Woodbury’s players were in victory formation. But their circle around center ice wasn’t complete.
So they turned in unison toward their bench and implored their coach to join them. Wes Bolin had, after all, just reached the 500 victory mark for his career, becoming the 17th coach in Minnesota boys’ high school hockey history to do so.
Bolin obliged, grabbing a stick off the bench and then shuffling to the center ice face-off dot, where he led the Royals in their stick-tapping ceremony.
“He did that double-clap for us,” said senior Dylan Chapman, whose first-period goal — his first of the season — proved to be the winner in Woodbury’s 2-0 upset over Stillwater on Friday at the HealthEast Sports Center. “It was fun.”
The Royals, who snapped a 16-game losing streak to the Ponies dating to Jan. 24, 2013, haven’t celebrated a victory this significant since … “ I don’t even know,” Chapman said. “I was probably in the third or fourth grade the last time we beat these guys. It’s a pretty big win for us.”
“Pretty big” doesn’t begin to describe it. Not only did the Royals end their eight-year skid against Stillwater, securing a milestone victory for their coach in the process, but the win was their first over one of the “Big Three” Suburban East Conference teams (White Bear Lake, Stillwater and Cretin-Derham Hall) since a 3-1 triumph over White Bear Lake on Jan. 7, 2016. The ensuing 29-game losing streak against the Suburban East’s heavy hitters included numerous one-goal setbacks, including two that ended in overtime.
“It’s playoff-type hockey when we play Stillwater and Cretin and White Bear,” Bolin said. “I’m just so excited for these kids. It was just fun to see them dancing and hear them clapping in the locker room.”
Woodbury coach Wes Bolin chats with officials after the first period of the Royals' 2-0 triumph over Stillwater on Friday. Photo by Loren Nelson, LegacyHockeyPhotography.com
The victory was just the third of the season for Woodbury (3-7-2), which not only dealt Stillwater (8-2-1) its second loss but diminished the Ponies’ chances of winning the conference title and earning the No. 1 seed in Class 2A, Section 4.
Woodbury’s triumph came courtesy of a superb goaltending performance by Otto Altman, a junior making his third varsity start. Altman stopped 40 shots, becoming just the fourth goaltender this season to make 40 or more saves while registering a shutout. Altman said there were some tense moments at the end of the game, particularly when the Royals were killing a penalty with about five minutes remaining. Stillwater pulled its goaltender in favor of an extra skater with about two minutes left.
“Those last five minutes were just brutal,” Altman said. “You’re just hoping it’s over.”
Chapman and Altman said the Royals were unaware Bolin had reached the 500-victory mark until the milestone was announced over the public address system after the game.
“He’s a pretty quiet guy about that stuff,” Altman said. “He didn’t say anything to us about it. It’s just one more special thing on top all the others from this one.”
Bolin got his coaching start in 1983 in Hallock, a northwestern Minnesota prairie town 23 miles from the Canadian border. Bolin was 22-year-old straight out of the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire when he made the town of about 1,000 home for three years.
“I had a ton of fun with people up there,” said Bolin, who has a 500-386-45 career record in 40 seasons. “What a wonderful group.”
After three seasons coaching the program now known as Kittson County Central, Bolin moved with his family to Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, where he taught and coached for 18 years. He led two Fond du Lac teams to state runner-up finishes and won eight section championships. He was named Wisconsin’s High School Coach of the Year in 1995.
“You get started at age 22, you are still doing it 38 years later,” said Bolin, who took over the Woodbury program in 2004 and led the Royals to the Class 2A state tournament in 2007 and 2008. “I’ve got so many players and coaches and parents who are so supportive of me.”
Bolin joins Duluth East’s Mike Randolph, Hill-Murray’s Bill Lechner, Eden Prairie’s Lee Smith and Benilde-St. Margaret’s Ken Pauly among the state’s active coaches with 500 or more wins. Lorne Grosso of Rochester Mayo, who retired in 2016, is the all-time leader with 707.
“I don’t know that you can … you can’t really equate me to those guys who have won all those state championships and things like that,” Bolin said. “If you look at the loss column, I’ve got a lot of losses in there, too.”
Bolin’s postgame remarks were interrupted by mutual congratulations and goodbyes as his players trickled out of the locker room and headed for home.
See ya coach.
Good job, Joey. Congrats.
“Sometimes things just fall into place, you have a goaltender who just plays an awesome game …”
See ya coach
See ya, Tyler. Good job today.
“The kids just gutted this out, that’s the best way to describe it ...”
Charles, great job. I’ll see you in the morning.
Bolin said working at summer camps with Chuck Grillo, Mike Eaves and Troy Ward, among other highly respected coaches, helped him forge his style that emphasizes hard work and character and teaches players the importance of being good citizens as much as it does the benefits of backchecking.
“He’s really there to push you and make you a better person on and off the ice,” Chapman said. “He really looks for character in guys. It doesn’t matter how good you are, you’ve got to be a good person.”
Added Altman: “I don’t think I have ever had a coach who cared so much. He is up 3:30 in the morning every morning getting after it.”