Since the birth of the Pequot Lakes boys' hockey program, Bob Fischer has been the guiding hand.
The patriarch of the Patriots' program cultivated a team from an 0-20 beginning in 1999-2000 to a 9-14-1 record last season. He's remained patient watching numbers, talent and the success increase.
This season, the Patriots opened with a 2-1 record, but they're not celebrating. An 11-0 pounding by Detroit Lakes Dec. 6 proved progress remains.
"Anytime you start a program from scratch there's always some growing pains," said Fisher, who owns a 17-66-1 record as Pequot's head coach. "We're not done by any means. Detroit Lakes got a hold of us pretty good. It was a nice start at 2-0, but then you come up against a team a little better caliber than us and we didn't show up ready to play."
In its five seasons, Pequot has joined the Mid-State Conference and developed scoring threats like Todd Szymanski (fourth in Section 4A last season) and Zach Herding (eighth). But what Pequot hasn't done is win a section playoff game.
"As a team we need to focus at every practice," said Fisher. "I can honestly say we're taking it one game a time. We've tried to develop from the bottom up. We're trying to get our kids to be better students of the game.
"When we first started, hockey was somewhat of a pastime rather than a passion. We are seeing a change in that."
Pequot will showcase its improvement this week when it travels to Crosby and Wadena.
The Patriots face the Crosby-Ironton/Aitkin Grizzlies tonight. They travel to face the Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines in another crucial section matchup Thursday.
Last season the Patriots swept the Grizzlies and outscored them 17-9. In the last three years C-I/A owns a 4-2 record against Pequot.
C-I/A is 0-2 after losses to Red Lake and Moose Lake-Willow River this season.
"I like to think it will be a pretty good game with Crosby," said Fisher. "They lost about four seniors and so we like to think we can give them a pretty good game and hope for a win.
"Wadena is what we're really focused on. Based on what I've heard, Wadena and DL played against each other in a preseason game and I've heard Wadena is a little better. We know what that means, just playing DL."
The Patriots have never beaten the Wolverines, going 0-2 last winter. They were outscored 14-2 in those games. The Wolverines have been one of the top hockey teams in the area and should be again this season. They are 3-0, with wins against Little Falls, Mesabi East and Ely.
Fisher said W-DC, along with Fergus Falls, will be the top two teams in the section.
"Looking at the kids, and the numbers W-DC has, I see them giving Fergus a run for their money," said Fisher. "Fergus Falls seems to have always represented our section at the state meet. But with Brandon Currie, Andrew Murray and Kyle Timm back, Wadena should be right near the top."
Fisher said Willmar and Little Falls would be the next two teams, followed by Pequot and Morris-Benson.
Whatever happens this week, Fisher and his coaching staff will remain patient with the development of the program.
"Dynasties don't happen overnight," he said. "Coming from International Falls and looking at the Warroads and Roseaus, their deep rich culture and hockey heritage, I have to realize it took them 40 to 60 years to get that.
"From five years to 50, I just have to keep things in perspective. We have to do a better job of getting the community to buy into hockey. We've felt the ticket has been to build the younger programs. We had 70 Mites sign up this year.
"Although it's been a bit frustrating at the varsity level, it's nice to watch the development we're seeing."
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.