Danecdotes: North Stars look to build on success, rally a fanbase
The Breezy Point North Stars junior hockey team have slowly built a foundation of success on the ice. Now in the North Stars' fifth year of existence, officials hope to see the team become one the community rallies behind.
The organization is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) junior hockey club playing in the North American Tier-III Hockey League (NA3HL). The roster consists of athletes between the ages of 16 and 20.
"They are seeking advancement in their hockey careers, whether that be higher-level junior hockey or collegiate hockey," General Manager Craig Larson said. "The goal and purpose for our club is to develop hockey players to achieve those goals, to provide them the training and exposure."
The NA3HL is a tuition-based league, which means athletes pay a fee to play for the team. Those fees go toward paying for travel, meals, equipment and coaches' salaries.
The athletes - coming from various parts of the United States and Canada - can stay in a dormitory attached to Breezy Point Arena. With many of them obtaining an education online, dorm life gives the athletes an opportunity to develop socially as they hone their skills on the ice.
"We are probably one of the only teams in the country that has a dormitory attached to our facility," Larson said. "Players get to live on campus and get that dormitory experience that they are going to have in college. It is a unique experience, and it has worked out well for us."
In addition to the on-ice and dorm-life experience, the North Stars are ardent practitioners of community outreach. Larson says the athletes spent "well over 1,000 hours" volunteering in the community, including bell-ringing for the Salvation Army, reading to elementary school students, serving at fundraising breakfasts and luncheons and hanging Christmas lights on businesses in Pequot Lakes and Nisswa.
"We are at a point where if there is a business that would like us to do some sort of volunteer work, they can contact us ... and we'll send our guys over," Larson said. "The big thing with a team like this is exposure - to get the community around a team."
Though the team has been pleased with the hockey community's acceptance of the North Stars over the past five years, management would like to see the team's influence extend further - reaching Brainerd, Crosby and any other communities in a 75-mile radius. The team will face the Granite City Lumberjacks on two consecutive nights beginning on Friday, Sept. 29, in Brainerd.
"This is a good thing," Larson said. "What we are doing here is good for the athletes and good for the hockey community. Our young men are very active in the community ... They are getting a lot out of it, and not just with hockey."
The team feels the best way to expand the fanbase is by maintaining a quality team on the ice. Last season, the North Stars finished with a record of 25-19-3 and earned their second consecutive playoff berth, and 10 athletes advanced to the college and junior ranks - an organization record.
This season, the North Stars have a new head coach in DJ Vold, who has served as an assistant coach in Granite City for the past four years, winning two Silver Cups in the process. Believing the North Stars and Lumberjacks are part of the best Tier-III hockey division in the nation, Vold saw becoming the Stars' head coach as a great career opportunity.
"I looking forward to putting my stamp on things in my first year," Vold said. "I don't know that I'll like to do things differently, but I do believe you get out of the kids what you put into them. I give the kids a little more control than other guys, because if they don't believe in what I'm teaching them or what they are doing, I am not going to get what I want out of them or be very successful."
In his first season with a team that has shown improvement every year, Vold simply hopes to continue achieving the level of success the North Stars have grown accustomed to, and maybe improve on that trend in the process.
"We have eight or nine returners, so we have guys from last year's team that know what it takes to be successful in this division and in this league," Vold said. "We have good veteran leadership, and they have big goals. They want to accomplish a lot this year and I want to do the exact same things. They don't sell themselves short and the work ethic has been very good. They are excited to be here.
"We would like to finish with a better record than last year and obviously make the playoffs. Everybody's goal is to win the silver cup, and it is no different here, but we have to do the right things every day to be able to do that. I set my goals on working hard every day and coming in with the right mindset ... This could be a very good year, and I'm just excited to get started. I know the kids are, too."