Article by Johanna Ellison from the Cokato Historical Society's newsletter In the Midst Of, February, 2018, Vol. 38 No. 1.
The crack of stick on puck, the crisp tang of blade on ice is a staple of Cokato’s frigid winter memories. On trend with much of Minnesota, Cokato’s frozen lakes, rivers, and ponds became the surface of many hockey shinnies, scrimmages, and games. Although this recreational pastime has graced Cokato’s iced surfaces since the early 1900s, hockey as an organized sport did not originate in the area until the mid-1920s.
Near the Myrback bridge, on the snow-cleared ice of the Crow River, the first organized hockey team in the area laced up its skates in 1926. The team, formed by men largely from the Cokato, French Lake, and Annandale area, faced off against opposing teams of Eden Valley, St. Cloud, Paynesville, and Watkins.
The team’s success in this league eventually led to a sponsorship by a local Annandale merchant, who purchased the new uniforms for the men. Eventually some of the men on this team played for Cokato’s town team.
Cokato’s first organized hockey team emerged around the 1928 - 29 season, coinciding with the opening of the community skating rink. The rink, sponsored and run by the Cokato Lions Club, was built on Third Street, west of the Cokato Bottling Works building — approximately where the playground for Parkview Apartments now sits.
Cokato’s original team included Charlie Ilstrup, Alf Larson, Clay Calgren, Patsy Nelson, “Goheen” Johnson, Jube Tack, and Stanley Johnson. The roster, however, changed from game to game as players from other nearby teams sometimes subbed for Cokato players.
During the 1928-29 season, Cokato played local teams such as Howard Lake, Litchfield, Stockholm, French Lake, and St. Cloud. French Lake was their only loss of the year (final score as 4-2). According to the January 24, 1929 Cokato Enterprise, French Lake’s final goal was scored by Cokato player “Tiny” Johnson “who became flustered and shot the puck into the Cokato net.”
During the 1930s the Cokato team came to be sponsored by the Cokato Co-op Oil Association. Another outdoor rink was built by the Co-op station (which was located where the Marketplace is now). By 1936-1937 season Cokato was a formidable opponent, winning a trophy from the Central Minnesota Hockey Championships.
The team included Irvin and Chester Lundeen; Roy, Reynold, and Ernest Hill; Paul and Ray Samuelson; Virgil and Raymond Johnson; and Melvin and Kenneth Long. With the team’s growing success, Cokato’s love of hockey started to pick up momentum. The following winter, a second rink was flooded next to the Co-op rink, with the purpose of meeting the demands of Cokato’s first high school team.
Although there are no records yet found that support the team lasted more than a year, Cokato High School did add hockey as one of its athletic programs for the 1937-38 season. The team was captained by Raymond Mattson and included teammates Norman Granquist, Willis Wessman, Delbert Wessman, Stanley Stevenson, Ronald Johnson and Roy Redmond. Subs for the high school team included Kenneth Kalberg, Oscar Johnson and Virgil Johnson.
The team went undefeated for the seven-game season, beating other local high school teams such as Granite Falls, Howard Lake, Dassel, and Watkins.
By December 1938, plans for a community rink in Peterson Park were under way. The rink was sponsored by Cokato post of the American Legion, the Legion Auxiliary, and the Cokato Association.
At some point between this winter and January of 1940, the iconic log home — a section of which now sits in the museum — became the warming house for the Peterson Park skating rink. From the winter of 1940-1941 this community rink became the home of Cokato’s Winter Carnival, an event which featured hockey games as a part of the entertainment.
Unfortunately, the warm winter months of January and February 1942 prevented a third Winter Carnival from occurring and hindered the hockey season. In addition, the outbreak of WWII for the United States drew many young men into service and away from the local rink. In fact, many town teams ceased organized play around this time. However, the youth and those that remained still kept the game going, skating at Peterson Park or any frozen surface they could get their skates on.
From 1946 and on, only brief mentions of hockey at the youth level are mentioned in the Cokato Enterprise. In January 1947, the Busy Farmers of Temperance Corner 4-H hockey club played a game against the Monticello 4-H team on Cokato Lake. Cokato players included Earl Keskey, Raymond Jarvi, Arnie Saari, Donald Nelson, and Reynold Lappi. These youth, as well as those that followed them, continued to play unorganized hockey for over a decade, carving the way for the next round of organized hockey in Cokato.