An Edina team has captured at least one Minnesota Hockey state championship every season since 2004. Last year, the Edina Hockey Association had two champions – Bantam A (above), PeeWee B (below)
There is a history that Edina is proud of. A history that Ben Friswold talks about every chance he gets – and it has nothing to do with winning. Don’t think for a second he and others in the Edina Hockey Association couldn’t brag about the numerous trophies and championship banners hanging in and around Braemar Arena – they just choose not to. Instead, when discussing the association and everything that goes along with it, the topic that is consistently brought up over and over covers one simple, yet essential, aspect of the machine.
“I’m in a role, but it has nothing to do with me,” said Friswold, currently in his first year as the Edina Hockey Association President. “It has to do with all of the volunteers within the association combined with our amazing program administrator that holds it all together. We have a board of 24 volunteers that all have day jobs. We have 1,300 kids in the program. With 50-plus travel teams, we schedule over 2,000 practices, 1,000 games and 200 tournaments per year. Then you add 400 Mites with ice, scrimmages and jamborees to manage. So if you think about all of the work the board does – running tryouts for 54 teams, running clinics, hosting four tournaments and all that goes along with that – it’s astonishing.
“What’s even more amazing is that beyond the board members, we have volunteer coaches. We have an equal mix of parent and non-parent volunteer coaches that give thousands of hours to the kids in the program and our community every year. Without them, the program is really nothing.”
Just the thought it from a logistical standpoint will give you a headache if you focus on it long enough, yet they make it work … and work well. When you do the math, it comes out to roughly 75 teams, including 21 Mite squads, that spread out across the city of Edina and even neighboring communities. In addition to the four rinks at Braemar (including one outdoor rink), Friswold and the board have to utilize public and private rinks throughout the area just to make sure the kids get the full experience.
The process of securing the ice for each season begins the previous spring, shortly after the Zamboni’s engine begins to cool and the machine is put away for the year. With so many teams, there isn’t much time to waste. And as if things weren’t challenging enough, this year the Edina Schools changed their start and end times for the school year which threw a wrench in the motor when it came to when the first practice after school was going to start. With the Bantam and 15U programs spread out across two different start times (middle school and high school-aged players), the time change severely limited a large portion of the program as to when they can practice, as school always comes first.
The schedule is doable, but figuring it out is often times equivalent to breaking a nuclear launch code. Even on weekends, it’s not uncommon to hear the sounds of skate edges scratching the ice as early as 7 in the morning and as late as 9 at night. That’s what needs to be done when over 1,300 kids consistently sign up to play in one of the most successful hockey programs in the state.
From top to bottom (high school to Squirts), the product Edina puts on the ice seems to always be fighting for a championship or tournament title of some kind. When the most recent rankings were released, both the boys’ and girls’ high school programs were ranked No. 1 in the state. It doesn’t stop there. Each and every level from that point down also has an Edina team on the list, from Junior Gold A to 12U A. In total, in the history of the association, EHA has brought home 71 state titles and have been runner-up 47 times. And still counting!
“A lot of it comes with the culture and the history,” Friswold said. “When you grow up in Edina, people want to play hockey. They look up on the board and they look at the banners, they hear about it from their friends and then all of a sudden you get a lot of kids there. I think that previous success just gives everyone a lot of confidence. It’s a great thing when you have kids playing hockey because that history gives our kids confidence to succeed.
“I think the culture and the history play a big part in that success and our board’s role is trying to manage the process without breaking a proven system. There is some fine-tuning here and there, but doing this for 60 years, we have built a great reputation of how to do it. So we just keep trying to make it a little better each year without changing the things that have led to our success.”
Fine-tuning is something Edina has maybe been the best at (besides winning) throughout the years more than anything else. While winning is not and never has been the ultimate goal, the reality of competitive sports – winning and losing – is often dissected more than it should be at the end of the day. With success comes the inevitable balancing act between not breaking the machine, yet finding a way to make sure the process stays relevant and continues to improve.
So how can an association continue to move forward while maintaining the very things that have made them successful in the first place for so many years? How can they continue to strike that perfect balance between numbers and needs, between competition and compassion? Friswold admits that more than anything else that has been, and continues to be, priority No. 1 for he and his fellow board members. If the system isn’t broke don’t fix it, just try to improve it. Easier said than done.
“That’s always in the forefront of our minds,” Friswold said. “A few years ago, we saw our Mite program starting to shrink in numbers, so we made some changes to shore up our Mites and make sure the kids keep coming in. We focused on Mites because it’s the foundation for good numbers in Squirts, PeeWees and Bantams, and 12U, 15U and 19U. So you are always thinking about the future. That’s one of the things as a board we’ve really tried to stress the last couple years and that is succession planning.
“When we talk about someone coming on the board we say hey, this first year, you are going to perform a role on a team and learn about it. That second year, you are going to lead it and that third year you are going to be that transition person who helps that next person lead it. You never want a transient board where someone leaves with institutional knowledge, so we want everyone to have that planning, execution, succession planning mentality for the betterment and future of this association.
“We are also cognizant of what we stand for because at the end of the day, that has to always remain the same. Our goal is to grow the game and to grow the kids as people. I swear that every coach I talk to who is a part of this association, they talk about how they don’t care what your kid is like today – it’s more long-term than that. For instance, my son’s Squirt coach this year, he says ‘I care about what the kids are going to be like as people when they are 16 or 20, and I want to build good habits, good personal habits, good sports habits and basically being good humans.’ That’s a big part of this. You see discipline. You see teamwork. You see giving back through service project work and those are the types of things that make this association what it is- it’s not the wins and losses.”
Sixty-plus years of hockey (started in 1957) and still going strong. With an emphasis on offering an affordable (EHA has not increased their registration costs for the last three years) and community-based program where the lessons you learn and the accomplishments you earn are more important than the numbers on the scoreboard at the end of the game, the Edina Hockey Association continues to be the toast of the state.
Andrew Vitalis can be reached at email@example.com.