For Todd Sanden, being named the North Iowa Bulls’ first head coach is like coming home again.
Sanden, a former assistant coach with the North Iowa Outlaws (now Coulee Region Chill) in the North American Hockey League (NAHL), went north last season when the Outlaws relocated to Onalaska, Wis. When the North American 3 Hockey League (3HL) announced a new team for next season in Mason City, Sanden was quick to apply for the head coaching gig.
And why wouldn’t he? Knowing the area and community was a plus and put that with the type of city Mason City is and Sanden’s past experience as a junior head coach, including a stint with the first incarnation of the United States Hockey League's (USHL) Dubuque Fighting Saints, and it seemed like the “right place, right time, right fit,” according to Sanden.
“I’ve been an assistant the past few years and I think you always want to be a head coach as quickly as possible,” said Sanden. “Coming back to North Iowa was just the right opportunity for me. Mason City is a hockey town and I know that as soon as the Outlaws left, the town was already finding a way to get a team back to play here. It’s a great community and one that really supports its hockey teams.”
Next season will also not be Sanden’s first foray into the 3HL as years back when he was a head coach with junior teams in Minnesota, his teams played 3HL (then Central States Hockey League) squads at national tournaments.
“A lot of the teams in this league and a lot of the guys involved with the 3HL have really stood the test of time,” said Sanden. “You got guys like Butch (Wolfe) with the Metro Jets and Bob (Jacobson) in Cleveland and Scott (Syring) in Toledo and these are just some of the people that are aiming to make this league better and better each season.”
Sanden knows going into a league as an expansion team will have some bumps in the road along the way, but he’s banking on having a young team willing to compete each time out.
“You have to set your standards high right from the get-go,” said Sanden. “We have an affiliation with Amarillo and Texas (of the NAHL) and with those connections, maybe we get a couple younger players who will play in our league for a year and develop and then move up. It’s a work in progress building a team from scratch, but I already have a couple verbal commitments and am going to work getting some draft picks signed and look for some kids that can help right away at our camps. We’ll also work the NAHL camps, but I know at this level, we kind of have to wait our turn.”
Based in Iowa, the Bulls may already have a ready-made rivalry with the Quad City Jr. Flames, located in Davenport.
“It’s funny, because at our meetings a couple weeks ago, I approached (Quad City head coach) Tommy (McDermott) and asked if we should play for the Corn Cup or something,” laughed Sanden. “In Coulee Region, we played for the Dairyland Camp with the Janesville Jets and I think it would be great to have that with Quad City and march off the ice with a trophy or something. Maybe we get a good sponsor and it takes off. I think it would be good for the league, for sure.”
Though first-year teams may struggle, Sanden has plans to give the Bulls a good showing this season, trophy or not.
THREE ST. LOUIS ALUMS NAMED TO U.S. INLINE TEAM
St. Louis Jr. Blues head coach J.P. Beilsten and Jr. Blues alums Kyle Kraemer and Shawn Gawrys were named this week to the U.S. National Inline Team.
Beilsten also played for the Jr. Blues in the late 1990s and early 2000s.
Team USA will compete at the 2011 International Ice Hockey Federation InLine Hockey World Championship in Pardubice, Czech Republic, from June 19-25.