Someone once said that Luverne is where Minnesota falls off the map. They were right since it sits in the southwestern corner of the state, west is South Dakota and south is Iowa. That means Minnesota Hockey can only be played in Luverne by going east and north. Minnesota Hockey District 4 covers that area of the state.
This year D4, in response to the AA/A split at bantam and peewee, has proposed a D4/5 A level league that would combine D5 teams (Litchfield/Dassel/Cokato, Willmar, and Hutchinson) with D4 teams (Redwood Falls, Marshall, and Luverne). Unfortunately that only covers going north. Going east, New Ulm/Sleepy Eye has to decide on staying with D4 and the potential new alignment or continue to play D9 hockey. Windom, Worthington, and Fairmont have to decide to play up in the new D4/5 or remain playing B level hockey.
The proposed new D4/5 A level league would mimic the Minnesota High School Section 3A teams and from that point of view, it makes sense.
Luverne’s High School coach, Derrick Brown, will be in his 4th year as head coach of the Cardinals. Brown shares the coaching duties with Tony Sandbulte. They have been successful moving the Cardinals from a 11-13-1 record (and a 63rd ranking) in their first season to a 21-4-2 record (and a 25th ranking) this past season. The Cardinals came up a goal short of the state tourney last March, losing to New Ulm 2-1 in the Section 3A finals. It is clear that the High School coaching staff has for the past few years has been trying to do the right things with the Luverne program and has focused on doing things that make sense to build the program. And it is beginning to payoff.
Luverne High School team and their kids are getting recognition at the state level. One of last year’s Cardinal defensemen, Toby Sengvongxay, will be one of 36 defensemen trying out for the Minnesota Select 15 team this coming week at St. Cloud. Another Cardinal defenseman, Travis Frakes, played for the Section 3A/AA team in the select 16-17 Festival in April. Goalie Conner Crabtree was selected as an alternate to the Select 15’s. Jaxon Nelson (Luverne Peewee A and a YHH top 50 pick) was selected the MVP of the Brick tourney this past month while playing for the Blades AAA team.
It is obvious that Brown enjoys coaching at Luverne and is involved at every level in the Luverne Hockey community. He knows the kids in the youth program, from mites to the bantams and works with them all. This past Thursday morning, he was on the ice working with the Luverne Girls High School team.
Luverne’s Bluemound Arena was built in 1991 to hold ice October to March. The arena is now being used for hockey into June. It is a well maintained, exceptionally clean, sheet of ice. The Bluemound Arena is being expanded this summer with a new entrance being built as a first step to add a second sheet. With the high school returning an experienced group of kids that have played together for the past four years, community interest in hockey is growing.
As the Luverne youth program produces more numbers and better players, they are also attracting more interest in the state. This year, St. Paul Johnson’s high school team will play Luverne at Luverne. It will be a big event for the Cardinals. Last March, they finally drew a high enough Sectional seed to have a home quarterfinal game for the first time, the Cardinals beat Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato 8-1 in front of a packed roaring crowd.
Luverne is small town Minnesota. It was founded shortly after the Civil War making the town 150 years old. Its first high school class graduated in 1888. The community reflects that heritage in the town. It takes pride in telling people their history and is reflected in their hockey association. Luverne’s association has a rule that if you are a second year player at any level, you play A level hockey regardless of your skills. It would astound most youth hockey participants to hear that, but it seems to fit with the community values.
The Bluemound Arena has stands on a single side, but the best seats on center ice are reserved for the handicapped. It is not just a bench area that has been removed to make room for a few wheel chairs. It is an elevated platform with the full center ice section devoted to the handicapped. The more mobile fans can find other places. But it also fits with Luverne’s community beliefs. And that is great to see.