School officials interview hockey players about Maple Grove coach

Crimson coach Gary Stefano remains in the center of an off-ice storm.

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Maple Grove boys' hockey coach Gary Stefano

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Maple Grove boys' hockey coach Gary Stefano will not have to face a no-confidence vote by his area youth hockey association. But Stefano and his staff faced another important referendum this week.

Maple Grove High School administrators solicited the views of members of the boys' varsity hockey team "on their confidence in the entire coaching team's ability to continue leading the team for the rest of the season," a district spokesperson said Friday.

For more than a month, the team has been surrounded by controversy stemming from a mid-December incident at a private home that school officials continue to say little about. Thirteen players received two- and four-game suspensions in January, and Stefano, who led the team to its only hockey state tournament appearance a year ago, was placed on a one-day leave as school officials investigated the coach and the incident.

Exactly what the players had to say about their coaches this week will not be released because of data privacy, said Barb Olson, district community relations director. Olson said Friday that school officials asked for written player feedback on the coaches.

Most of the information was gathered Wednesday, according to persons with knowledge of the player feedback, and Stefano was coaching Thursday when the Crimson defeated Andover 2-1.

On Friday, high school administrators heard from several parents expressing their frustration that the controversy surrounding the incident continues to linger. A person close to the program said Stefano talked to his team before practice, and that players expressed their support in the staff.

After Friday's practice, Stefano refused to speak with a reporter.

"There's nothing to talk about," he said.

That apparently also will be the case with the 19-member board of the Osseo-Maple Grove Hockey Association (OMGHA), which has withdrawn two motions, including a proposed no-confidence vote on Stefano, from its agenda for Sunday's board meeting. The other motion would have distanced the youth association from the high school program.

Those motions would have been a severe hit to the coach, since youth associations are the feeder system for high school teams.

The Star Tribune obtained a copy of the withdrawl motion from an OMGHA board member who had no part in writing the motion. The withdrawl motion quoted the original author of the proposal as "formally withdrawing these motions from consideration'' and added: "I appreciate the time many of you have devoted to discussing these motions and your positions with me. These motions offered the board an opportunity to shed light on an important topic that required open and frank discussion.

"Some might suggest that these motions are being withdawn due to an apparent lack of support. That is untrue. I believe that the open discussions initiated by the motions have achieved the desired results.''

Although school officials repeatedly declined to discuss the incident, citing data privacy laws, the school board's chairman only this week said he was unable to confirm or deny the "most far-reaching rumors."

School principal Sara Vernig, when asked if there was a sex tape at the January press conference, said she could not comment, adding that “it was part of the investigation.’’ She said Saturday through a school spokesperson that she was not confirming an alleged sex tape was part of the investigation, but saying that any questions about specific allegations regarding the investigation could not be answered.

The coach, who said he was unaware of the incident until almost a month after it occurred, said the ensuing ordeal was "by far my worst experience" in 32 years as a coach. He has been Maple Grove's head coach for 17 years, or since the school opened.

Mike Kaszuba • 651-222-1673 Dennis Brackin • 612-673-1740

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