By Jennifer Kotila
DASSEL, COKATO, LITCHFIELD, MN The Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato Youth Hockey Association provides ice-time fun and instruction for 220 youth from Litchfield, Dassel, Cokato, and surrounding areas.
One of the first teams made up of youth from all three cities was the Bantam B team during the 1988-89 season.
Neither Litchfield or Dassel-Cokato had enough boys to support its own team, so the towns decided to combine, according to Glen Young, a father of one of the players.
The goaltender of that first team was Rob Swendra. “Being able to skate indoors was weird to us. It was a big step we all thought it was pretty neat,” Swendra said.
It was within the few years following that the other teams combined, forming the LDC Youth Hockey Association, according to Young.
Although there were a few girls who loved hockey so much they played with the boys’ teams, the first girls’ teams were not formed until 2003.
Evonne (Young) Fix was one of the girls who played with the boys through Peewees (age 12 and 13), according to her mom, Ethel Young.
However, that is the year boys were able to begin checking, and the boys were bigger and stronger than Evonne was, Ethel said.
To accommodate her love for hockey, Evonne’s parents enrolled her in an amateur C league from eighth grade through her senior year.
Evonne went on to become a hockey referee, making her way up the refereeing ranks through USA Hockey, Ethel said.
She officiated the first girls’ state hockey tournament in Minnesota; the first women’s frozen four hockey tournament; four world championships in Lake Placid, British Columbia, San Jose, and Ontario; and the first women’s hockey Olympics in 1998 in Japan, Ethel said.
Now, LDC Youth Hockey supports four girls’ teams from 8U through 14U, with a total of 64 girls ages 6 through 15, according to LDC Hockey Association board president Craig Lokken.
Many of the girls will go on to play for the LDC junior varsity and varsity girls hockey teams.
Because there are 156 boys involved in LDC Youth Hockey, they are able to support many more teams.
There are four mite teams (8 years old and under), three squirt teams (10 and under), two peewee teams (12 and under), and two bantam teams (14 and under).
With a total of 15 teams, 35 roster coaches, and numerous parent volunteer coaches, players are able to get the most out of the time spent on the ice.
Players practice on a 200-foot-by-85-foot sheet of ice at the Litchfield Civic Arena at 900 Gilman Avenue, Litchfield.
Practices for older kids can begin as early as 6 a.m. and go as late as 10 p.m., in order to provide adequate ice time for all the teams.
Two teams practice on the ice at a time, and many teams also schedule outdoor practices on available rinks, or have dry land practice at the arena.
It is hoped that when the Dassel-Cokato Regional Ice and Sports Center is completed, it can be utilized for LDC Youth Hockey in order to provide teams with more reasonable practice times.
“The program is all volunteer; we couldn’t survive without the support of our community,” said LDC Hockey board member Mark Narum.
More than 175 individuals and families spend countless hours volunteering to make the association the best it can be, according to Lokken.
All families with youth in the association volunteer for concession stand duties, off-ice official duties, and locker room monitoring.
The Beno Blue Line Club, an adult hockey league that utilizes the Litchfield Civic Arena, also does what it can to help youth hockey.
It hosts a golf tournament to raise money for the program, and donated new sticks to all mite players this year, Narum said.
The association is led by a board of 12, who receive advice from a six-member hockey advisory council.
The advisory council’s mission is to promote a healthy and safe environment for a positive individual and team experience in the game of hockey, which increases participation and improves skills.
LDC Youth Hockey is a member of District 5, and teams from 10U and squirts through 14U and bantams play games and are ranked against other teams in the district.
Mite players participate in smaller tournaments called jamborees, which take place near the end of the season.
The association is also part of Minnesota Hockey and the USA Hockey Association.
Youth are taught hockey using the American Development Model to train players, which is promoted by the USA Hockey League in partnership with the National Hockey League.
The model provides age-appropriate guidelines and curriculum to hockey associations across the US to help more kids play, love, and excel in hockey.
The LDC Hockey Association consists of 71 families from the DC area; 118 families from Litchfield; and 31 families from surrounding areas, including Howard Lake, Winsted, Atwater, and Kimball.
For more information, or to join the LDC Youth Hockey Association, call Craig Lokken at (320) 693-3702, or click on the LDC Youth Hockey link at www.dasselcokato.com.