By Sean Davich
Youngsters in the Coon Rapids area will have a chance to join a new United States Premier Hockey League franchise, which begins the season in September. Jay Witta – a part-owner, the general manager and the head coach of the Coon Rapids-based Minnesota Blue Ox Junior A’ hockey club – knows that there is plenty of hockey talent around the region. He’s excited for what’s to come.
“Running things right for the kids – that’s why we’re doing this,” Witta said. “Bruce (Boudreau, Minnesota Blue Ox majority owner and Minnesota Wild head coach) isn’t doing it for the money, (and) I’m not. We do it because we love hockey and we want to give the kids a great experience.
“Having this facility in Coon Rapids is just a bonus for them. Being so close to the Twin Cities is great.”
Witta sees many great things for his new team. Already he likes the change of scenery after resigning as New Ulm Steel head coach in April, and he sees the Blue Ox fighting to the end.
“The national championship is in March in Boston; we expect to be there,” Witta said with a laugh. “That’s one thing about Bruce (Boudreau) and I – we like to win. This isn’t a hobby, we’re all in. Same thing we teach the kids: Try to be the best you can be every day.”
Coon Rapids Mayor Jerry Koch said he is excited about a junior hockey team in the city. He believes it will bring energy to the community.
“I think this is going to be a great opportunity for people to have a very affordable night out,” Koch said. “I think it’s going to be great entertainment.”
Boudreau couldn’t agree with Koch more.
“If we can get this as a community thing, that would be a pretty cool thing,” he said. “There’s always a need for young adults to play – where high school is over but the dream isn’t over.
“From what I do, there’s not a scout that’s not watching the game. If there’s hockey, they will come.”
At the team owner meet-and-greet press conference on Friday, July 28, at the Coon Rapids Ice Center, the excitement in the building was noticeable.
“This is a great opportunity for youth hockey here in Minnesota,” said Bill Ganser, the Coon Rapids Ice Center manager. “The Blue Ox can provide another great opportunity for competitive hockey players during and after high school and help them develop a path to future opportunities.”
Boudreau, who has 51 percent ownership of the Blue Ox, said he gets major satisfaction out of seeing kids succeed at this level. When he and the rest of the ownership group went around Coon Rapids, they absolutely loved it.
“We thought this was a great area to have a junior team,” Boudreau said. “We want to make it as local as we can with these kids. It really helps with the community. We couldn’t find a better facility anywhere, and this is something that’s very exciting to us – the growth of junior hockey.”
Boudreau knew there was something special about Minnesota when he and his wife, Crystal, who is also a majority owner of the Blue Ox, moved here after he was hired as head coach of the Minnesota Wild.
“When I first got here last year, you knew that this was the State of Hockey. We’re here to grow hockey,” Boudreau said.
Tryouts for the team took place over the weekend at the Coon Rapids Ice Center.
The Blue Ox will kick off their inaugural season on Sept. 15 when they visit the Dells Ducks. The first home game at the Coon Rapids Ice Center for the Blue Ox takes place on Sept. 22 when the Minnesota Moose visit.