The puck was corralled somewhere near the outside of the Richfield blue line, and it was resting comfortably on the stick of a Robbinsdale Cooper ninth-grader Trey Rooney.
A few short strides later, Rooney would whistle it towards the goal, not thinking much of where it would end up.
To his surprise, he teammates sticks shot into the air, as it resulted in a goal that would be Rooney’s first as a high school hockey player.
Almost sheepishly, he returned to center ice, asking the game referee for the puck. He would get it, and skate to his bench, before tossing it up to his coach, who deposited it directly into his coat pocket.
Deep down inside, dad was beaming with pride.
“I didn’t want to show it too much,” said Bill Rooney, Trey’s father. “I never want to when it comes to Trey on the ice. But yeah, that was a moment I won’t forget anytime soon.”
Bill Rooney is, of course, the head coach of the Cooper boys hockey team, one of three similar situations gracing the northwest suburbs this winter.
At Park Center, girls basketball coach Patty Sorensen is in the midst of her second – and final – experience coaching one her daughters.
And at Champlin Park, the Maresh family is still kicking deep inside the school’s wrestling room, where head coach Bill and son Sam are now coaching together.
Each of their stories are vastly different. Each also have some similarities. Yet there is no question their respective relationships are enhanced because of what they are experiencing together.
In these instances at least, the bond between parent and child appears stronger be because of it.
“We are who we are because of what we’ve gone through,” said Bill Maresh. “Our love is that much stronger.”
Rooneys living the dream
The goal was his first. It was supposed to have meaning. It was supposed to be memorable. And Trey Rooney was supposed to celebrate it as such.
But much like his father Bill, the team comes first. And at the heart of a frustrating start to the Cooper boys hockey season, there wasn’t much to celebrate in what amounted to a sixth-straight loss to open the season.
“I’m not going to lie. It was my first goal, so it felt pretty good. But standing here now, it doesn’t seem like that big of deal,” Trey Rooney said. “We still lost a the game, and it was a game we should have won. That makes it even more disappointing.”
The trials the Rooneys were undergoing at the start to their first high school season together didn’t catch them off guard. They knew this might be a struggle, especially early on.
They knew Trey’s initiation was going to come by fire. He’s a ninth-grader, yet playing on the Hawks top line, top power play unit, and in penalty kill situations.
Most of the kids he’s skating against are 17 and 18 year’s old. Trey is only 14. And the difference has been noticeable.
“I’ve had ninth-graders before, but we’ve never had to put a ninth-grader in the position that he is in where he has to log all the minutes,” said Bill Rooney. “With our numbers this year, he’s being thrown into a pretty big spot. He is not getting that free pass that ninth-graders sometimes get. If we are going to be successful, we need him to be one of our best players. That’s a lot to ask of a 14-year old.”
To Trey, it doesn’t matter. He wants the ice time. He wants the pressure. He wants to impress his father.
He also wants to win, which is a likely compromise to his lifetime goal of playing high school hockey for Cooper.
Trey was a regular in the Hawks locker room by the time he was three. He never left his father’s side at the rink, and Bill loved the desire and the compassion Trey had for a sport that had meant so much to him growing up.
He also understood his son’s fate if this dream of one day skating for Cooper would come to be.
Trey grew up playing youth hockey under the Armstrong/Cooper cooperatively sponsored program. Bill actually coached him through PeeWees and Bantams.
But the understanding was always that, should he go on to play for Cooper, it might not last. Numbers within the Cooper side of the program are dwindling. If this isn’t the last year, next year will most likely be it before a co-op is forced at the high school level.
Trey could have open enrolled at Armstrong, where is father graduated as a high school standout. But that, simply, was never an option.
“This is all he ever wanted to do,” said Bill Rooney. “He wanted to play for the Cooper Hawks. That is what he has always dreamed of, being a Cooper Hawk. I wanted him to live that dream, even if it is for a short time.”
So, as the losses mount, the two have forged ahead. There have been some good times. Through Dec. 27, Trey had upped his point total to 15 – almost twice that of any of his teammates.
He’s got five goals now, including a hat trick in the Hawks first victory of the season in their opener with Ely in a holiday tournament up in Silver Bay last week.
Like Bill expected, Trey is adjusting to his role, and finding some success in it. As his coach, that’s a promising sign for the rest of the season. As his father, it’s even more.
“When we get home, that is when I see how much he cares,” said Trey. “When we are there, he is more my dad, and we have good talks. I know he wants me to do well.”
Coach Patty and her girls
Patty Sorensen was in Duluth, where she was getting her career started as a girls basketball coach at the high school level.
This was summertime, or in the life of a coach, camp time. Sorensen had just wrapped up her session coaching a summer camp when she noticed this petite girl off in the distance, playing with a ball.
Patty approached her, and asked if she wanted to learn how to shoot the ball.
“No,” quipped the child. “I don’t want to shoot it.”
Patty’s acumen immediately took over.
“Okay, how about we play a game,” she said. “It’s called ‘wave goodbye to the ball.’”
Or, in other words, the perfect form for shooting the ball.
It’s not clear if Patty realized it or not, but that was the moment her coaching career would forever change.
Only because that little girl was her daughter. And just like that, she was a ball player.
“Both of my girls picked up basketball pretty quick,” Patty said recently. “I guess there wasn’t much I could do to avoid that. They’ve loved it as much as I have.”
That love carried over to their high school career. Long before Keelie and then Hollie reached that point, the family discussed whether or not it would be good to have mom as a coach.
It was obvious the two were going to play through high school. Patty wasn’t going to stop coaching because of it, but she did wonder aloud if the situation would be best for her girls.
“I thought it might be easier if they could just be a normal high school kid, so we asked if they wanted to go to a different school,” Patty said. “They both said no way. They wanted this. They wanted us to do this together.”
And so it was. The girls rode to work/school with mom, went about their day – which for Hollie even includes an hour serving as Patty’s aid – and then hit the gym for practice before taking that same car ride home with mom.
“It works well for us,” said Hollie. “We have a nice balance. I always wanted her to be my coach. I even wanted her to coach my traveling teams. But it’s been pretty easy. She’s coach during practice, and mom when we get home.”
That, however, does not mean the competitiveness goes away.
Card games get interesting. Board games are even more intense. Then there is the golf course.
“It gets a little heated out there,” said Hollie.
“Well, she is still working on beating mom, which maybe she has once,” said Patty.
“I did beat you,” said Hollie. “Don’t even say I didn’t.”
A Maresh reunion at CP
His eyes started to swell up, as is so often the case when Bill Maresh starts talking about any of his three boys.
Frankly, there’s been plenty to cry about, especially when it comes to Sam, his third-born boy.
The two have shared plenty. As a high school wrestler, Sam was a three-time state champion from 2006 to 2008, and Bill had a corner-mat seat for each.
Together, they celebrated Sam’s signing on to play football at the University of Minnesota, and then cried when it was learned Sam would need open heart surgery before ever playing a down of college football.
His heart is now healed, and his on-again, off-again football dreams appear to be ready to give it one more go.
But in the meantime, Sam has found a home next to Bill in the Champlin Park wrestling room, where the two have already shared so much, and where Bill said he has learned one of his most valuable life-lessons.
All three boys wrestled. Tony, the oldest, didn’t take as much. But Mike, the middle boy, was addicted from the start.
Bill saw that, and pounced.
“I saw the potential in Michael, and I jumped on it,” said Bill. “As parents oftentimes do, they want to live through their children some, and here I am watching him, living through him. What I learned was you can never eliminate the father/son relationship. It is there. You say I’m not talking as the father; I’m talking as the coach. You can say that, but whatever color you turn your face, you are his dad. I didn’t really figure that out until I coached Sam.”
Sam never wanted anything else than Bill in his corner. From the start, the two were like brothers, and the success they experienced together is unparalleled in Minnesota high school wrestling.
No other father has coached his son to three state championship at the weight levels Sam wrestled at.
His dominance was such that, even in his final match as a prep wrestler, in the state title bout for the heavyweight division, there was simply never any doubt.
Bill said he tried to soak in every second. Sam did too, but not for the victories. He did it for dad.
“Wrestling has given us such a strong bond,” Sam said. “Pretty much everything I did out there was because of him. He was my coach, and he was the best coach I could have ever asked for. I loved wrestling for him.”
That the two have found each other back in the Champlin Park wrestling room is almost symbolic to that bond.
Sam can coach too. Bill’s already noticed that much. And he can do it in a way that translates with high school kids.
“He grew up in my house, and he’s heard all the clichés,” said Bill. “But they are not clichés, because they apply. He’ll get with the kids, and tell them you get what you put into it, and if you show me effort, I will bust my head through the wall coaching you. He’s just like me in there.”