By Rob LaPlante
Crow River News Sports
To say the boy’s hockey team at Rogers has endured change this off-season is an understatement.
After a decade of playing as a Class A school, the Royals learned last spring they would be making the jump to Class AA this fall and will compete with the likes of Maple Grove, Blaine, Coon Rapids and Centennial in the ultra-competitive Section 5AA.
With change on the horizon, Royals head coach Tim Marchand threw another loophole into off-season plans when he officially resigned on June 28. Second-year activities director Dan Ohlgren was forced to take action to replace the schools only boy’s hockey coach since the inception in 2003.
The Royals officially announced on July 22 that rookie head coach Justin Strunk will fill the void.
Strunk spent that last six seasons as an assistant under former Crimson head boys’ hockey coach Gary Stefano at Maple Grove. He currently is a special education teacher at Park Center High School in the 279 School District. He said he will continue this year to teach at the school district, but will someday like to join the Elk River School District.
“I hope to soon someday teach at Rogers High School,” said Strunk, who is a Class of 2000 graduate of Robbinsdale Cooper High School and a 2006 graduate at Augsburg College. He later went on to receive his Masters Degree from Bethel University. “I think it’s a perfect scenario if you’re teaching at a place and coaching those kids. You’re interacting with them every day.”
Interaction with his new team is something he said he will continue to develop leading up to their first scheduled game Nov. 26 at Sauk Rapids-Rice.
The Royals are coming off a 12-13-2 record a year ago and their season came to an abrupt end with a 9-0 Section 5A playoff loss at Hermantown. The Hawks have ended the Royals season four consecutive years, but with the switch up in classes, Rogers will be happy to see a scheduled home game Dec. 21 against Hermantown will not include the words playoff in it. Other key home dates on the schedule will come Dec. 17 against Totino-Grace, Jan. 4 against Maple Grove and Jan. 14 versus Champlin Park.
“There’s definitely some steps up in competition from the last few years,” Strunk said. “To prepare you for sections, you want to play as difficult schedule as possible. I think I would like to add some tougher teams in coming years, more specifically some section opponents.”
Strunk said he is familiar with the likes of Spencer Marchand, Matt Hellickson and Travis Brown from coaching them in previous camps and high performance leagues. He recently spoke with Brown about the possibility of finishing his senior year at Rogers, rather than opting out to play for Tri-City of the USHL.
While there is yet to be an official announcement on Brown’s return to Rogers, the all-conference defenseman recently tweeted on July 23, “Can’t wait for one more year with the boys at Rogers, going to be a great season.”
Brown – a Michigan Tech recruit – follows the footsteps paved by former Royal Division-I recruits Nick Jensen (St. Cloud State) and Jesse Ramsey (Air Force). He also said that Hellickson – a returning sophomore – is also a potential Division-I recruit.
“Absolutely, that’s huge,” said Strunk, on the schools short history of developing top talent. “When your school and community can be behind you it develops that excitement and a sense of community pride. That’s one of the big things that brought me to Rogers. I want to help with the youth association and get community members and local businesses involved.”
Even with top talent potentially on his lap, Strunk said he still expects a feeling out process as the team prepares to improve on last year’s second-place finish to Buffalo and 5-3 record in the Mississippi 8 Conference.
“I think the first month or so of the season, it will be me getting to know the players and the players getting to know me,” Strunk said. “I think Christmas time we’ll be gearing up for the end of the season and hope to be playing our best hockey come sections. Our goals are academic conference champions, conference champions and to improve every single day.”
The Mississippi 8 Conference also has changed for the upcoming season adding the likes of North Branch, Chisago Lakes and St. Francis to expand a six-team conference from a year ago to nine teams.
“It means more to win a conference title with more teams opposed to a conference with four or five teams,” he said. “I like to play a fast and exciting game, attack teams all over the ice, but responsible still on the defensive end.
“I’m excited. I think Rogers is a great city, great community and Dan Ohlgren has been amazing every step of the way for me.”
Justin Strunk was officially announced as the new boys’ hockey coach for Rogers and will replace the departed Tim Marchand when the Royals begin pursuit of a Class AA section title later this fall. (Photo by Rob LaPlante)