Thole: Optimism brewing for Stillwater hockey teams

The Stillwater boys’ hockey team is off to a 9-6 start this season following recent victories over Park and Roseville. (Gazette file photos by Stuart Groskreutz)
The Stillwater boys’ hockey team is off to a 9-6 start this season following recent victories over Park and Roseville. (Gazette file photos by Stuart Groskreutz)

I joined some good friends on Saturday in the persons of the sage Jerry Foley and his high school football and hockey playing buddies at St. Paul Humboldt and later Hamline University Bob Kisch and Todd Guberman.

These three guys played the sport and Foley coached the Ponies in the late 1960s and early 1970s. My experience was being a goal judge at a high school tournament at Edina’s Braemar Arena in 1969. As rare as penalty shots are in hockey, there were four on the first day and a couple more a day later.

The Stillwater girls have won three straight conference games and stand 12-6-1 (9-3-1 in SEC) since falling to league-leader Mounds View in overtime on Jan. 4.
The Stillwater girls have won three straight conference games and stand 12-6-1 (9-3-1 in SEC) since falling to league-leader Mounds View in overtime on Jan. 4.

I almost had a nervous breakdown on every shot — afterall, I prepped in northern California and didn’t have a clue about the fast-moving sport.

Since Foley was my assistant football coach, I attended almost every game and almost got into a shoving contest with some South St. Paul Packers fans at Wakota Arena in 1972. Hockey wasn’t a sport for the “Purple Gang” in those days, it was a way of life.

After Foley retired from coaching hockey following the 1973-74 season, we joined Jerry’s dad Tom Foley and attended all the games at Aldrich Arena. I didn’t care much for the Lily Lake rink because for some unknown reason I suffered migraine headaches about every other time I was there.

Back in those days, we had a ton of football players on the hockey rosters, but I don’t think that is the case as much today. Anyway, we would take in about a dozen games a year.

We enjoy the camaraderie of attending hockey games at our well-lit local arena. Good coffee and a good hot dog is all I need and the SCVRC has both.

Getting back to last week’s game, our beloved Ponies (7-3 SEC, 9-6) outscored and outskated the Park Wolfpack (0-9, 2-11) from start to finish 4-1 — and leading 25-0 in shots on goal to start the game.

Forward John Heddle fired in the first goal before we could get our coats off, with an assist from Tyler Benson.

Jackson Cates notched one about seven minutes later with assists from Jon Peterson and Devin Cates. The Ponies led 2-0 as the Zamboni took over. The second period was more of the same, but Park got its only goal at the 5:29 mark — it’s first shot on goal. That’s right, the good guys led 25-1 in shots at that point, sports fans.

Aaron Kasinak pushed the lead to 3-1 at 11:10 of the second period with help from Jack Manning and Zach Eder-Zdechlik. Sam Sagissor finished the scoring with a goal in the third period. The Ponies, who also defeated Roseville 2-1 on Tuesday night, outshot Park 54-7 in the game.

That same night, our girls’ team (9-3-1 SEC, 12-6-1) beat arch rival White Bear Lake 4-3 on the road.

I first developed an interest in girls’ hockey when I had Kris Scholz and Tai Thorsheim in my class. I even took in some of their games at the University of Minnesota. We’ve had a lot of talented girls go through this program and who can forget all those white-knucklers with Roseville?

Back to the present Ponies, Georgia Eger was assisted by Taylor Naugle in the first period and Olivia Arkell scored an unassisted goal in the second period, but the Ponies still trailed 3-2 heading into the final stanza.

The third period belonged to the Big Red with another goal from Eger, assisted by Naugle and Olivia Konigson, and the game-winner provided by Ali Biagini with the assist by Lauren Greeder.

The Ponies also dispatched East Ridge 5-3 in a rare Wednesday night game.

I’m slowly getting into a hockey state of mind.


In the huddle

My football bowl predictions were off the mark from Day 1. The Gophers didn’t help things when they lost to mediocre Syracuse in less-than inspiring fashion. Playing two quarterbacks is not part of the formula to building a strong program. When the smoke cleared, my holiday record stood at 16-20 (.444) — my worst performance on record. I should have consulted Margo Murphy before my picks, because she knows football…. Former Ponies wrestling and football ace Andrew Staberg ’06, who was all-conference in both sports, is an independent representative for World Ventures…. That’s great news that Jessie Diggins has nailed down a spot on the cross-country ski team that will spring into action for the United States Olympics Team in Sochi, Russia in February. Diggins won three individual gold medals at state and contributed to two state team championships in Nordic skiing for the Ponies. Here’s wishing Jessie and her teammates the very best in their quest. I recall cross-country skier Kevin Brochman competing in the Winter Olympics and GreggThumperThompson ’78 playing on America’s soccer team in the 1984 Summer Olympics in Los Angeles…. Former Ponies running back Brian Charchenko, who rushed for 1,135 yards (8.0 avg.) and 11 TDs on Stillwater’s section championship team (7-5) in 1991, works for Best Buy. Brian and his wife have four children and reside in Victoria. Brian had a fine night in that 35-14 win over White Bear Lake…. I was glad to hear that former Ponies three-sport star Adam Runk ’97 received high marks as a football official last fall…. The “Polish Eagle” Dick Jonckowski, a humorist who also serves as the public address announcer for Gophers basketball and baseball, will headline the program at Trinity Lutheran Church’s M.V.P. (Men.Value.Purpose.) season-ending steak and lobster event on Tuesday, Jan. 21 in the Garden Room starting at 6 p.m. Tickets go for $30 per copy and pre-registration is encouraged so organizers can plan accordingly. Through the years, Jonckowski has roasted me several times. He is hilarious if you’re not the subject of his barbs. To register, check out:, and if you have questions contact Dana Johnson at [email protected] or by phone at 651-347-5485…. It had to be obvious to most fans that if your defense jumps offsides five times and your offensive line gives up five quarterback sacks and your opponent has Peyton Manning and you have Philip Rivers — you will probably lose. That was the case, pure and simple, when the Bronk’s outcharged the Chargers 24-14 last Sunday…. Keep calm and march on…. finis


Today’s rumination #650

When you are talking to yourself, watch your language.

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George Thole retired as head football coach at Stillwater after the 1999 season. He ranks among Minnesota’s top coaches in history with a 285-69-2 record (.805 winning percentage), including four state titles and two state runner-up finishes among 22 championship seasons. He co-authored (with Jerry Foley) “Coaching the Veer Offense,” second edition. His column appears Fridays in the Gazette. To contact the hall of fame coach e-mail: [email protected]