Hockey: Merrifield resident back from 59th straight state tournament

For many hockey players, their enthusiasm and commitment to the sport continues long after they hang up their skates. So it is with Jeff Shelstad, a 74-year-old retired teacher and coach who has attended 59 consecutive Minnesota State High School...

Jeff Shelstad, a 74-year-old retired teacher and coach who has attended 59 consecutive Minnesota State High School League boys hockey tournaments since 1958.

For many hockey players, their enthusiasm and commitment to the sport continues long after they hang up their skates.

So it is with Jeff Shelstad, a 74-year-old retired teacher and coach who has attended 59 consecutive Minnesota State High School League boys hockey tournaments since 1958.

Unlike many players who come up through amateur hockey associations beginning as ice mites, Shelstad was a latecomer to the sport. In fact, his first real introduction to hockey didn't happen until he was 14-year-old eighth-grader at Minneapolis Southwest High School.

"When I was in the eighth grade, I was playing on a church league basketball team," said Shelstad who now lives on Lougee Lake north of Merrifield. "They would take a two-week break over Christmas with no games or practices.

"A buddy of mine said that if I didn't have any basketball for two weeks, I should join him at Lynnhurst Park and play hockey. They didn't call them bantams or anything like that then, but he was on a team with some of his buddies.


"I had a crummy pair of skates and I can't even remember where I got a stick, but I was able to gather enough equipment so I didn't get hurt. I wasn't very good, but it was a lot of fun and after two weeks went by, and church basketball resumed, I went to the (basketball) coach and said that I had found something else I really loved."

Shelstad said that when he was in ninth grade, he talked his dad into building a small rink in their backyard for him and his three younger brothers.

"The fall of my junior year, I brought my brothers down to Pershing Field Park to sign them up for football, baseball and the youth hockey program sponsored by the Southwest Activity Council (SWAC)," he said. "They told me that I couldn't sign up that many kids without getting involved myself, that I would have to sign up to be an assistant coach on a team.

"Brad and Dixon, were in kindergarten and first grade and were on the Persian SWAC Cubs along with Bruce who was in the fifth grade. The Cubs were the lowest-level team for kids up to sixth grade with most kids being fifth- and sixth-graders.

"One of the dads was the coach, and I was supposed to be his assistant, but before the season started, the dad got transferred out of state and I was suddenly the head coach of the team. We wound up winning the city title."

As a reward for his involvement in the program, one of the promoters took Shelstad to the state tournament, the first of his 59 consecutive trips to the big dance.

Shelstad said there are too many memories over the years of attending the state tournament to single out any one.

"There have been so many fantastic games over the years," he said. "Going to state in 1985 when I was coaching at Hastings stands out, but losing in the first round was disappointing. Brad and Dixon participating in 1968, 1969 and 1970 state tournaments while at Southwest were standout moments too."


Nowadays, Shelstad usually attends the opening round of the Class 2A state tournament, then returns home to watch the remainder of the tournament on TV. However, two weeks ago, he did attend Friday's semifinals with his sons, Brooks and Brett, and his grandson Mikkel who played for the Minneapolis Storm bantams this season.

During Brad's 1970 senior year, Southwest went undefeated and beat Edina 1-0 in

overtime for the state title in the single-class system. Brad and Dixon were named to the Minneapolis Tribune's All-State Team at least once and both went on to play at the University of Minnesota with scholarships.

Brad was the starting goalie for three and a half years at the University of Minnesota and was captain of the first Gopher team to win a national championship in 1974, his senior year under coach Herb Brooks. He was named to the All-NCAA Tournament team and was the Gophers' most valuable player as a senior. He went on to start the Wadena-Deer Creek Wolverines boys varsity hockey program in 1988 where he coached for 13 years before retiring.

Jeff Shelstad played hockey for four years at Augsburg College while living at home and working his way through college. In 1965, he started teaching English at Richfield High School where he coached junior high football and sophomore hockey.

In 1972, he moved to St. Anthony Village where he was the first head coach of the Huskies' boys varsity team.

"They had a youth program there prior to that," he said. "I think the first year we went something like 15-5. We won a couple of conference titles and had good records, but we were never going to get to the state tournament (in the single-class system)."

He went to Hastings in the fall of 1979 where he was head coach for seven years, taking the Raiders to the state tournament in 1985.


"In those days, it seemed that more coaches were getting fired than being retained," Shelstad said. "I think the reason I survived was because each year we got a little bit better. I inherited a team that won four games the year before and my first year we won five games and I was appalled.

"The next year wasn't much better-we won six games. My last two years, we had 19 wins one year and 21 the other. My son Brooks played on the varsity for three of those years and that was probably the most fun I had coaching."

Shelstad retired from coaching hockey when he took a year-long sabbatical from

teaching during the 1988-89 school year. When he returned in the fall of 89, he coached junior high football and baseball.

"Then, in 1995, a lot of schools were adding girls hockey and our (Hastings) board of education decided to add girls hockey as a new sport for the high school and they asked me to take the job," Shelstad said.

With an eye on retiring from teaching in 1999, Shelstad told the board he would only be around for four years, but if they wanted him, he was willing to accept the challenge.

"In a way, it was one of the most fun, rewarding coaching jobs I've had," Shelstad said.

"Our first practice we had most of the girls hugging the boards. We had no girls in our feeder program-no U-10, no U-12, no girls in mini mites or squirts.


"Most of the girls on the varsity team were seventh- and eighth-graders. We had one senior who was an exchange student, but most of the older girls were already committed to other sports.

"We finally won our first game at the end of the season against Farmington, another fledgling team, in overtime, our very last game. The next year we played all varsity teams and went 10-10, but didn't go very far in the playoffs. By my fourth year, we lost in the section finals in overtime to South St. Paul.

"What made it all so much fun is that the girls had so far to go, you could see daily improvement. You don't usually see that in a boys program. They worked hard and really came along. It was a fun way for me to bow out."

In 1999, Shelstad retired to his home on Lougee Lake where the walls are

decorated with hockey memorabilia including miniature goalie pads he made

for his younger brother Brad when Brad was a first-grader.

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