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Little Spartans

Youth hockey in Richfield area made a comeback for its inaugural year.

A group of Little Spartans youth hockey players outside Richfield Ice Arena. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Walsh)

Terri McBride is a veteran who turned to Warrior PATHH classes, a peer-based training program, over this past year as she and her family navigated some struggles. A lot of people in the hockey community were brought into the class. McBride is originally from San Antonio and didn’t know much about the sport.

“When I heard all of them come in and speak… it made me want to get my sons into hockey,” McBride said. “That’s the kind of people that it produces, these men.”

She was in search of male role models for her sons. Enter hockey and the Richfield Little Spartans, a new youth hockey program for various ages, experience levels and diverse backgrounds. The diversity piece was huge for McBride, who moved to Minnesota for medical school in 2015 and said she’s “never felt a part of this community.”

“In every sector I go it’s, unfortunately, diversity really does make a difference for me feeling comfortable,” McBride said.

Terri McBride and her son, Xavier, take in the Blues vs. Wild game on March 23 at Xcel Energy Center. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Walsh)

Hockey came at the perfect time for her family last fall. Her son Xavier started hockey in December with the Little Spartans.

“It’s really been like perfect timing that we had a new family and new structure to come to every weekend,” McBride said.

McBride and her son attended their first Wild game with a group of other Little Spartans participants and their parents/guardians, thanks to InSports Foundation, on March 23 when Minnesota hosted the St. Louis Blues at Xcel Energy Center. Xavier loved the peanuts and the music, his mom said, and he gave his approval of the game with a thumbs-up signal from his seat in the lower bowl behind the Wild’s net.

It was also fitting that the Blues were in town because Xavier was born in St. Louis. He came two months early while McBride was in the area for her Coast Guard drills. While Xavier was in the NICU in St. Louis for a month, Blues fans celebrated the team’s Stanley Cup run in 2019.

“We’re not hockey people,” McBride said. “We’ve never been to a game. I don’t even understand the rules. We want to learn.”

McBride and her son have started to learn through being part of the Little Spartans program. This winter was the first season for the program, with Anthony Walsh, Edina graduate and author of the children’s book “Hockey is for Everybody,” as a coach. The program met each weekend in the mornings starting in December at Richfield Ice Arena with anywhere between 40 to 65 kids participating.

Nine-year-old Carlos Martinez took in the Blues vs. Wild action as well, as part of the Little Spartans group. It was his first Wild game, and he said he liked seeing the players up close. His favorite thing about playing hockey? “Skating fast.”

Walsh recalls how Martinez couldn’t skate – he’d never tried before – when he first joined the program.

“Now, this kid is flying around,” Walsh said. “One-timers, putting it home. It’s incredible.”

Brian Boyer, another coach with the Little Spartans, attended the game with his 5-year-old son, Remi. March 23 wasn’t Remi’s first Wild game. He got interested enough to start playing hockey after coming to a lot of Wild games in the past, his dad said. Now, Remi loves getting on the ice with the Little Spartans.

“We wake him up Saturday morning, and he just jumps out of bed,” Boyer said. “We just count down the days of the week until Saturday… and he gets to play. He’s obsessed.”

They’re going to continue to stay involved with the Little Spartans, and Boyer said he looks forward to coaching more, too.

“It’s been really fun to watch him really fall in love with hockey, and then really focus on something,” Boyer said. “For a 5-year-old, there’s not a lot that interested him. It’s been really fun. He wants to play as much hockey as he possibly can.”

Special visitor
Before the Wild game that day, a game ultimately won by the Blues 5-4 in overtime, the Little Spartans had a special guest at their practice at Richfield Ice Arena. Former Wild defenseman and Elk River native Nate Prosser stopped by and was on the ice with the young players.

Boyer said that while a lot of the kids didn’t realize who Prosser was, it was the parents who were excited to see the former NHLer working with their kids, since they remember when Prosser played for the Wild from the 2009-10 to 2016-17 seasons. Boyer added that the kids were all excited about which former NHL player was going to see them, taking guesses in the locker room the previous week, Boyer said, “but their guesses were far from accurate.”

Parent Owen Fors noticed more parents than usual at the special morning practice with Prosser in attendance.

“He had a really nice way of working with the kids,” Fors said. “Obviously, a lot of hockey experience. Knows the nitty gritty details. So, he knows how to make the kids focus on those little details but still have fun while doing it.”

Owen Fors took his son Kyllian to his first Minnesota Wild game as part of the Little Spartans outing on March 23. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Walsh)

While young Remi was already a veteran fan of Wild hockey games, Fors’ son, Kyllian, sat nearby at the X on March 23 and held a souvenir certificate marking his very first Wild game. Kyllian sat with his dad. The tradition of Richfield hockey is a generational activity for the Fors family.

Owen Fors was on the last varsity team for Richfield, and now his son Kyllian is part of the rebirth of the program. The Richfield program merged with Kennedy during Owen’s squirt year of hockey, he said, so he didn’t get a chance to play out of mites with Richfield. But by eighth grade, he had an opportunity to play on Richfield’s last varsity team; he was only one of a dozen players who returned the next season, meaning they couldn’t have a team.

Owen is happy to have a youth hockey program back in Richfield for his son, and he noted the benefits of a city having its own team.

“It kind of just builds pride in the program and the school,” Owen said.

Father-son hockey traditions
Six-year-old Dominic had also been to Wild games before, but he took in the action on this day with his Little Spartans cohorts. He said he likes “to learn” when he’s watching the Wild. As a player, Dominic likes to skate, score and make new friends.

Besides the Little Spartans, Dominic, who’s been skating since he was 3 years old, plays within Edina’s youth organization as well. But his dad, Tony DeRocha, wants his son to keep skating with the Little Spartans in hopes that he’ll learn a lot of basic hockey skills.

Little Spartans are diverse, from age to hockey skills to ethnic and economic backgrounds. DeRocha also played hockey, for Cretin-Derham Hall where he’s currently on the coaching staff for the football team. His grandparents were immigrants.

“Just think generationally,” DeRocha said. “When they become parents, what the game will look like.”

It’s exciting to see kids have this opportunity with the Little Spartans, DeRocha said.

“They’ve got a good thing going,” DeRocha said. “It’s important as a parent to see him see other kids making those strides.”

Little Spartans on the ice at Richfield Ice Arena. (Photo courtesy of Anthony Walsh)

Heather's love for watching hockey started when the Minnesota Wild came to town in 2000. Before that, she caught a few Minnesota Moose games as a youngster, and more recently she's kept up with the Austin Bruins and Fargo Force. She's a writer, freelance journalist and blogger who previously worked as a news reporter in Austin and Fergus Falls, Minn. She enjoys watching sports and closely follows the Wild, Minnesota Twins, IndyCar Series, tennis and prep sports. Heather keeps up her sports blog Thoughts from the Stands. You can follow her on Twitter/X @hlrule or Instagram @hlrule.

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