Wadena-Deer Creek Boys’ Hockey Takes Uncommon Approach to 2023-24 Season
It can be hard to recognize the significance of something in the moment. It may not be until 10, 15, or even 20 years later that we realize how special something was.
The 2004 Wadena-Deer Creek boys hockey team the was the first ever to don the gold and blue. The 2010-11 team had to practice and play without a home arena after an F4 tornado ravaged the town.
This year’s team is only 7-13 overall. Nothing really special about that, but when people look back at the 2023-24 Wolverines, they will see their success defined by something other than their record.
W-DC graduated 10 seniors, leaving only 12 players for this seasons roster, including their goalie. The team would have folded if not for the those 12 players willing to lace up their skates on game day and play.
Before Saturday’s game, Head Coach Robby Grendahl told his players, “You’ve been knocked around. You’ve been knocked down, you’ve been beaten and broken. What’s not going to break and what hasn’t broken is your willingness to come to the rink and play. You guys are going to be a lot of things in life when this is over. But what we know about you is you’re not going to be quitters.”
At times, the Wolverines took the ice with as few as eight skaters, presenting the squad with plenty of challenges. “We don’t got anyone behind us, so when we’ve got eight players, everybody’s got to do their own part,” said Senior Captain and Goalie Gunner Olson. “They’ve got to do well in the classroom. They’ve got to do well on the ice. You’ve go to keep yourself healthy and play as smart as you can here in games.”
The team also uses work to rest ratios to keep legs fresh during games – all the more important considering opposing teams carry twice as many players. But that just means the Wolverines must play with twice as much heart.
“We’ve got to outwork them as much as we can,” acknowledged Senior Captain Jaeger Pettit. “Play the game we’re supposed to play with what coach shows us to do. Work hard, skate hard, get pucks deep, all that kind of stuff.”
Wadena-Deer Creek’s jerseys may be yellow, but the young men wearing them are not. Their confidence is solid as the stripes that adorn their uniforms. They’re a group that’s never discouraged by what they don’t have and always encouraged by what they do.
“I think we just focus on having fun because like it’s easy to be negative, but we’re all playing hockey and we love to play hockey,” insisted Junior Peyton Mithun. “You’re playing with some of your best buddies, so you just focus on the good stuff.”
The good stuff being playtime, something there is plenty of to go around with such a short bench. But while playtime may have changed, there is still plenty that hasn’t.
“The fans are all still the same. There’s still a lot of fans coming to cheering us on,” admitted Junior Sawyer Ferdon. “The energy is still the same. Great coaches still. So a lot stayed the same. It’s really just number wise, I guess that’s changed.”
But according to Coach Grendahl, the numbers are growing all because these dozen boys continue to take the ice and inspire a new generation of Wadena-Deer Creek hockey players.
“I don’t know if they know that,” he added, “but when they connect the dots years later, they’ll be able to, with a great deal of pride, say, ‘you know what our legacy was? That we’re the ones that that made that happen.'”
And he is very sure it is because it has become common to be uncommon when you play at Wadena-Deer Creek.
“When the chips are down, you’ve got eight players and everybody shows up, right? Nobody dialed in and said, ‘Coach, I don’t think I feel like playing tonight.’ I don’t know that you can do this with any team. You know, a team is comprised of individuals first and foremost, but they have to be the right ones and we definitely got the right ones.”