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The one constant in the success achieved by the Minnesota Wilderness in their first three years in the Superior International Junior Hockey League has been that of their head coach and general manager, Rod Aldoff, pictured in the center of this photo with assistant coach Chris Locker on the right, and team assistant Randy Wilcox, left. Photo contributed by Paula Michaud

Q-and-A: Rod Aldoff, champion coach

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Q-and-A: Rod Aldoff, champion coach
Cloquet Minnesota 122 Avenue C 55720

Fresh off the Minnesota Wilderness's Dudley Hewitt Cup victory in North Bay, Ontario, last Saturday, Coach Rod Aldoff spoke with the Pine Journal about the team's journey at hand. He describes the tournament just past, the championship possibilities that lay ahead at the Royal Bank Cup (happening May 11-16) and the driving factors behind the team's incredible success during its first season playing in Cloquet.

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Pine Journal: You ran into a hot goalie and lost 4-1 to the North Bay Trappers to start the Dudley Hewitt Cup. Your team proceeded to score 12 unanswered goals across three straight wins. How does your team respond so well to losses when it rarely faces them (the team is 59-6 on the season)?

Coach Aldoff: The players are driven and motivated to get the results they want. They pushed hard all weekend and played four very good hockey games.

PJ: Was there any one game of the four that was more critical to the run than any other?

Aldoff: The games were all intense in their own right. In a format like this, though, they get harder as you go on. You can't pick one. They're all important. The importance just gets bigger and bigger with each game.

PJ: You trailed in the championship to Toronto's St. Michael's Buzzers, 3-2, before Ben Michaud ripped the tying goal with 3:28 remaining in the game. Jeremy Johnson scored the game winner 12 minutes into overtime. Was there ever a sense things were slipping away?

Aldoff: There was never a sense of panic. There was calmness on the bench. They knew they had to keep pressing. Then Ben got the puck in with a high shot in the far corner.

PJ: Tell us about what the win means.

Aldoff: To get to the Dudley Hewitt Cup is really tough; to win it is more special than people imagine. It's so gratifying for these kids. They deserve to be where they're at. The opportunity is pushing them. Now we've got an opportunity to play for a national title (in the upcoming Royal Bank Cup) in one of the hardest junior hockey cups outside the Memorial Cup (the granddaddy of Canadian junior hockey). It's been a long road. It's a battle, a fight, and when we get there it's going to be an even bigger fight. We're playing our best hockey but by no means are we satisfied just yet.

PJ: You arrived in Cloquet to a police escort through town. Who was behind that and what did the players think?

Aldoff: I think it was Jack (Lane) from LCS Coaches who was behind it all. The kids thought it was great and a lot of fun. It was nice of them to do that. We've gotten a great response, a lot of support. I think we had to earn the respect back home and hopefully we have. I'm proud of the class the kids show on and off the ice. We're proud to be from Cloquet. We're excited about the opportunity to make everybody proud again. We're not going there to just be another pretty face in the crowd.

PJ: Since the end of the league playoffs, you've been playing in Canada and will remain there (in Summerside, Prince Edward Island) for the rest of your season's games. What's the response from the Canadian fans? Are they unbearable?

Aldoff: We've been fortunate enough to be [in North Bay, Ontario for the Dudley Hewitt Cup] three straight years. Our team is well known. To finally win it is special, and we had nothing but great response. We've got a lot of emails, texts and support from both sides of the border. It's good for the game for us to be the first American team to win up there. But our players don't look at it like we're an American team. We're a hockey team, a junior hockey team, and we earned the right to be there.

PJ: A couple of final questions for you coach. First, what has been the core this team has rallied around? Is it a particular leader? Is it an idea?

Aldoff: It speaks mostly of our leadership, our 20-year-olds. I'm proud of their leadership and grateful for it. Our captains, all our 20-year-olds lead by example. The rest of the kids feed off that and they understand that even though we do have good 20-year-olds it takes 20 leaders, everybody being a leader in their own right. The kids have opened up to that. They're able to look themselves in the mirror.

PJ: Finally, you'll play the Brooks Bandits among your games on the possible road to a Junior "A" Canadian Championship. They've been ranked No. 1 all season to your No. 2. Does that matchup inspire more than any other?

Aldoff: Rankings are rankings. They're great PR for a team. Great for you guys in the media. But hockey is hockey. Whoever is 1, 2, 3 ... 10 doesn't matter to me. You prove yourself every day. That's the attitude we promote.

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