An East Side family in St. Paul had several sons play hockey for Moose Younghans. As a show of appreciation, the family presented Younghans with a golden retriever as a pup.
“I’d never had a pet,” Younghans said. “Now he goes everywhere with me.”
This was early in Derek Boogaard’s five-season run from 2005 to 2010 as the Wild enforcer. Younghans was such an admirer that he chose “Boogaard” as the name for the retriever.
Younghans has been the hockey coach at St. Paul Johnson since 1994. For longer than that, his day job has been selling at Strauss Skates and Bicycles, the venerable sporting goods store located in Maplewood.
“Boogaard goes to work with me,” Younghans said. “More customers come in to see him than me.”
Derek Boogaard died in tragic circumstances at age 28 on May 13, 2011, in Minneapolis. He had played the previous season with the New York Rangers, but the shock was felt severely within the Minnesota hockey sphere.
In the wake of this, there was a light moment a couple of days later at Strauss Skates, when a pair of 4-year-old boys came into the store crying.
Asked what was the problem, the small boys said, “Boogaard died,” only to see their favorite retriever come around the corner, wagging his tail.
Younghans was a 1974 graduate of Johnson High, when the Governors were early in the transition from being a dynasty in Region 4 hockey to a hopeful. Moose had played football, not hockey, at Johnson. He had a passion for the game from hanging around the outdoor rinks at Phalen Recreation Area.
“I’d go over there on Sunday afternoons and try to get in a pickup game with the Johnson stars of that era,” Younghans said. “I’d be out there just hoping to get a couple of touches of the puck.”
Moose coached the Johnson Area bantams from 1979 through 1993, with sizable success. In 1994, he replaced Bucky Kendig and became the seventh coach in what’s now 101 years of Johnson hockey.
On Saturday, the Governors will start the Hockey Day schedule at the Holman Field outdoor rink with a game against Luverne.
I have to say, as a baby boomer growing up in the southwest corner of Minnesota, the idea the Luverne Cardinals someday would be considered a match for the Johnson Govies in hockey would have been preposterous.
Now, all these decades later, Luverne is coming off its first appearance in the Class 1A tournament, and Johnson hockey is keepin’ on with modest numbers of participants in the midst of the East Side’s massive demographic change.
Much of the Hmong immigration to the Twin Cities was centered on the East Side. Johnson’s enrollment is 88 percent minority. In a similar circumstance, Johnson’s main rivals, the Harding Knights, dropped hockey.
Johnson’s numbers were perilously low a couple of years ago, but a group of underclassmen has come along to put the Governors on better footing. After seven victories in 2012-13 and four last season, Johnson is 10-5-1 as it faces Luverne.
There are 31 players on the roster. This allows the Governors to play a full junior varsity schedule, with a couple of alterations.
“Our backup goalie, Devin Peterson, plays defense with the junior varsity,” Younghans said. “And Logan Kopke, our JV goalie, also skates when he’s not in goal.”
Peterson has been well-rested as the backup varsity goalie. Junior Sam Moberg has played every minute of every game since he was an eighth-grader.
There are two Mobergs playing now and a couple more on the way. There are the Solheid twins and there are Ranums and there’s the Lyons family, with its long connection to Johnson hockey.
Hockey families make it happen for the Governors, and the more sons, the better.
There are three hockey-playing schools in St. Paul: Johnson, Highland Park and Como Park. There is only one hockey program for the seven Minneapolis high schools. Johnson beat Minneapolis 5-2 on Thursday night to offset an earlier loss.
As the coach, Younghans has to walk the line between embracing the tradition — the Govies’ four state titles (1947, 1953, 1955 and 1963) and 22 tournament appearances — and the reality of running an intercity hockey program in 2015.
“Our arena has photos all over the walls of those great teams and moments,” Younghans said. “I see our players looking at those, and they understand there always will be something special about wearing the Johnson hockey jersey.
“I can guarantee you, when we play at Holman Field on Saturday, you will see dozens of our former players there, proudly wearing their jerseys.”