Renewed Crusaders Junior A hockey team is on a mission
Take a look at the Hudson Crusaders junior hockey team’s roster and you’ll see players from Hudson, Somerset, Woodbury, Stillwater and Eagan among other local places. But you’ll also see hometowns such as Las Cruces, N.M, Chino Hills, Calif., and Henderson, Tenn., and even Tychy, Poland and Umea, Sweden.
That’s what the Crusaders do. They take hockey players, age 20 and under, from all over the state, country and world and give them an opportunity to continue to play the game they love in college.
“That is our No. 1 goal,” Crusaders co-owner and local business owner Tom Springer said. “To get these kids into college and get them an education.”
Established in 2007 as a Tier III nonprofit Junior “A” hockey franchise, the Crusaders are a member of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League (MNJHL). The league is dedicated to helping young men between the ages of 16 and 20 further develop, advance their skills and continue their hockey careers, along with continuing their education at the college level. Since their inception, over 50 Crusaders have advanced to collegiate level hockey or higher levels of junior hockey.
Springer, along with Hudson native Ryan Flattum, took over control of the team just days before the start of the 2012 season, when dwindling numbers and lack of funds threatened to shut the team down. They hired Shane Wagner, a former Stillwater High School and Hamline University captain and son of Hudson Native and former hockey referee Bob Wagner, as the new head coach.
Through 22 games of a 50-game regular season, the Crusaders are currently in third place in the eight-team Minnesota Division of the MNJHL.
Wagner said the team has thrived under the new local ownership, and encourages people to get out to Gornick Arena and see the team play.
“Just by having Tom and Ryan on board -- they have kids in the Hudson Hockey Association and they love the game,” he said. “Now it’s about getting people to know about what we have going here. People come to the games and get to know the guys on the ice. The kids high-five the players and get to know them. That’s one of the things we’re after.”
Springer and Wagner said the Crusaders are committed to working with the Hudson Hockey Association to help the largest youth hockey organization in the state continue to grow.
“Ryan and I jumped into this because we are huge fans of the Hudson Hockey Association,” Springer said. “Youth sports is one of the best things we have. Bad things are going to happen to kids, so the longer we can keep them involved the better. It’s a win-win for everybody.”
Wagner said he encourages his players, many of whom live with local host families, to become involved in the community.
“We’ve been involved with the Hudson Hockey Association and their Try Hockey for Free Day, and we’ve got guys who help out with Bantam tryouts,” he said. “We take a lot of the ice time that doesn’t sell -- early in the morning before school -- and we play most of our games on weekends. We have people come in for concessions and all that money goes right to them.”
Wagner said players attend school locally, take on-line college courses, and work part-time jobs, all with the goal of playing hockey in college someday.
“We want to get them to the next level to be able to go to college and play four more years of hockey and go from there,” he said. “We try and do what’s best for the kids.”
The Crusaders next home game will be Thursday, Nov. 14, at 7:30 p.m. at Gornick Arena against the Edina Lakers. They hit the road for three games before returning home to host the Steele County Blades Dec. 4 at 7:30.
“We’re looking for local support, whether it’s going to games or helping to sponsor a game,” Wagner said. “If a couple of kids come out to a game and decide to join the Hudson Hockey Association, who knows? They might become the next Davis Drewiske.”