Article by Johanna Ellison from the Cokato Historical Society's newsletter In the Midst Of, September, 2018, Vol. 38 No. 4.
Dassel-Cokato Youth Hockey. Date unknown.
In December of 1955, the skating rink moved from Peterson Park to Mooers Park. At first, the new skating rink, lined by snow banks, only saw scrimmages, shinnies, and rink ratting. In fact, an organized league did not touch the ice until Forrest (Butch) Amundsen, representing the Cokato Jaycees, approached the Cokato Village Council on July 12, 1971, about the city providing a youth hockey program. In addition, Amundsen proposed plans for enlarging the skating rink and building hockey boards. As a result to Amundson, the Cokato Businessmen Association, and the Jaycees efforts, that winter Cokato Hockey Association featured, in December of 1971, not only an improved hockey rink, but also a Squirts (under 10 years), and Bantams team (age 12-14). Eventually, the Cokato Hockey Association added Peewees, Mites, Midgets, and Juveniles teams. Although these teams were primarily comprised of boys, a couple of girls briefly entered the ranks in the early 1980s—Sara Keskey and Sonja Lund. Unfortunately, a girls’ team would not form until approximately a decade later.
Butch Amundsen coaching youth hockey, early 1970s. Photo from Cokato Enterprise Collection.
Young adults in Cokato also found ways to play hockey. In January and February of 1971, the Cokato Enterprise mentions the Cokato Lake Cougars hockey team, which played in an unorganized hockey league. The team’s home ice was the north side of Cokato Lake, where the Cougars played teams such as Lester Prairie’s Rueben’s Rebels, Knapp Kins, and the Lake Henry Lakers. The only players mentioned in the articles were Tim Ziegler (goalie), Paul Kotila, and Paul Koivisto. (If you know anything more about this team please let us know!)
The story of the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato boys’ high school hockey program starts with separate teams. The Litchfield Boys’ Varsity High School Hockey program originated during the 1970-71 season, with head coach Peter (Pete) Aus at the helm. Litchfield’s program was one of the first in this area so for a couple of seasons they played teams like Orono and practiced outdoors. With the support and efforts of the city, Pete Aus, and school, Litchfield opened an indoor arena, named the Litchfield Civic Center, in December of 1973.
L/D-C verses Fergus Falls, December, 1989. Photo from the Enterprise-Dispatch collection.
Meanwhile, on the Dassel-Cokato side of things, high school age boys played on their local association-sponsored juvenile’s team, similar to today’s Jr. Gold. Although Dassel-Cokato played mostly outdoors, some important games were played at the indoor ice arena in Buffalo.
By the early 1980s, the idea of creating a Litchfield and D-C varsity level hockey program surfaced. On October 27, 1983, the D-C High School approved combining with Litchfield. Unfortunately, due to a Minnesota High School League merger rule, the Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Dragons, had to form a sort of “club” team for a season. As such, the 1983-84 Dragons “club” hockey team, coached by Aus, was unable to participate in the high school playoffs or tournament. The following 1984-85 season was the inaugural year for the L/D-C Dragons—when D-C students could finally represent their school in hockey.
The D-C 1984-85 L/D-C hockey team was comprised of Terry Halonen, David Jarl, Mike Gill, Jason Lind, Scott Harper, Steve Knisely, Bob Karg, Larry Tormanen, Jim Hannus, Mark Raisanen, Dan Osmundson, Kurt Gabrielson, Deron Ellertson, Tim McGraw, Dean Helstrom, David Aus, Steve Johnson, John Hoien, Lyle Wagner, and Scott Morris. The team was lead by Coach Weida, Coach Lundin, and Coach Sundin.
L/D-C Girl's Hockey early 2000s.
For the D-C girl’s the wait was longer. Until the 1990s many girls did not have the option to play hockey on the high school level throughout most of Minnesota. By 1994, the first girls’ high school hockey state tournament was held. However, it wasn’t until the 1998-1999 season that the Dragon’s had a girls’ hockey team. Last year (2017) marks their 20th anniversary season.
The 1998-99 Girls Hockey Team was coached by Markus Millazo Steve Bendaand. Players included S. Niemela, Talia Wischmann, Robyn Wozniak, M. Carlson, Naomi Benda, S. Fischer, J. Tidwell, S. Gunnerson, Valerie Moe, Heather Amundsen, Elizabeth McGraw, D. Oberg, Stephanie Nikula, M. Eidsvaag, K. Johnson, S. Wright, K. Nielson, Jessica Hilker, A. Belinsky, M. Lalonde, and A. Kerr.
Since their inaugural seasons the L/D-C boys and girls teams have made five state tournament appearances. The boys touched tournament ice in 1996, 2008, 2016, and 2018 seasons; the girls’ for the first time in 2014. With such an extensive history with hockey, it is exciting to think what Cokato has to show for future years.
Any further information or photographs would be greatly appreciated! Please contact the museum if you are interested in sharing your hockey story.
A special thanks to Kandiyohi County Historical Society and Meeker County Historical Societies for their aid in acquiring information about the L/D-C programs. Also, thank you to all of the former players, coaches, and parents who let me interview them about their own experiences.