Local residents Chuck Hadley and Chris Omodt both grew up playing street and pond hockey every chance they could, and the pair immediately synced when they began coaching the Burnsville Jr. Gold teen boys hockey team 10 years ago.
For them, coaching is more than just a way to stay connected to the game they love; it’s an opportunity to make an impact in the lives of young players who don’t make the high school program or are looking for another outlet to play.
At the end of this season, Omodt and Hadley will hang up their skates and retire from coaching, passing the coaching puck to a former player they first met as an 11-year-old and trained up.
Omodt, who’s also a retired Captain with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Department, said hockey teaches responsibility and keeps the young men out of trouble. It also teaches them the importance of connection.
“If they are having a hard time and they need someone to talk to, we are there for them, period,” he said.
Longtime Burnsville Hockey Club volunteer John Gui said that Hadley and Omodt took the formerly rough-and-tumble group and transformed it into a highly skilled and competitive team, but their success on the ice won’t be what the team misses most.
“The biggest benefit is they are incredible role models and life coaches,” Gui said.
The recreational indoor team is for boys ages 16 to 18 who compete all over the state in the Metro Hockey League. Many Jr. Gold players have been teammates on Burnsville Hockey Club teams since they were 4 years old. However, Hadley said, most players don’t go on to play hockey in college, and Jr. Gold is the last time they’ll play organized hockey.
Most players are local to Burnsville and Savage, but throughout the years the opportunity to play has drawn families from as far south as Dodge City.
Connections to the sport
Hadley picked up coaching when his sons started out in the Burnsville Hockey Club and followed them up through the age divisions. When Omodt’s son made Hadley’s Jr. Gold team, Omodt, who’d also been coaching for many years on various Burnsville Hockey Club teams, asked if he could come on board.
“We have the same mentality as far as how to coach and how to work with the kids,” Omodt said. “We gelled from the first day we put our skates on.”
“And I knew it, I knew we would,” Hadley added.
Once all their kids had graduated, they found themselves unexpectedly still passionate about coaching. They decided to continue on with a pact that they’d stay together and decide together when to retire.
Growing up in Minneapolis, Omodt remembers the whole family sitting around to watch the North Stars play.
“I’ve been passionate since I was 3 years old, I just loved the game,” he said.
One of eight siblings, Omodt said they always dreamed of playing traveling indoor hockey but knew they couldn’t afford it, so they played recreational hockey on the rink in their backyard. Sometime in the late 1970s, his coaching journey began when his mom asked him to coach his younger bother’s team.
Hockey also led Omodt to his wife, Jane — a mom of two players Omodt coached.
Hadley grew up in Bloomington and also played hockey from a young age, although he didn’t come from a traditional Minnesota “hockey family.”
“I don’t think my dad even knew what a pair of skates looked like, but there was a rink across the street, and we’d play street hockey in the driveway with neighbors,” he said.
Six years ago, Hadley visited his childhood coach, who was soon to die of Parkinson’s disease, to thank him for the impact he had on his life.
“It finally came to me that his passion is what drew me in,” Hadley said.
A close-knit community
On the bench, Omodt and Hadley are constantly analyzing the game together, but in the locker room, it’s Hadley who delivers the message to the team.
Omodt says he’s always been more quiet, and the pair believe in having one spokesperson give direction to the team. Over the years, he said they’ve spent many mornings rehashing the details of the previous night’s game and been on too many long car rides talking strategy to count.
Zach Bouchar, the once 11-year-old player on the peewee team who will take over as head coach next year, says Jr. Gold has always been about more than hockey. He hopes to keep building the positive culture that Hadley and Omodt created.
“We are here to develop these young men, and we’re here for them,” Bouchar said.
Burnsville High School senior and Jr. Gold Team Captain Zach Hjermstad formerly played on the high school team, but said that this year on Jr. Gold is his favorite and most memorable year in hockey.
“They are more than just coaches to me — they are friends,” Hjermstad said about Hadley and Omodt, calling them great coaches who’ve taught him a lot.
Next year, Hjermstad will be heading to college without plans to play hockey, but he said he knows the relationships made on the Jr. Gold team will continue.
Through the years, Hadley and Omodt say they’ve have been constantly available to players dealing with hardships, such as difficult break-ups and divorcing parents.
“I’m not afraid to tell those kids that I love every single one of them,” said Hadley. “I’m the biggest hugger you ever saw in your life.”
Hadley and Omodt say the bond is hard to describe, but there is no time their close knit community felt more valuable than when 17-year-old teammate Devin Delaney died unexpectedly of natural causes related to heart inflammation in 2017.
“Last year, he was the captain of our team even though he wasn’t there,” Omodt said through tears. “And we played for him.”
The next chapter
Inspired by a player who is paying his own way on the team this year, Omodt and Hadley are working with the Burnsville Hockey Club to start a scholarship for players in their name.
“We want to make sure that kids who don’t financially have the opportunity to play hockey have a way in,” Omodt said.
During the senior night celebration at a recent game in Burnsville, each player skated across the ice to hug their coaches. Bouchar remembers being a senior himself when Hadley invited him to return as a coach. He hadn’t previously thought about coaching, he said, but the passion sticks.
Coaching has always been a volunteer position, but Omodt and Hadley say the lasting impact on players made all the late nights worth it.
“Hopefully they’ll remember what we did for them, and carry that on,” Hadley said.