“You work for retirement; you work for your kids,” said Jeff Praxel, father of a Winona player participating in Saturday’s portion of the Fire on Ice hockey tournament at the Bud King Ice Arena in Winona, Minn. Although Praxel spoke about the lack of free time hockey season allows, he joked with fellow parents and raved about the benefits of his son being active in the sport. The children on the Pee Wee B and Squirt B teams range from ages 9 to 13 and without their parents’ support and enthusiasm, the long weekend may have been missed by the dozens of eager and energetic hockey enthusiasts.
For parents, the tournament meant long hours behind the Bug King Ice Arena concession stand or penalty boxes as their sons competed against seven other Pee Wee teams and three other Squirt teams for a championship win from Friday to Sunday. Most of the parents seemed to have accepted their fate and didn’t mind a few extra hours of commitment if it meant their child continued to play the sport they love. According to Praxel, it’s also about providing comradery for the teammates and keeping the young boys away from 24/7 video game playing.
The parents who weren’t volunteering could be found cheering on the teams, game after game. Perhaps the most pivotal game of the weekend took place Saturday at 5:30 p.m. between Winona’s Pee Wee B and West Salem. In a little over an hour, West Salem won the chance to play in the championship game against Chisago Lakes the following day.
“Did you get some of the sloppy joes I made?” Pam Grubbs asked one of the boys as they wizzed by, killing time in between games, which began at about 8 a.m. and ended about 10 p.m that day. Grubbs and the other Winona parents devoted about two months of work preparing for this tournament, including putting together a raffle, decorating the arena walls with mini paper cutouts of each team member, and making a shoelace charm embroidered with the appropriate player’s number for each mom whose child played in the tournament.
“During the hockey season, there isn’t much time for anything else,” said Grubbs.
Besides participating in tournament weekend, some Winona moms even organize mixers for the children to get to know each other better throughout the season.
“We know they need to bond or they’re not going to do it out there either,” said Grubbs.
Jana Brinkman and Kristi Speltz manned the concession stand midday Saturday; a place they have grown accustomed to.
“It seems like we are always at the rink,” said Speltz, who professes to not having been a hockey fan, but has learned to enjoy the game after a few years of observing.
Neither of the women were the least bit worried about where their seemingly unsupervised sons were throughout the day because they said they see the team as one big family, meaning there are plenty of other parents to watch out for each other’s children.
Lisa Oelkers and her family came from Red Wing, Minn., for the tournament, where about halfway through the day, Oelkers took a break to find a chair and read her Kindle.
Oelkers said supporting a child through hockey season requires not only a time commitment, but about $800, on top of selling calendars and donating cookies to their local hockey association. Oelkers describes the job of a hockey parent: Intense. Why is it worth it? According to Oelkers, because the kids love it.
“That’s pretty much what keeps us going,” said Oelkers.
Sunday’s games named West Salem the Pee Wee B’s tournament champion and North Metro consolation champion. Out of the Squirt B’s, Chisago Lakes scored two more points in total than runner-up Hudson Raiders.