With Brainerd now deeply involved in young fry hockey (Mites, Squirts and Bantams) and starting to play the game at the high school level with Bob House as the first Warrior coach, this is a sport which is expected to grow here steadily and to take off in a rush if the wherewithall is ever provided to construct an indoor rink.
Hockey had a short, but bright reign here in organizing of amateur teams at Brainerd, Nisswa and Ironton.
Games were played with Aitkin, Little Falls, Staples, Alexandria, Bemidji and St. Cloud's Lions in the late 20's and early '3D's; but the sport lost its grasp in the late 30's and without that indoor rink has had a hard time staying alive.
Brainerd organized a city hockey league in 1926 with teams representing the Northern Pacific, the Southside, the Northside, West Brainerd and the Businessmen. Games were played in the hollow behind the courthouse.
Site of the teams' rinks changed frequently from then on as it moved to the Norwood rink, then to Koering Field (Roosevelt Field today), Gregory Park, back to Norwood and then to Boom lake.
The city league soon died out and one team, known as the Brainerd Red Devils, represented Brainerd in amateur contests with other towns. Team captain for six years was the late Brainerd chief of police Louis Rofidal, in whose honor the Pony Baseball league field at Bane Park was dedicated a few summers ago.
In telling about those teams, Rofidal recalled that wash basins were used for reflectors to provide lighting. It was largely the Southside team which became the Red Devils when the city league disbanded. Dances were staged to raise funds for uniforms, which consisted of red woolen shirt (carrying a red devil design on the front, Brainerd and a number on the back) and black and red trousers.
"We paid our own way for everything," Rofidal recollected. "That included sticks and skates. We took up collections at the games. Sometimes we were lucky if we got a dollar and a half."
Interest remained high for several years and not all of the games were that shy of customers. When Brainerd played the Ironton Aces, led by goalie Al Dandrea, the crowds appeared. And it was Dandreas great play which began turning the tide on Brainerd's winning ways against Ironton, Rofidal remembered.
"Ironton was our best rival. We played on a vacant lot there, but then in the arena. We used to have to clean the rink before we could play."
At Brainerd, the team ran the 10th Street rink, selling concessions to raise funds to keep active. Season tickets were also sold at a dollar for adults and 75 cents for high schoolers. Carl Wright, a member of the park board, helped provide a warming house.
Another Rofidal recollection was that the Anderson brothers (Erv, Herb and Art) were among Nisswa's top skaters. Among his fondest memories were the lengthy training activities team members went through to get into shape.
"We trained constantly, starting in September at the old YMCA. We'd change into trunks and run through west Brainerd all the way to the Merrifield road and then hack through northeast Brainerd."
Brainerd's team made its finest showing statewide in 1931 when it captured third place in the State Amateur tourney at the Minneapolis Arena. Brainerd lost to Deep haven, which then bowed to Hibbing in the title game.
Members of the team were Rofidal and Les Creger at defense, Bill Fox goalie, Jim Gabiou center and Jim McIntosh and Adolph (Swede) Graff at the wings. Subs were Ralph Lukens, Merwin (Toby) Cheney and Joe Greiner.
Also playing at various times were Vein Sinclair, Alpha Fogelstrom, Henry Graff, Paul Saarinen, Gay, Sig and Harold Flatta, Tom Heikkenen, Roy Hegstad, Nels Molstad, Frank Stevens and Hank Gaboury.
Clarence Carison managed the 1931 team, while in a later year, it was Nick -Wasnie, the Brainerd grocer whose professional hockey career is detailed in another story in the Centennial sports section.
Rofidal recalled, "We used to play a full 60 minutes without substitution. We won a good share of our games."
Reproduced from the Centennial Edition of the Brainerd Daily Dispatch (1871-1971).