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Bernadette McCormick, whose son played for the North Metro team, said she is frustrated by the economic disparity between North Metro and programs such as Wayzata. “Every time we’ve played them, we have lost by one point,” she huffed.
The differences separating North Metro Hockey from youth programs like those in Wayzata and Lakeville might only get deeper.
For starters, Lakeville had Glenn Hasse. Hasse and his son donated $125,000 to one of Lakeville’s two indoor ice arenas — the $8.6 million facility is named after the family — even though he has never lived in Lakeville. But Hasse’s company, Ryt-way Industries, a large contract packaging plant Hasse founded in 1965, has been located in Lakeville. When city officials needed supplemental funding for an ice arena, they called Hasse, who now lives in Florida. “We felt Lakeville was very good to us,” Hasse said, explaining the donation.
The city’s other indoor ice facility, Ames Arena, was named after Ames Construction when the company did the earthwork in exchange for having its name on the building. The company, a 50-year-old Minnesota mainstay, has a long list of large, high-profile projects, and among other things was a prime contractor for Denver International Airport. There were “a lot of different heroes involved in this project,” said Dennis Feller, Lakeville’s longtime city finance director.
Inside Babe’s Music Bar, a noisy bar in downtown Lakeville, the day-to-day machinery that also funds youth hockey could be seen on a Wednesday night. Tom Meyer, the Lakeville Hockey Association’s gambling manager, explained how 60 people playing one game of dollar-a-card bingo made $15 for Lakeville hockey after the winnings were paid out. There would be 13 games on this night, garnering an estimated $300 for youth hockey.
“The jackpot for this game is $43,” Meyer told the crowd as he moved onto the next game and spun a large cylinder containing the bingo numbers. “I-21,” he announced. Two women, sitting in a booth by the front door, counted the night’s take.
There are four charitable gambling locations in Lakeville for youth hockey, but there are also plenty of strings attached. Although $2.6 million in gross revenue is taken in annually, 70 percent goes for expenses, 25 percent for taxes and only 5 percent gets funneled to hockey. Still, Lakeville youth hockey had $864,407 in total revenue — the large majority from registration fees — in 2010, and during the season, mock-ups for the new traveling team jerseys were posted on the Lakeville youth hockey website.
“We’re a huge hockey town,” said Mark Streefland, a co-owner of Babe’s.
Since 2006, Lakeville North has appeared in four boys’ hockey state tournaments and Lakeville South in two. One of the two schools has been in each of the past four state tournaments. The benefits of a strong youth program are also apparent on the girls’ side, where since 2009, Lakeville North has been to three state tournaments and Lakeville South two.
‘In need of your help’
Sitting in an orange sweatshirt, Eskro meanwhile counted small victories while presiding over an end-of-the-season North Metro Hockey board meeting. A silent auction brought in $3,857. “We made $1,047” after expenses from a dinner and bake sale, Eskro reported.
In March, Eskro sent out two written pleas for money to local business leaders. “Today, more than ever, we are in need of your help. We lost our charitable gambling,” she explained. Eskro offered them advertising space on uniforms, in the game program or on North Metro Hockey’s website. “Please,” she wrote.
On a 30-degree January morning, Steve Oslund and James Braasch, two North Metro Hockey board members, stood alongside an outdoor rink in Columbia Heights as part of an event to renew interest in youth hockey. As they spoke, a portable generator hummed, hot dogs were being sold and a North Metro team, wearing teal-colored uniforms, skated before a small crowd. In Columbia Heights, said Oslund, one of the biggest issues these days is not youth hockey but something more fundamental: home foreclosures in the surrounding neighborhoods.
As he watched the young players on the ice in Columbia Heights, Braasch asked if anyone had noticed that Edina had played Minnetonka in high school hockey the night before. “Place was packed,” he said. “Maybe we [should] do revenue sharing.”