If participants in next weekend's Pee Wee A state hockey tournament at Brainerd Area Civic Center emulate anyone, they couldn't select better role models than Bill Baker and Neal Broten.
Baker and Broten both were All-Americans at the University of Minnesota, were members of the 1980 Olympic gold medal hockey team and went on to play in the NHL.
Today, Baker is a maxillofacial surgeon in Brainerd and Broten manages his family's horse farm in River Falls, Wis.
Both will kick off the state festivities when they speak at the tournament banquet 7 p.m. Thursday at the Brainerd High School cafeteria, an event that is open to the public.
Brainerd Warriors head coach Ty Eigner will emcee the banquet. Former NHL player personnel director Chuck Grillo of Minnesota Hockey Camps at Nisswa and Baxter resident Elmer Walls, president of Minnesota Hockey, also will speak.
The tournament will be in Brainerd for the first time in 12 years. Kim Larson, coach of the Elks/MJ Sportshop team of Brainerd, said hosting the state event means a great deal to the community.
"Eight of the top 10 teams in the state at the Pee Wee age level will be coming to town," Larson said. "It's ironic it will be here, with the Gold Medal Arena, and the whole overall mood of hockey in Brainerd. I think it will be a great weekend."
State tournament director Hans Impola, president of Brainerd Amateur Hockey Association, concurs.
"It's a great way to end the year, to have such a big event, to have the best teams here playing, and being able to have those people that normally wouldn't be here come here," Impola said. "We also have the opportunity to show off the facilities here. As far as I'm concerned when we finish the Gold Medal side, Brainerd will be one of the nicer places in the state."
Elks/MJ Sportshop is the tournament's host team. It will oppose Edina in the opening game 2 p.m. Friday.
"We scrimmaged Edina during our tryout process," Larson said. "They have been ranked No. 1 in the state. The No. 1 ranking has bounced between Moorhead and Edina. They beat each other up a couple times.
"Edina did beat us 6-1 in the scrimmage. They had their A team there. Their program has well over 100-plus players competing for their top 15 spots. They have a hockey tradition there. We're trying to build that here. This tournament could help that a good deal."
Elks/MJ Sportshop prepared for the state event by winning a tournament at Sauk Centre last weekend.
"The competition was not what it will be in the state tournament," Larson said. "We wanted to do well, and we did. Anytime you can build confidence by having some success it helps you.
"To be the host team and to be automatically seeded in the state tournament, some people might think our expectations may not be real high. We have set a goal of playing three games. You have to win one of your first two games to play a third. If we play a third game that means we're playing for a trophy."
Larson said the Brainerd team set its goals differently since it was hosting the state event.
"In previous years we focused on district play, getting to the district tournament, doing as well as we possibly can and going on to the region," he said. "This year we refocused a little bit. We tried to get the kids up for every opportunity.
"We did play a lot of the top teams throughout the state in tournaments and scrimmages. We are loaded with second-year kids. That's a plus this late in the season and development-wise."
Elks/MJ Sportshop (23-20) has been led in scoring by Zach Lundbohm and Kyle Brown. Nick Whichello and Jake Carlson have alternated in goal.
"Overall, it's been exciting at times," Larson said, "and it's been frustrating at times, as it is in any long season. We have competed well with the top teams. We seem to remain in the 1-2 goal range of the top teams. We hope to build on that and play well. That's all we can ask for.
"It should be an exciting weekend. Not many kids get an opportunity to play in a state tournament regardless of how they get there. We hope it will be a weekend where we play well and it's something that our kids will never forget."
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