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Heartland Hockey Camp Progress Edition

DEERWOOD -- What started out as nothing but a failed figure skating camp and a dream has become a hockey camp and summertime fun destination that attracts children far and wide. Olympian Steve Jensen and his wife Sandy are the driving forces behind Heartland Hockey Camp in Deerwood, and they have grand plans for expanding to offer lacrosse. “We started about two years ago and cleared about 9 acres of land in the northwest corner of our 45-acre parcel to build a lacrosse field, and I’d say we’re about halfway through it,” he said. The 80-acre campus “in the heart of Minnesota’s vacation land ... is the only self-contained, privately owned hockey camp in the world,” according to Heartland Hockey Camp’s owners. “We’re excited because we figure that by about 2021, we’re going to start lacrosse camps here, and it’s a really convenient situation for the kids because a lot of the kids that play hockey love lacrosse, so this will be a nice crossover for kids who want to do two weeks in our program.” The Jensens Sandy Jensen, 64, and her husband Steve, 63, met when they were 15 years old and have been a couple for almost half a century. “She loved to skate. She was actually captain of the hockey cheerleading team in high school, and I was captain of the hockey team,” he recalled with an affectionate smile. “When we got married and I played pro hockey, she followed me all over the country and all over the world.” The former professional offensive ice hockey player appeared in 438 games in the National Hockey League from 1976-82. For more than three decades, he has served as camp director and served USA Hockey for almost two decades as a certified hockey official. “And when I retired from pro hockey, I told her it was my passion and dream to own a summer hockey camp. Well she, of course, backed me and supported me in the idea,” he said. When they bought the foreclosed site of the future camp from Deerwood Bank in 1987 after leasing it for two years, the ice rink on the property was only three-quarters completed. “Our biggest challenge was we were going to come in and just rent the facility for two weeks because someone else owned it and try a hockey camp ... but by the time we were close to opening up … they decided they couldn’t do it, that they weren’t going to make it,” she said. From that rocky start, they could have easily given up on his dream of opening a hockey camp. But as a member of the 1976 U.S. Olympic Hockey Team who led the team in goal scoring with 52 goals, he was not deterred so easily. “We were kind of in a bind. We took in money and we had to run a camp … but meanwhile a lot of local people got burned because they had done work, and they weren’t getting paid, so it took quite a while for local people to believe that we were here to stay,” she said. He said, “A lot of my hockey friends that I had played NHL and Olympic hockey, none of them had faith in us that we were going to make it because back in those days we’d have been the first private-owned hockey rink in Minnesota. … It was a struggle for us for the first 10 years.”