Minnesota Blue Ox – Thin the Herd – Volume 6 – 2023-2024

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Meet the Owner/ Partner/GM/Head Coach

Meet the Owner/ Partner/Hockey Enthusiast


Michael Russo
By John Sumner Photos
By Anna Hauglie
By Joe Ruhland
By Dayna Landgrebe
By Shiela Gibson
By Dan Myers
By Mark Jendro



Head Coach Jay Witta is in his 10th year of Junior A’ hockey and 8th year with the Blue Ox ownership group. Jay’s career Junior A’ head coaching record is 328-128-14 and he has helped guide the Blue Ox to three National Tournament appearances in the first seven years. Witta has also helped promote over 30 players to the TIER 2 LEVEL as well as 50+ players onto NCAA/ACHA college hockey.

Prior to purchasing the Blue Ox, Witta had been the head coach of the NA3HL’s Junior A’ hockey team – the New Ulm Steel. Witta completed a 67-33-10 two year record with the Steel, a Silver Cup semifinal appearance 2015/16 and a Western Division playoff final loss to the eventual National Champion, Granite City 2016/17.

Jay worked daily with the Steel ownership in all aspects of the business – budgets, league communications, recruiting, trades, facilities, core value accountability, parent communication and player advancement.

2017 is when Jay, Bruce and Crystal Boudreau decided to purchase a United States Premier Hockey League franchise in the Midwest West Division. The rest is history.

Jay is a Minnetonka, Minnesota native, played three years for the Minnetonka Skippers from 1985-87 where he was named captain his Senior season and helped guide the Skippers to their first ever Lake Conference Championship and was honored with an All-Conference Team selection. Witta was recruited by Herb Brooks at St. Cloud State University in 1987 to play on the inaugural SCSU Division 1 squad.

After entertaining offers from various Division 1 & 3 programs across the country, Witta chose to stay close to home and attend St. Cloud State University as a walk on defenseman. Witta also played Junior A’ hockey in Humboldt, Saask. for the Broncos (SJHL) before an undetected heart issue caused him to retire and return back to Minnesota. Witta has been coaching youth for the past 30 seasons and served on the Minnetonka Youth Hockey Board for four years. Witta resides in Minnetonka with his wife Sara and their four boys. Bennett, Brody, Brooks and Griffin.

Please reach out to Coach Witta at jay@blueoxhockey.com with any questions, comments or Blue Ox stories you would love to share! And better yet, pull him aside at the rink when you can as he love to talk youth sports and hockey with any and all parents and fans!



Gary joined the Blue Ox team by acquiring a percentage of the Boudreau’s ownership shares in February of 2021. Jay and Gary have known each other through business and youth sports circles for the last fifteen years, and when the opportunity arose for Gary to become part of the Blue Ox organization, well the timing could not have been better. He is a lifelong hockey player and hockey fan!

Gary is also a Founder/Owner in Breakaway Hockey Academy in Edina, Minnesota which specializes in furthering education for school kids with a passion for hockey excellence. Breakaway Academy has helped develop NHL drafted players such as Bobby Brink, MIke Koster, Drew Helleson, Jackson Lacombe, Rhett Pitlick and many more high end college and international players. www.BreakawayAcademy.net

Gary also has a passion for real estate development as well as giving back to many local youth charities. Organizations include: The Boys and Girls Club (clubs for inner city youth), CCTP (helping felons reenter the work force), Student Venture (developing student leaders), and Big Brothers Big Sisters (pairing youths with adult mentors – 40 plus years of involvement).

Gary is an avid hockey fan as well as former coach and hockey dad. He still skates at least once a week if not more and he can be found throughout the winter attending many local high school hockey games.

Be sure to reach out to Gary and say hello when you see him roaming the rink at home Blue Ox games. He will always have a smile and time to talk and catch up. Always.


Bruce Boudreau’s ambition is simple: To keep kids playing hockey. The hockey lifer began his Golden Horseshoe Hockey School in Ontario 45 years ago and it was purely because he didn’t want young hockey players to quit once they realized they probably wouldn’t fulfill their dreams of one day making it to the NHL.

There are so many other places players can strive to play competitive hockey, whether that’s juniors, colleges, a myriad North American pro leagues and, of course, throughout Europe. He wanted to keep kids learning the game. He wanted to keep kids loving the game. “I really believe I was put on the Earth to promote the game, so everywhere I’ve gone I’ve tried my best to promote hockey and make it bigger,” said Boudreau, who behind only Hall of Famer Scotty Bowman owns the second-best points percentage (.654) as a coach in NHL history. “And this was an opportunity that really allowed that to happen.” Boudreau’s ties to Minnesota only included a brief stint decades ago with the WHA Fighting Saints and one year coaching the Wild.

But he still had a desire to give back to the State of Hockey. So, the opportunity Boudreau is referring to? Helping launch the expansion Blue Ox into the United States Premier Hockey League in 2017 with his wife, Crystal and local marketing business owner and hockey coach Jay Witta. Witta used to coach the New Ulm Steel in the NA3HL. In April 2017, Witta met up with Boudreau and broached the subject of going in together on a junior team.

“He looked at me and goes, ‘Find us a team, and I’m in,’” Witta said. A week later, Witta called Boudreau and said, “I found a team. ”Months later, the Tier III expansion team was debuting in Coon Rapids with Witta serving as head coach and general manager and Crystal Boudreau running pretty much the entire business operations. Bruce’s role besides the financial commitment? King cheerleader.

During the Blue Ox’s season, Boudreau often attends games and sometimes even collects tickets. When Blue Ox games conflict with Wild games, he’s getting constant text updates from his wife and hilariously updates local Wild reporters on just how the Blue Ox are doing. “I want to just promote hockey, and I think we’ve done that,” Boudreau said.

“We started the Blue Ox really fast last year, but the second year, especially in the offseason, it has gone so much easier than the first season because people didn’t know.

“They didn’t know if we were staying, coming or going, but I think from sponsorship and everything else it’s gone up by a lot. And the people know who the Blue Ox are. Name recognition is so much greater this year. This time last year people were asking, ‘What are you smoking?’” The Blue Ox rosters 25 players ranging from Minnesota, California, New York, Texas - all throughout the United States and Canada - and even Europe.


“Our team has become a destination for players,” said Witta. “It’s because of how we run the team, the culture from the top down. All the things that are kind of lacking in junior hockey, that’s not the case here. Our goal, is not to just run a Tier 3 Junior A’ hockey team. We want to run a mini-NHL team, do it right and make the player experience off the charts. The players here know they will be treated well and be given an honest chance to develop their game, that is rare in Junior A’ hockey.”

Boudreau’s hope is to one day add a youth program, an Under-16 and Under-18 team and a Tier II team like other programs across the USPHL. In the summer of 2018, Boudreau’s youngest son, Brady, a goalie on the Blue Ox, launched an off-shoot of his dad’s hockey school right at the Coon Rapids Ice Center. “The city here has worked tremendously with us,” Boudreau said. “It’s become a family thing, too, and I’m real proud of it. For six bucks, kids can get in to a Blue Ox game. That’s pretty good in today’s world, you can’t get anything for six bucks.”

Junior hockey’s landscape has changed rapidly in the last 30 years, so even Division III college programs want their incoming freshmen to have a few years of junior hockey under their belt, Witta said. “Our younger kids are looking to move up a tier and still maybe dream of Division I and the rest of them want to play Division III or ACHA D1 college

hockey,” said Witta, who once upon a time captained the Minnetonka High School Skippers. “These are guys out to prove something or maybe they were a late bloomer. It’s a great level. They’re hungry. “Advancement is one thing that is awesome, but a great hockey experience is priceless.” And, there’s always success stories.

Before Boston University, the Wild’s Charlie Coyle played in the league as a 17-year-old for the South Shore Kings in Foxboro, Mass. He finished fifth in league scoring and called it a “great experience.” In fact, Coyle says he still uses the Kings’ strength and conditioning coach, Brian McDonough, as his personal trainer. A few years ago, Witta had a Swiss player named Yannick Zehnder play Tier III hockey in White Bear Lake. Two winters ago, Zehnder lit it up with eventual No. 1 overall NHL pick Nico Hischier for Switzerland in the U20 world junior championships. Goalie Adam Carlson, who never even played varsity hockey at Edina, played for the Steele County Blades, ultimately got a full ride to Mercyhurst and recently signed with the Washington Capitals. This past summer, the Wild brought 20-year-old Finnish Blue Ox defenseman Oskari Halme to development camp on a tryout.

“Scouts go everywhere to find players,” Boudreau said. “Somebody that might not be ready at 17 may all of a sudden flourish in a league like this at 18, 19 or

20. You can at some point catch that diamond in the rough or can go on to Division I or bigger and better things.

“This is the State of Hockey, and my family wants to be Minnesotans. So if we can get involved in the minor and junior hockey level, I think that’ll be great for long after I’m done coaching.”

As important as teaching the players and letting them get a grand experience, Blue Ox fans are having a ball, too.

“It’s so good for the community,” said Todd Bushy, a Coon Rapids resident and father of six boys. “It’s just great. Tailgating in the parking lot, and such a good atmosphere inside.” Bushy loves the commitment from Boudreau and the ownership. “Right from the news conference, Bruce got on the ice and took pics with the kids and signed my son’s goalie stick,” Bushy said. “He’s been just first class all the way. He even walked for miles and sat on our Coon Rapids Youth Hockey float at our parade last summer. He didn’t have to do that, but he signed every autograph ever asked. He was just unbelievable.”

Michael Russo covers the Minnesota Wild and National Hockey League for The Athletic. He has covered the NHL since 1995. He co-hosts the Russo-Souhan Show on talknorth.com and can be heard on KFAN (100.3-FM) and seen throughout the hockey sea- son on Fox Sports North. Follow Russo on Twitter at @RussoHockey. Please consider a subscription to The Athletic go to theathletic.com/michaelrussohockey



Justin Garstecki // ’04 Goalie
Gulf Coast University


That was the main question that raced through our minds for quite some time. I was intrigued by the idea of billeting, I guess it was in my blood. My parents were dorm parents for high school students when we lived in Kobe, Japan (I lived with these dorm kids from birth until age five). My grandma hosted foreign exchange students, one of whom her and I attended her wedding in Japan many years later. But having two younger kids, 7 and 10 at the time, meant we had to take extra consideration into inviting a teen hockey player to live with us. What if they were a horrible influence? What if they were rude, dirty, didn’tf ollow the rules, didn’t respect our house and family?

Having gone through all the worst-case scenarios, we then began to look at what the positives could be… Being a new hockey family, how cool would it be to have someone for our kids to learn the game from? Not to mention the priceless advice that we could receive from veteran hockey parents on how to navigate the perils of youth hockey. We decided to do some moreresearch about billeting a player.

Initially, Mike sent me a link about billeting for the Minnesota Moose. I looked it over, thought about it for a few days, emailed the coach and billet coordinator. Communication was a little slow and lacking.


I went and checked out a game with the kids. It was fun to watch, but the atmosphere was less than desirable. I remember the entertainment between periods were two or three remote controlled cars out on the ice. Not even a race, just watching them drive on the ice. (No offense Moose but lame) I did some googl-ing and found that the Ox team wasn’t that far from us either. Hmm, okay, let’s check out that team.

Our initial Blue Ox gameday experience was a total 180 degrees - game was great and the atmosphere was amazing! They seemed to have a great fan base. Ok, they got the hook in me, now time to reel me in...I reached out to coach Jay and the billet coordinator. Super fast and friendly responses from both and we were invited to the next game. The coordinator said there would be a potluck with the billets and parents, and we would be able to meet people and ask questions. Our family went and had a good time. I got all my questions answered and now I’m reeled in. We signed up to billet. Here comes another of life’s adventures.


The anticipation of our first player was crazy, we were just a bundle of nerves and worry but also total excitement. The day came where we got the message about who we were matched with - Preston Cloutier from Springfield, Massachusetts. After coach did the initial introduction via Whatsapp, Mike was busy checking out stats and we start chatting away with Preston and his parents. All is well, seems like a good kid, with good parents.


After finding our Preston was allergic to cats and dogs (and we have 3 dogs), I went out and purchased an air filter purifier for his room, hoping that this will prevent issues with Preston’s allergies. Preston moves in at the beginning of September, just in time for the team’s dreaded boot-camp. Initially he is pretty quiet. And he is a total adult - cooks for himself, does his own laundry, cleans up after himself. Our rules were pretty basic - obey the team rules and curfew, just let us know if you’re running late, and you’re responsible for cleaning tour bathroom and bedrooms. He followed everything to a T. The season was spent getting to know Preston, his family, the Ox, the other billets and parents, and even other fans.

This isn’t just a boy and a hockey team. This was a Blue Ox community, the whole package. Good, bad and ugly. I will tell you 95% good! The added bonus - Preston asked if he could stay with us for the summer too and we didn’t hesitate to say yes. Good, he wasn’t leaving yet!


Originally Preston had signed to play a 2nd year with the Ox but made the hard decision to switch and play for a team back out East. We had one last family dinner with Preston and his mom, four of us and my parents. That night was filled with a lot of tears. I’m happy to say even with him being states away, we’ve still texted regularly and spoken a few times (shout out to Preston’s dad, Larry, for also staying in touch - great guy!) We hope to get out to Boston for a visit sooner than later.

But, our journey isn’t over yet. Year 2 we get matched with Zach from Omaha, Nebraska. As soon as that happens I’m texting Preston asking him to ask Karl (Ox player also from Omaha) to give us the low-down on Zach. All good things were reported - phew! Our second year was almost filled with more anxiety in the beginning. After having such a great first year billeting itwas almost like, could we get so lucky again?? We did!

Farnsy is super chill, very respectful, holds a damn good conversation for an 18 year old (no offense to most 18 year olds) - his mom said she’s always gotten compliments about this and I could see why! He was pretty regimented about cleaning, doing his laundry but ate out all the time. With two kids in sports we’re hardly home so dinners are on the fly a lot. He’d join when he was home but a lot of times it was “oh I already ate with the guys.” By the tail end of the season he was finally cooking more for himself, making steaks a few times a week. Getting texts of ‘hey, can you pick up X, Y and Z for me at the grocery store’ made me relieved and useful.

Our two years have been filled with highs and lows (mostly highs!). Lots of memories were made (and more to come): working hard to get Preston his drivers license (taking him to a parking lot to practice parallel parking); both billet boys playing video games and knee hockey with the kids and attending their U12 and squirt games; Preston making bracelets with Macy; Zach giving Macy some skating pointers; Ox pasta feeds; Sully dropping gloves with Gabe; the kids skating with the Ox; taking some players to St. Cloud state Husky hockey games and Twins games; Preston and a previous teammate Sumo wrestling at a Saints game; other Ox families and players coming to cheer on our kids; tailgating and pre-game dinners with other Ox families; becoming friends with other billets and parents; Sully taking lessons with Ox goaltender Sticky; traveling to FL with Macy for a showcase and driving Karl and Elias to the beach with us; Macy enjoying time spent with Zach’s nieces and nephews; my dad slipping our billet boys $20 for ‘dealing’ with Sully; my folks stepping in to represent us during billet appreciation night.

Sully drawin pictures and making cookies for some players; bringing friends to the games; volunteering with different organizations like Fighting for Freedom; seeing relatives at the games like sponsor Go Green Sports; Preston and Elias having Thanksgiving at my parents and playing Old Maid with us; Elias teaching Sully how to flip the puck on the back of his goalie glove (and how to give the middle finger); Preston following our Star Wars theme for Halloween and trick-or-treating with us; Preston and I shoveling Mike out of the snow at 4am after a storm; teaching Preston how to address airmail; taking Zach to his first MLB game with a fireworks show after; Sully skating the flag out at games; making new friends at games; seeing the players put in time volunteering; dressing up for theme nights; winning Alloy Brewery growlers and Drooling Moose chocolates; going through concussions, stitches on the face, slumps, sickness and suspensions; seeing our billet kids score goals and get assists; good chats about the team, family, friends and even girls; trying to keep spirits up during the losing streaks; sharing messages with the parents; getting to know their families - the list goes on and on.

We are so happy we have one more year with Zach and can hold out on the goodbye for now. His plan is to be back with the Ox again this season. (Fingers crossed his plans don’t change) And we’ll also see him here and there throughout the summer as he said he’d be up to skate with the Ox summer program. So for just a bit longer we can wait although I know the inevitable will come where we say our goodbyes - which really are more like “see you laters!” I can’t wait to see where Preston and Zach end up. I love seeing the updates on facebook about players that left after last year. They really are ALWAYS a part of the Blue Ox family!

Our good luck continues. I’m sure we could get a rotten egg in our house at some point. But, until that time I will cherish the times we have with our Ox player and the rest of the Ox community. And my heart will melt a little more each time I hear my kids say “my big brother” when they’re talking about their billet brother to their friends. I hope these guys know that they’ll always have some family here in Minnesota!

#72 Preston Cloutier

#2 Zach Farnsworth

Arsi Malyutin // ’04 Forward Aquinas University ACHA D1 Committ
Gabe Myers // ’04 Dman Iowa State University
Dylan Smith // ’03 Forward // Hope College ACHA D1 Commit



Joe Ruhland, Minnesota Blue Ox, playby-play announcer, brings extensive broadcast to the Blue Ox. His broadcast career began while attending St. Cloud State University, when he covered hockey, along with football and basketball for several radio stations in the St. Cloud area and working closely with the sports information department.

With a passion to capture the energy and the speed of the game during his call of a great goal, a spectacular save, a bigtime check or a key play, Joe’s

commitment is to bring excitement to his play-by-play and reward the players, the team, fans and families with momentum in his voice. These are key moments that remain with players, family members and fans for years to come. By conducting interviews with players in the moment, moments after their achievement, Joe believes it elevates and enhances the experience of the event, which is a key reason he created his YouTube channel, MoJoeMoments as a hub to share and retain these moments.

When not at the rink with Mn Blue Ox, Joe also does play-by-play for the Big Ten Network for most sports and for QCTV as well. Joe is also Managing Partner of YourTime Performance Agency, a company focusing on Leadership and Sales Development, infusing his “Batteries Included” Momentum Mindset in leading various initiatives and launches for medical device, healthcare and software companies.

Joe’s connections and experience of 20-plus years, has an engaging presence and skill to elevate talent, team effectiveness and sales revenue. His sustained success, and proven results are the reason companies have Joe involved with merger integrations or leading leadership launches for their teams.

Following college Joe joined the New York Rangers, as their Playby-Play announcer and PR/Media Relations Director for the Rangers top development team in Denver, During his three-year stint with the Rangers, he was an instrumental resource in the start-up of the Rangers IHL topdevelopment team, which also included hosting a hockey talk show on KBYGAM, a 50,000 watt sports network. The Denver Rangers rostered future Hall of Famers, Mike Richter and Marcel Dionne and coached by Peter Mahovlich. A couple of players from

the Denver Rangers who became NHL coaches were Tony Granato and Peter Laviolette. The GM of the New York Rangers during that time was another Hall of Famer, Phil Esposito who led the league with 48 recalls and reassignments throughout the 1988-89 season.

In the offseason, Joe was a play-by-play announcer for college football on Prime Sports Network and radio play-by-play for the Denver Zephers, formerly the Milwaukee Brewers Triple A team.

After the Rangers moved their top development team closer to New York, then Albany Joe decided to stay in Colorado vs head east, taking a role with Team USA Hockey in Colorado Springs, as a PR consultant and the Public Address announcer for many of their Pre-Olympic games many hosted at McNichols Sports Arena in Denver. It was during his time with Team USA Hockey, Joe became involved with leadership and neuroscience performance and as a speaker/trainer at the Olympic Training Center for many athletes.

Listen and catch the Joementum this season during his Blue Ox Hockey TV broadcasts.


Oskari Halme’s North American ascent continues in Minnesota.

Defenseman starred for Wild coach Bruce Boudreau’s junior team in Coon Rapids, took part in this year’s Wild development camp

To say Oskari Halme’s transition to North American hockey went well would be quite the understatement.

A defenseman from Tampere, Finland, Halme played his entire career in his home country until an opportunity to suit up for the Minnesota Blue Ox last season. The Blue Ox are, of course, owned by Wild coach Bruce Boudreau, and the chance to play for a team owned by an NHL coach was simply too much to pass up.

“It was pretty fun, and everything [with the team] is amazing,” Halme said. “Everything was us for amazing; the food, our own locker room. It’s a good organization with Bruce.”

After a difficult season in Finland, one where he scored one goal and five points in 29 games with his junior team in Tappara, Halme was ready for something different.

First, he tried Boston, but nothing came of his visit there. Then he talked to Blue Ox coach and general manager Jay Witta. Immediately, it felt right.

“It was an amazing organization,” Halme said. “I liked to be [in Minnesota] a lot. I love being there.”

Halme’s offensive flair immediately caught the attention of many, including Boudreau, who became one of Halme’s biggest supporters.

“When I watched him play for our team, his skating was excellent,” Boudreau said. “He was the best player on our team.”

In 35 games with the Blue Ox, Halme’s offensive numbers were staggering; he scored 26 goals and added 36 assists, averaging more than 1.7 points per game.full seasons with the Kings in the USPHL’s top tier.

Those numbers come in part from his experience as a forward. He didn’t become a defenseman until his was 14 years old.

“I like to be with the puck and stickhandling and scoring goals,” Halme said.


Not only was he the best player on the Blue Ox, he was arguably the best player in the entire USPHL. Despite playing nine fewer games, Halme scored 11 more points than the next best defenseman in the league, finishing 19th in the USPHL in overall scoring.

Opponents took notice, as well, often trying to take issue. Despite his slight frame -- Halme is listed at 5-foot-10 and 160 pounds -- he never backed down, piling up a couple fighting majors among his 54 penalty minutes.

“Maybe sometimes, they tried to get me [out of my game] on the ice,” Halme said. “I played a lot last year, so they tried to get me off the ice.”

In the second half of the season, Halme transitioned to the National Collegiate Development Conference -- a part of the same USPHL as the Blux Ox but one level higher.

In 13 games with the P.A.L. Islanders in Tyngsboro, Massachusetts, Halme chipped in six assists and played top-4 minutes on a club that won the league championship.

“It was a little bit harder,” Halme said. “It was a little bit faster. The hardest part was going to a new team because they had been together and I was new. It took one or two weeks to know everybody.

“But we won the championship. It was a very good team.”

Despite leaving in the middle of the season, Halme had remained on Boudreau’s radar and the coach helped get the Wild to extend him an invite to its development camp last week. Halme, who said his goal is to play Division I college hockey next season, remains without a home. But he but didn’t look out of place against drafted players and chosen invitees.

Noticeably nervous at the beginning of the camp, Halme calmed down and was back to his normal play-making ways by the end of the week.

Boudreau wasn’t surprised in the slightest.

“I hope somebody would notice him and say, ‘You know what? That kid could be a good addition to our team,’” Boudreau said. “You let him grow for a couple years, I think he’d be a really good player.

“He’s one of those guys that, if he played at high levels and had that kind of coaching, he’d become a really good player.”


The United States Premier Hockey League and its Tuition-Free Tier II National Collegiate Development Conference (NCDC) are proud to welcome the ownership of an NCDC team in Rock Springs, Wyoming, to the NCDC for 2023-24, joining the NCDC West Division.

The NCDC is a step up from Premier division in the USPHL and Rock Springs fans will see a higher brand of hockey with players who are destined to be NCAA Division 1 players and NHL draft choices.

Longtime colleagues Wes Mussio and Darren Naylor, who bring extensive Tier II experience from the British Columbia Hockey League, have purchased the franchise of the former Rock Springs Prospectors and will elevate the franchise from the USPHL Premier to the NCDC for the coming season.

“This is a joint venture, a partnership. We will be naming the team the Grizzlies and bringing Tier II junior hockey to the town,” said Co-Owner Wes Mussio, who previously owned the BCHL’s Nanaimo Clippers from 2017 through 2022.

“When researching markets in the NCDC West’s footprint, Rock Springs stood out”, GM and Head Coach Darren Naylor stated. “Current USPHL Prospectors’ Governor David Amonti’s assistance was instrumental in making the jump to NCDC happen and the City officials have been welcoming.”

Mussio was the President of the Burnaby Winter Club in British Columbia for 5 years which is one of the top development programs in North America and includes many current NHL players including Ryan NugentHopkins, Matthew Barzal and Dante Fabbro.

Naylor, originally from White Rock, B.C., played in the WHL and then 10 years of professional hockey before transitioning to coaching. Naylor was a coach at BWC and together with Mussio, they won over 54 championships at every level and then the two guided Nanaimo to success in the BCHL.

“Having an experienced hockey team like Wes and Darren who sent 12 or more players a year to NCAA Division 1 hockey is a great addition to our NCDC West division.” Commissioner Bob Turow added. “This is an ownership group that also gives back to the community through charity, time spent in local schools, hospitals and alike. Wes and Darren are about great hockey and a better community.”

Rock Springs is a community that puts a lot of pride in its hard-working populace, most working in the energy sectors of oil or natural gas drilling in the surrounding area.

“When you come down to the statistics of it, you want to get into a market where we are the only show in town, and not competing with university sports or football. We wanted an arena with a certain seating capacity, and we just had a feeling that this town is really starving for something like this,” said Naylor.

“That is the first sign that you have a market where you will have success. At the Tier II level, the NCDC is doing a great job and it’s expanded already, and it will expand more over time,” added Mussio. “We did quite a bit of investigation on the league and the market, and so far the city of Rock Springs has been unbelievably receptive to junior hockey.”



The NCDC is the USPHL’s Tier II TuitionFree Level that will feature nearly 20 teams in the northeastern U.S. as well as the Rocky Mountain States, with the debut in 2023-24 of the NCDC West. The world’s top players now have both Eastern and Western U.S. options for development towards an NCAA Division I career, as well as potential pro hockey beyond college.

With the unmatched USPHL Showcase Series, NCDC players have several opportunities each season to play in front of several scouts at well-attended multiday, multi-tiered events.

There were more than 700 former players from the USPHL’s top division skating with NCAA hockey teams during the 202223 season, and more than 200 have committed to NCAA Division I schools. More than 150 players committed to college hockey out of the 2021-22 NCDC season alone.

The NHL has also taken notice as the League saw three players selected directly out of the NCDC in the 2021 NHL Entry Draft, the best for any North American Tier II league.

Alumni of USPHL organizations currently skating in the NHL include players such as Jack Eichel, Charlie Coyle, John Marino, Jimmy Vesey, and Stanley Cup Champions Zach Sanford, Trevor Van Riemsdyk, Ross Colton and Brian Dumoulin.

Most recently, five NCDC alumni helped Quinnipiac University win their first-ever NCAA Division I National Championship.

The USPHL Premier Conference of 2023-24 will see 61 teams competing across nine divisions, located across the country - from New England to Florida, from the Pacific Northwest to the Southern California coast. Through late May, there were 166 college commitments to NCAA and ACHA schools and Premier teams have also seen more than 40 players tendered to the NCDC for the 2023-24 season.

The United States Premier Hockey League of 2023-24 is the nation’s largest junior amateur ice hockey league and the only league to span the continental United States and parts of Canada. From Seattle to San Diego, and from Maine to Florida, the USPHL has a home for student-athletes with the skill and determination to play college hockey.

Overall, across all its divisions, the USPHL has more than 3,100 alumni playing college hockey each year, plus 250 more alumni in pro hockey, including the NHL.




There is nothing more thrilling than variety in the world of sports. Diversity of game, talent, skill, and, most importantly, of player. It’s the uniqueness of a player’s ability, perspective, grit, background and determination that can turn even the most expected outcomes on a dime. One good hit. One incredible save. One legendary act that can make or break the win.

It is true in sports, and it’s true elsewhere— our differences don’t divide us; they are the only thing that unite us. The playing field might look different, but diversity and inclusion are an essential way to a win at Walser Automotive Group, too.

It’s been a focus for the Edina-based dealer group for years, and Chief Human Resources Officer Sherry Schultz said the reasons are many.

“First and foremost, it’s the right thing to do. Asking our employees to bring their whole selves to work matches our Core Values. Life doesn’t stop when you enter our four walls no matter who you are. We know people who are authentic at work are considerably happier, more satisfied, and less stressed. It’s a winwin,” Schultz said.

Schultz, who joined Walser in 2018, started an inclusive transformation for the company with the launch of Women of Walser—an Employee Resource Group (ERG) focused on the recruitment, retention, and ascension of women at Walser and into the automotive industry. Today, Women of Walser focuses on areas of business development, career progression, personal growth and community outreach initiatives.

There is also a business case to the notion of being yourself.

“It is our total intention to represent the customers we serve every day. Our customers come to us from all corners of the state and beyond. We aim to look like the marketplaces we serve to better understand and support the needs of our sales and service clients. It’s critical that our customers feel understood and heard when buying a car, no matter their race, religion, gender or orientation,” Schultz said.

It’s a game plan Schultz has studied before. With executive diversityexperience from Fortune 500 companies like PepsiCo, Goodyear Tire & Rubber, and Sears Holding Company, Schultz has championed the practice of supportive employee engagement.

“It’s about incorporation, not accommodation,” she said. “Diversity in thought and action should be a driver for any community business.”

The desire for inclusion quickly grew at Walser and expanded to form both an ERG for Walser’s LGBTQ+ employees, aptly named Drive With Pride, and, most recently, Mosaic, an employee-run digital resource library focused on race equity and education.

It’s a calling and a mission for the company that wouldn’t have taken root without the support of Walser CEO Andrew Walser.

Walser, an Edina native, took the helm as Walser’s CEO in 2017. He said he’s watched the automotive industry begin to make more incremental changes in areas of employee inclusion over the years but said there’s still much room to grow.

“The growth of diversity and inclusion at Walser has never been more important and we’ll continue to dedicate resources to it,” Walser said.

Meanwhile, Walser Chairman Paul Walser spotlighted the issue of diversity on the national stage last month during the 2021 National Automobile Dealers Association (NADA) Show. Walser is serving as the 2021 Chairman for NADA.

“This is an important moment for dealers everywhere, because the truth is that we don’t live in the same world we used to,” Walser said during his keynote address. “This year I want to challenge all of us to make this a priority. Let’s find the path to attract a more diverse workforce. Then let’s implement training to help them succeed.”

NADA represents nearly 16,500 franchised new car and truck dealerships across the U.S., both domestic and foreign.

“Andrew and Paul Walser care deeply about this topic and our employees know it. Our goal has consistently been to grow and support better people, not just salespeople,” Schultz said.

Pictured: CEO of Walser Automotive Group, Andrew Walser, growing up playing hockey for the Edina Youth Hockey Association and High School team.
Walser Automotive Group
Chief Human Resources Officer
Sherry Schultz



This year’s bootcamp started like any other. The Cadre showed up on Friday afternoon to prepare the battlespace and collect some materials for the upcoming shenanigans. Confirming locations to use for this year’s camp. After many laughs and anticipatory glee, the night ended with a campfire by the lake. 4 Oxen Tactical Group (4OTG) was ready, and enjoying the calm before the storm if you will.

Saturday morning came and the boys started to arrive. Right out of the gate the boys faced the mental aspect of following specific directions and looking at signs meant to test their knowledge of pop culture. The day began with a quick formation and a smoke session of push ups to drive home the importance of being on time. This was followed by a quick formation to allow the cadre to pass out guidons and to go over a few rules for the bootcamp. Those rules included the safe keeping of Babe the stuffed ox, as well as the baby Bjorn carrying a toddler sized troll doll “Crosby”. Each element was also required to provide care and accountability for one of the 4 Oxen, each with their own carrying case.

As tradition holds, the first event was the ‘Murph’ , a hero workout in honor of Lt. Michael Murphy. The perfect introduction to the weekend and an amazing way to honor an American Hero. The workout was modified due to lack of equipment. Players all had to complete a 1-mile run, 200 pushups, 200 sit ups, 300 air squats finished with a 1-mile run. Yes, all of this had to be completed while carrying Babe and Crosby and the Oxen. Once the Murph was completed and the players had been tested physically it was time to test their brains. Captain Tommy Babb was given a very specific packing list along with a diagram of how it was to be laid out for inspection. The team was put into formation and told to lay out the packing list as instructed. This was to test both attention to detail, even the smallest details matter, and how quickly they could lay everything out and work together to ensure everything was dress-right-dress. As the cadre inspected the squads for mistakes, which would require corrective training, pushups or sit-ups, something of that sort. We again were surprised by the preparedness of this group. We were quickly able to move to the next order of business, setting up the team’s sleeping area for the night. Camp was about a mile away, the long way around, from the main camp activity area and campfire.

Krist Francisco, Mark Jendro, Jon Albert, Nick Leach,
- NHL Legends Game 2022-23



After camp was set up it was time to again attack them physically. A relay race involving crab walks, sandbag carry and a tire drag. Everyone in each squad must complete each part of the event. We all learned that crab walking up an incline was less than ideal! What would bootcamp be without MRE’s for lunch? Eat up boys, they are delicious. During lunch the boys were able to recuperate a little bit but also visit with the cadre and relax.

After lunch we continued to test them physically and mentally. We started with some nice relaxing music after lunch introducing the players to Flowers by Moby and Roxanne by the Police. We thought they could use the culture. Oh yeah, we made them do Air squats and Burpees too. A 4 station relay challenge was up next. Relays included trivia, puzzles, sandbag stacking, and tire stacking. Laughs all around along with frustrations due to two puzzles worth of pieces being in the bag with only one puzzle being the actual solution. The

exercise day finished with one last event after the relay. This was a blind draw of a poker chip. On each poker chip was the name of a fallen service member. Each of these service members have a Hero Workout named in their honor. For this draw, the boys drew Army Sgt 1st Class G Stephens, 3rd Special Forces group who died Sept 28, 2012 in Wardak, Afghanistan. The workout consisted of a 1.5 mile Run; 150 Burpees and closed with another 1.5 mile run.

Finally, Dinner had arrived, as everyone began to relax and prepare for dinner. It was at that moment that fatigue showed up. Once dinner was ready everyone settled down for some fun and team bonding around the campfire. Cadre, coaches, and players all shared some stories about who they were, where they came from, why they were here and their goal for the season.

Then it was bedtime, the players had 1 task, maintain the fire overnight and make sure they had someone awake throughout the night to protect camp and stoke the fire. As the evening progressed and players started to make their way back to the campsite. For some reason this year, the players were overly concerned with “Mowing the Lawn.” Unbeknownst to them, 4OTG cadre picked up on their code word for night time shenanigans, and began to lay their trap. Eventually as the night continued on, and everyone was able to start relaxing, it was time to start the fun. The boys were woken up and ran through an accountability drill. While

away from camp the cadre began an inspection of the camp looking for unsecured equipment and tents. Cadre was able to gain access to tents and laid in wait for the opportunity to remind the boys it can be scary if unauthorized people gain access to your secure area. Screams were heard and laughs were had. Mission accomplished. The night carried on with wildlife activity and great one on one time with each group that came to the fire for their assigned shift.

Everyone was woken up at about 6 am and the real training session began and continued right into the first event of the morning, the Herradora. This event was named after one of our

cadre’s fellow soldiers who had recently passed after the battle with cancer. The Herradora consisted of 101 in cadence or 4 count push-ups, sit ups, and flutter kicks, another round of Hero Work out Roulette was played, with the boys drawing the US Army Staff Sgt Keith Maupin chip. Maupin disappeared April 9, 2004 when his convoy was attacked and was later found to have been killed by his kidnappers, when his body was found March 20, 2008.

The Maupin workout consisted of 4 rounds of 800M run; 49 Pushups; 49 Sit Ups; 49 Squats. The morning stretch and exercise was quickly followed up by an amazing breakfast cooked alongside the campfire. After Breakfast it was time for one last workout with the

Seal Team Shuffle. Each squad is split into 2 teams and have to complete each task twice. Team A would complete cadre instructed exercises while team B would do 5 alternating overhead presses with the railroad timber followed by ½ mile shoulder carry. Then the teams would switch.

After cleaning up it was time for one last talk with players. This was a different talk than the campfire talks the night before. This is the time we share our military stories, our struggles, deeper meaning of teammate, friends, brother and the messages we hope they take with them after this experience. This grueling weekend ends with a blue and white smoke send off.

For the cadre, players and coaches it is not goodbye but see you later because we are all now one family.

If you want to see some of the fun for yourself or to learn more about 4 Oxen Tactical Group, check us out our website www.4oxentacticalgroup.com or on our Socials: Facebook: @4OxenTactical, X: @4oxtacgroup, TikTok: @4oxentacticalgroup.

Chase Mann // ’03 Forward //
Univ. of Nebraska Omaha ACHA D2/D3 Commit



Back Row: Bentley Sathre, Zach Farnsworth, Jayden White, Caleb Caldwell, Dylan Smith, Konrad Kudeviita, Gordy Lawson, Oliver Tavell, Arsi Malyutin, Haden Henke, Jack Wallace, John Sittig, Mike Abrego
Front Row: Eli Puchner, Karl Grafelman, Tommy Babb, Gabe Myers, Coach Barone, Jackson Clough, Eli Marchese, Justin Garstecki, Pearse Mayrose, Coach Witta, Dylan Hender, Chase Mann, Cooper Nielsen, Rylee Luebbers
Dylan Hender // ’03 Forward // Iowa State University ACHA D1 Commit


- Larr y Hendrickson | Founder Hendrickson Founda tion
Minnesota Blue Ox is proud to have partnered with the Minnesota Warriors and The Hendrickson Foundation this season to help hockey change the lives of our fellow soliders and disabled Veterans. #thintheherd #weLOVEour veterans
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Where You’ll Never Hear “Let Me Talk To My Manager.”

The most new and used Toyotas in Minnesota. The all-new Walser Toyota is now open. Visit us just off 494 in Bloomington.

Say goodbye to negotiations and hello to transparency. Every Walser vehicle comes with our pre-discounted Upfront Price. No haggling. No negotiating. Just straightforward, hassle-free shopping that puts you in the driver’s seat from the start. Visit one of our 15 Twin Cities locations and discover a new way to buy a car at Walser.

Open Tuesday - Sunday

Located 0.3 miles from the CR Ice Center

A leader is one who knows the way, goes the way, and shows the way.
—John Maxwell
“A true friend never gets in your way unless you happen to be going down.” – Arnold H. Glasgow


Thank you to Blue Ox Heating & Air for their loyalty and partnership the past five seasons! Our fans love our Mascot Babe! We are grateful for you all!

Blue Ox was founded in 2013 when the McGuire, Gavic and Foschiatti families combined their 100 collective years of experience into one talented company. We are fully licensed, bonded, and insured to provide our Minneapolis-St. Paul area customers with outstanding heating, cooling, and indoor-air quality services to make your home as comfortable as possible. Blue Ox Heating and Air is North American Technician Excellence certified and a member of the Minnesota Heating & Cooling Association. We want to be your go-to heating, cooling and air quality company.

When we say we can handle whatever problem you have, we say it with total confidence. Whether you have a small problem or a huge problem, know that the timely tech who shows up at your door will know exactly what to do. You don’t even need to know what your problem is! That’s what we’re here for.


We serve you the way you want to be served. If your furnace stops working at 2 a.m. — call us! We’ll be there to fix your problem with a smile on our face and shoe covers on our feet, regardless of what the clock says. It’s our mission to quickly take care of your heating and cooling emergencies. In addition to repair, replacement, and emergency service, we’re passionate about air quality. If you’re suffering from allergies or itchy skin –let’s problem solve together. Our comfort advisors will explain numerous options fitting a range of budgets to improve your indoor air quality. We offer expertise in humidity management, air cleaning, and particle removal to keep your family healthy and comfortable.


Blue Ox believes professionalism is about more than just doing a great job. It’s about how we do a great job. Our technicians aren’t here just to fix your heating, cooling, and air quality system, they’re also here to answer your questions and make sure you’re comfortable. We accomplish all three goals by emphasizing courtesy, punctuality, and attentive customer service. Our job isn’t just about the work we do; it’s about making sure the people we work for, YOU, are as happy and satisfied as possible.


3We value your comfort and happiness.

3We will cheerfully refund your money if you are not 100% satisfied.

3Our technicians will treat your home like it was their own.

3We will be on-time, professional, and polite.

3We will wear shoe covers in your home, never use foul language or use tobacco while on the job.

3To ensure your peace of mind, our employees are background-checked and drug-tested.

3We only use quality heating and cooling products to make our repairs and installations.

3We never cut corners on products and parts and take pride in providing efficient and long-lasting results.

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