has meant a lot to wear a jersey with their school's logo.

DeGree said a co-op team housed in one program that always wears one school's logo makes it  hard to feel a sense of pride playing for their actual school. Coming up with the idea to wear all school logos at least once during the season has gone over well with players and parents. Both North St. Paul and DeLaSalle wore their school's respective logos on senior night at their arenas.

"All the guys were stoked to wear our school on our chest," said Anderson. "It also meant a lot to wear your buddy's school logo."

The future of Redhawk hockey looks bright as three schools have come together. They have proven that it doesn't matter what background or what community you may be from. A love for the game is the common ground, and now with just a Redhawk logo signifying one team, the kids are playing as one.

"We play for a program," said Anderson,"and it helps everyone feel pride for their buddies and not some other school. All the diversity translating into hockey is very cool to see. We are just one big family."




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Tag(s): State Of Hockey  Bryan Zollman