Before an NHL career that spanned 10 seasons, Damian Rhodes was a high school junior and goalie for an underdog Richfield boys’ hockey team that made a surprising run through the section playoffs to reach the state tournament in 1986.
Rhodes described that team as “overachievers,” though it wasn’t exactly a fluke. Richfield made the one-class state tournament six times between 1962 and 1991.
The glory years, though, were a generation ago. Rhodes moved on to his pro career before settling in suburban Cleveland. It was there, the other day, that he received word from a friend back in Minnesota that Richfield had canceled its varsity hockey season because of a lack of players.
“My first reaction was that I was a little surprised,” Rhodes said by phone Wednesday.
But he wasn’t shocked. He had heard numbers were down. He had heard that over the years, Holy Angels — a private school in Richfield that wasn’t much of a hockey threat when Rhodes was growing up — had usurped his old school as the local hockey power. And more to the point, he knows firsthand how the economics of hockey have changed since he was in high school.
Back in those days, Rhodes remembers a youth practice in 1980 at which all the parents were huddled around an old TV watching the Miracle on Ice U.S. Olympic team — featuring former Richfield standout Steve Christoff.
“A lot of the parents hung out with each other,” Rhodes said. “I think, to this day, my mom still talks to some of the hockey parents from Richfield.”
Families came from all walks of life. But on the ice, everyone was equal.
“I have seen a change in hockey, and a lot of it is money,” Rhodes said. “Back then, everyone played. If you didn’t have equipment, the association gave you equipment. Economics didn’t matter. We all just played together.”
When asked if he had a specialty goalie coach in high school, Rhodes chuckled. He said he didn’t even have one for most of his first professional season. Rhodes, 46, now gives private goalie lessons. He also helped start a company called All-Pro Goalie Schools that runs camps primarily in Denver and Phoenix. The youngest goalie he’s seen at a camp? Six years old.
“It’s so competitive nowadays,” Rhodes said. “There are scouts that go everywhere. People are always looking for some kind of edge, and hopefully I can provide it.”
It’s an edge that comes with a price, as Rhodes said. Richfield is not one of the more affluent suburbs in the Twin Cities.
As our conversation wound down, Rhodes started asking the questions, most of them about the current state of high school hockey in Minnesota. Each one reinforced just how much has changed in a generation.