Jim Michaud called it one of the most significant accomplishments of his career as an activities director.
Jeff Vizenor, head coach of the first St. Cloud Icebreakers girls hockey team, called it a springboard, a situation even a new head coach couldn’t foul up.
“It was a great experience,” Vizenor said. “We had really skilled kids, good goal-tending, good attitudes.
“We had all the pieces to compete right away.”
The Icebreakers are host to Roseau at 7:15 p.m. Friday at the Municipal Athletic Complex. Between periods of the game, St. Cloud will celebrate the 15th anniversary of the city’s first varsity girls hockey team.
“That was a really great group,” said Michaud, who is retired as St. Cloud Apollo’s activities director and also had the same role at St. Cloud Cathedral. “I’m really proud to have been a part of that.”
Michaud spoke before the school board. asking it to recognize the program and grant it varsity status. He said the city already had female youth hockey players excelling and the time was right.
“You could tell that was a program that was going to bust right open,” he said.
He said he was so vocal about getting the program because his sisters had been good hockey players who weren’t able to play because there was no team in his hometown of White Bear Lake.
“It was kind of a personal thing for me,” he admitted. “We never knew if we were going to be able to get it to fly with the school board, but we got it through.”
Michaud recruited Vizenor to be the coach. Vizenor said he had been an assistant boys hockey coach and wasn’t enthralled with the idea of coaching a new girls team. But, Michaud encouraged him, telling him there would be a lot of opportunities and he was right.
After coaching the Icebreakers for one season, Vizenor became the head women’s hockey coach at St. Mary’s in Winona, then was an assistant at Wisconsin before becoming the head women’s coach at Minnesota State-Mankato.
These days, he is in his second school year as activities director at Jordan High School.
“Well, I remember we had great goal-tending in Missy Meemken,” Vizenor said. “We had some really skilled, top line players like Nicole Spoden and Jess Wolke.
“We really had pretty good depth for a new program. A lot of the names are escaping me now, but it was really a good team.”
The Icebreakers won the first game in program history, going to Elk River and winning 9-1. Cathedral activities director Emmett Keenan remembers doing the game on radio.
Many of the key players on that team are no longer in the area, though those that are will be introduced Friday.
Steph Boeckmann, who went on to play for Wisconsin, is now Steph Matthes and is a research scientist in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Wolke, now Jessica Wiener, lives in the New York area and is an accountant. Rachel MacPherson, now Rachel Dereit, is a physician’s assistant in the Denver area.
“It was the year before I started at Cathedral and Pat Blondin and I did the game,” Keenan said. “They had us on the small side of the arena in Elk River.”
The team ended up with the top seed in the section, but was upset by Moorhead in the first round.
“That was easily the biggest disappointment,” Vizenor said. “I had my bags packed. I was sure we were heading to state.
“I think if we had played them 10 times, we’d have beaten them nine.”
The Icebreakers currently are made up of players from Apollo, Cathedral and Tech. For a while, Tech had its own program and the Icebreakers were made up of Apollo and Cathedral.
But, Tech came back into the co-op three years ago because of a lack of numbers to sustain full varsity and junior varsity programs.
“There was a lot of excitement about girls hockey in the state at the time because it was so new,” Vizenor said. “Some of the luster has maybe worn off of, but I don’t think it’s going away.
“I’m proud to have been a part of it at the very beginning.”
The Sartell wrestling team remains in first place in the Central Lakes Conference with a 5-0 record and is 8-2 overall.
The Sabres are host to second-place Alexandria (4-1, 7-3) at 7:15 p.m. Thursday. Sartell beat Willmar in a big match last Thursday and won three duals Saturday at the Staples-Motley Invitational.
“They (Alexandria Cardinals) are going to be tough,” Sartell head coach Cody Olson said. “The beat Willmar and lost to Brainerd and we’ll see Brainerd soon (Feb. 5 at Brainerd).”
Among the Sabres’ wins on Saturday was one over Kimball, which took second in Class A last season.
“I’m always happy with a win,” Olson said. “Everything’s good.
“Against Willmar, it was the first time all year we had everybody in the lineup that we wanted.”
* Former St. Cloud Tech and Bemidji State hockey star Travis Winter is coaching junior hockey in the NAHL for the Aberdeen (S.D.) Wings. The team is 8-25-5-1 and is averaging 1,176 fans per game.
Winter had been an assistant coach for the Cedar Rapids (Iowa) Rough Riders of the USHL.
* The Breakdown Minnesota/Wisconsin Border Battle boys basketball showcase is Feb. 2 at Prior Lake High School. It includes most of the state’s heavyweights, including Apple Valley, Osseo and Prior Lake, which played in the Granite City Classic.
The schedule: Mahtomedi vs. Eau Claire Regis, 11 a.m.; Eden Prairie vs. Manitowac Roncalli, 12:45 p.m.; Hopkins vs. De Pere, 2:15 p.m.; Minneapolis DeLaSalle vs. Appleton West, 3:45 p.m.; Osseo vs. Hudson, 6:30 p.m.; Prior Lake vs. Rice Lake, 7 p.m.; Apple Valley vs. Madison Memorial, 8:30 p.m.