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Four inducted into MHCA Hall of Fame

10/12/2017, 9:17am CDT
By Pete Waggoner, Let’s Play Hockey

ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Four new members were inducted into the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall (MCHA) of Fame Saturday, Sept. 23, at Roy Wilkins Auditorium. Four other contributors to the game also received MHCA awards during the State of Hockey High School Coaches Summit.

Hall of Fame Inductees

George Nemanich coached in Minnesota hockey for 29 years where he compiled a career record 331-142-15. Nemanich began his coaching career with one-year stints at St. Agnes and Totino-Grace, followed by an impressive run at Red Wing. He led his teams to three conference championships, six state tournament appearances and the state Class A title in 1997. He appeared in 13 section finals during his 18-year career. Nemanich was honored as the Section Coach of the Year five times and was named the John Mariucci Coach of the Year in 1997 and 2002. Under his guidance, his teams won five All-Academic titles. A Nemanich-coached team always applied his “do it with class” approach to the game and won numerous sportsmanship awards. He dedicated himself to developing the youth program in Red Wing and ran camps and clinics for both players and coaches.     

While coaching at Red Wing High School, Nemanich served on the MHCA Board for nine years. Nemanich participated in a number of positive outcomes for the high school game that included the Mighty Ducks rink-building initiative, MSHSL summer waiver, the increase of the number of games and minutes played in a high school game, and participated in the establishment of the Upper Midwest High School Elite League. 

After playing three sports at Orono High School, Wayne Orn went on to play college hockey at Concordia Moorhead. He took his first teaching and coaching position at Devils Lake Central High School in North Dakota from 1968-70 where he coached the varsity hockey team and cultivated the youth program by coaching at all levels as well. Orn went on to Austin High School in Minnesota to start its hockey program. He was instrumental in the fundraising effort to build the 2,500-seat Riverside Arena that opened in 1972.  

Orn went on to Stillwater and coached  his 1979-80 team to a 20-3 record. Orn formed the St. Croix Valley Hockey School at Lily Lake Arena in Stillwater in 1975. The program continued for 23 years and impacted a large number of players. 

Dave Swanberg graduated from Concordia Moorhead with a degree in physical education and health. He began his coaching career in 1985 as an assistant at East Grand Forks under his former high school head coach, Tony Palmiscino. One year later, he moved to southern Minnesota where he was the head coach for the Le Sueur Giants. In 1988, LeSueur combined with St. Peter to become the LSHSP Bulldogs where he remained the head coach until 1999. He continued to coach various teams and levels until 2016. He also coached football, baseball, track, and golf at LSHSP during his tenure. While head coach of the Bulldogs, Swanberg compiled a career record of  225-165-17. He also was an assistant coach on teams that posted a record of 50-31-1.  

Swanberg was named Section 1A Coach of the Year in 1999 and Section 1A Assistant Coach of the year in 2016. Currently, Swanberg serves as the Activities Director and Assistant Principal at Le Sueur-Henderson High School.

Russ Welch graduated from Hastings High School in 1974 where he was a three-sport athlete participating in football, hockey and baseball. Welch went on to play college hockey at Michigan State where he accumulated 190 points in his career and was the leading scorer of the team for three of his four seasons. After graduation, Welch returned to Minnesota where he took a teaching and coaching position at South St. Paul High School under Hall of Fame coach Doug Woog for three years that led to him becoming head coach for 10 years.  

In 1994, Welch returned to his hometown where he coached for 21 years.  Welch was known not only for his success as a coach but in developing quality relationships with the players he coached. Welch coached football for 35 years, hockey for 34 years, baseball for 26 years, tennis for one year and softball for one year.  

For Welch, participating in Woog’s hockey camps for 33 years has been a bonus to his coaching career as well as his opportunity to coach his three kids, Danny, Katie and Joey. He also served on the MHCA board as Section Representative, Vice President, President and Past President. Welch served a number of years with USA Hockey as a clinician and coach of the Select 15’s, 16’s, and 17’s.  

As a head coach with South St. Paul and Hastings, Welch won 464 games and eight conference titles, had nine state tournament appearances, won eight section coach of the year awards and was the 1993-94 state coach of the year. 

Award Winners

Cliff Thompson Award
Given for the “long term outstanding contributors to the sport of hockey in Minnesota,” the Cliff Thompson Award is given in memory of the longtime Eveleth coach.  Thompson is the only man to have ever coached teams to four consecutive state championships (1948-1951) and this list of his former players reads a “who’s who” in Minnesota Hockey. 

Lorne Grosso was awarded the prestigious honor after delivering a stunning 707-445-29 career record over 30 years.  Gross, who coached Rochester Mayo, is the winningest coach in Minnesota boys high school hockey history.  On January 12, 2012, he passed the legendary Willard Ikola (616) for the state’s top spot.  

Grosso grew up in Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., where he played baseball, hockey and football with his cousin Lou Nanne and friends Phil and Tony Esposito. Grosso went on to play college hockey at the University of Minnesota and landed at Rochester Mayo High School where he coached the varsity hockey team from 1966-2016. Grosso taught Latin and Italian at Mayo from 1966-1999 and then went on to teach religion, Latin and Italian at Rochester Lourdes High School from 1999-2007.  

His first state tournament appearance was in 1982 and his sophomore son Jim was a member of the team. He also coached both daughters as assistant softball coach. As the varsity tennis coach from 1988-2005, Grosso’s teams went to the state tournament five times. His Mayo hockey teams went to the state tournament six times. He was inducted into the Rochester Sports Hall of Fame in 2011. Grosso received the John Mariucci Award, a national high school coaches award given by the American Hockey Coaches Association in 2017 and was inducted into the MHCA Hall of Fame in 2014.

Dave Peterson Award 
The Dave Peterson award is given annually to a high school hockey coach who has shown great leadership in developing youth hockey either locally or statewide.

Pat Forte grew up in Eveleth, Minn., where he played hockey for the Golden Bears. He went on to play hockey for American International College in Springfield, Mass. Forte graduated from Bemidji State with a degree in education and earned his master’s from Hamline. He taught elementary school and coached high school hockey for 25 years with stops in Austin, Mora, Brainerd, St. Cloud and Sartell. He spent five years working with the Minnesota Select 17’s, two years with the Upper Midwest Elite League, and then St. John’s University in Collegeville.  

In 2006 Forte was diagnosed with Thymic carcinoid cancer. He was given just six months to live at the time of diagnosis and ended up battling the disease for the next 11 years with the same intensity and attitude he coached with. Never give up and “When the well goes dry, dig deeper.” 

Pat went onto inspire many through motivational speaking engagements including at youth hockey events, high schools and colleges. In December of 2016 Forte was presented with the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame “Spirit of Life” award in recognition while battling for his own life, continuing to inspire and make a difference in young athletes. He led the “Let’s Play Hockey” chant at the beginning of the Minnesota Wild game on Hockey Day Minnesota in 2017.

Pat Forte passed away on June 10, 2017, His son, Nico, a junior at Austin High School,  accepted his award for him at the banquet. 

Oscar Almquist Award
The Oscar Almquist Award is given annually to the individual, non coach, who has contributed to the success of high school hockey by advancing opportunities for players and coaches.

John Gilbert chose to become a sportswriter in the early 1960s. That led to a 30-year career at the Minneapolis Star Tribune where he covered all levels of hockey. It was the passion and emotion of high school hockey that captivated Gilbert who covered high school hockey as though it was the Stanley Cup finals or the Olympics.  

Gilbert leaned on knowledge he gained from the likes of John Mariucci, Del Genereau, Glen Sonmor and Herb Brooks.  He utilized that and began to experiment with other styles of play while coaching his son’s hockey teams. He considers covering high school hockey the purest form of the game and has not missed a Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament since 1963 when it was played in the St. Paul Auditorium. 

Bruce Johnson Award
Awarded to an active board member or an individual who had recently served on the board, the Bruce Johnson Award is given for outstanding contributions in promoting the Coaches Association and the sport of hockey.  

Fittingly, Mike MacMillan the Executive Director of the MHCA was awarded the honor in 2017. MacMillan has coached at the youth, high school and college levels since the early 1980s  and has been a pillar in player and coach development in Minnesota and nationally. He has held the position as Executive Director of the MHCA since 2006 and has served on its board since 1997 when he became the association’s clinic coordinator. He also served as the Section Rep for Sections 6 and 8 from 200-2006. 

MacMillan has coached at the high school level for 30 years beginning in Menomonie, Wis., before coaching at New Ulm High School. MacMillan retired as coach at Buffalo High School in 2011. While dedicating his life to high school hockey and development, MacMillan has received the MHCA Section Coach of the year, 3M Excellence in Coaching Award, Dave Peterson Award and the Minnesota Hockey President’s  Ward in 2011. He is a two-time recipient of the USA Hockey President’s Award and inducted into the Buffalo Hall of Fame. 

One of MacMillan’s crowning achievements was serving as co-chair of the committee to build a new state-of-the-art facility in Buffalo. He also was key in developing training programs that benefitted local players in the hockey association. 

MacMillan’s efforts do not stop with high school hockey as he currently holds the position of USA Hockey National Coach-In-Chief that oversees the Coaching Education programs in the U.S. He sits on USA Hockey’s Youth Council and Player Development Committee, representing the coaching program. Currently, MacMillan is an assistant coach at Hamline University. 

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