“You Have to Walk Before You Can Run”
Every journey starts with a single step. Whether competing in a marathon, or climbing Mt. Everest, the commitment to the task or endeavor always comes from within. When the decision is made, the first step forward can be the most challenging.
When Brandon Mileski accepted the coaching job at the Coon Rapids high school program, he knew the impending journey would not be an easy one. Mileski inherited a Cardinal feeder system that had modest success, a roster that had lacked necessary depth to compete in a very tough conference, and a demanding section. This was not unfamiliar territory for this Cardinals’ program.
Mileski had coached in the Robbinsdale Cooper hockey program for 10 years previous to accepting the head coaching job at Coon Rapids. He started his coaching career at the Bantam A level, and then moved up the high school level, coaching under long time Cooper head coach Bill Rooney. They had limited success on the rink, but when it comes to developing young men, hockey wins and losses are not always the definitive measuring stick for success.
Coaching players may be the job title, but developing and nurturing young men to become successful in life has always been the ultimate intent. Mileski, as well as others mentored by Rooney, have committed long term to these convictions instilled by the Cooper coach. He has brought this belief and philosophy to the Coon Rapids program. Mileski was also mentored and coached as a player by Bob Maietta at Totino-Grace, who helped mold him into the coach Mileski is today. Brandon referred to Maietta as the best coach he had ever played for, without begrudging others that have coached him along the way.
With the understanding that it takes patience and time to change the culture of a hockey program, especially a program that plays in a very tough conference and section, patience and commitment are a necessity from everyone involved at all levels. Another necessity is the belief that it can happen.
Where did this ingrained optimism come from? Brandon shared a story of his Cooper Bantam A team that faced a Wayzata team that boasted of many great athletes and hockey players. This was a Trojan team that went on to win the Minnesota Bantam State Tournament, and won the National Silver Stick Tournament as well.
On that Trojan roster was: Blake Wheeler (NHL), Tony Lucia (UofM), James Laurinaitis (NFL), Dominique Barber (NFL), Kevin Wehrs (UofM), Kurt Davis (MSU Mankato), and James Tabery (Wayzata star). His Cooper Bantam team, which had won 5 of almost 50 games, was down by 2 goals in the third period and came back to tie the game, despite being outshot 52-4. When the final buzzer sounded, there was no Al Michaels asking if we “believed in miracles,” but on a lesser scale, it was a parallel achievement. This is a memory that still leaves Mileski mystified, but more importantly engrained the belief that what may seem insurmountable can be achieved.
Looking at the recent results, in a result-based sport, there have been more losses than wins in Mileski’s four years at Coon Rapids. That is only on the surface, but if you look deeper, you can see progress.
Mileski has the belief it can happen at Coon Rapids. Many pieces have to fall into place for tangible success on the ice, some factors are in the coaches control, some are not. It seems, perhaps not on the surface, that some components are starting to show that the program is growing, but still has plenty of work in front of this Cardinals system at all levels.
Five talented players left the program before MIleski started coaching for the Cardinals, but he did not waiver in his conviction to get this program’s ‘foundation for success’ in place. It will take time and patience, and Mileski’s make-up and demeanor seems to be a good fit. Beyond the wins and losses, it’s about instilling core values: Respect for the game and opponents, effort and determination, and to be a solid teammate. It is about molding future fathers, future husbands, and contributing members to society. These are the lessons learned when being mentored by coach Rooney that Mileski has infused into his coaching outline. The results have not shown up in the box scores to date, but “you have to walk before you can run” is fitting for a program that has started to take positive steps.
A successful feeder system is necessary for the success in any program. The refinement of this Coon Rapids feeder system is slowly getting some traction, and players that play in the youth program will soon be wearing the Cardinal sweater with pride. The person behind the Cardinal bench has to be a polarizing entity, and Mileski is that presence. He is selfless, and will divert positive attention to his players, but will be accountable for the Cardinal program, for better or worse. The school, the parents, and the players all know that the deep conviction to move forward is there, but it is so much more than the coach. He is the face of this team, but he knows he cannot do it alone.
It starts at home. Brandon shares with us his fortune to have a wife that supports him, which affords him the freedom to make a diverse and demanding schedule workable. Mileski is a producer at KFAN radio for Dan ‘The Common Man’ Cole, and is involved in the over-the-air production of Minnesota Viking football games, amongst other KFAN commitments, along with being the varsity coach for Coon Rapids. Time in the winter months for personal interests is not plentiful, but he has maintained focus on his task at hand and the responsibilities that his commitments entail. He takes with the enthusiasm that may not be outward, but you can see it is there.
Coach Mileski is a noble person that will deflect positive attention to others involved, be very humble about his accomplishments, and continues to respect and acknowledge those that have supported him on his path. The spotlight seems to follow him because of his vocations, and soon it will shine on this Coon Rapids Cardinal program because of his effort, patience, and commitment. If I had a young son in the Coon Rapids program, I would be gratified to have him as a coach. Hockey is important, but the lessons in life will always take priority.
“A good coach make those believe in him, a great coach makes those believe in themselves.”