For the love of the gameFor 40 years, Dick Bartholdi has been a man on a mission. He’s been looking for the perfect forecheck. Last winter Bartholdi, 66, came to a realization when having a discussion with his daughter Bridget.
By: Jeff Papas, Pine Journal
For 40 years, Dick Bartholdi has been a man on a mission.
He’s been looking for the perfect forecheck.
Last winter Bartholdi, 66, came to a realization when having a discussion with his daughter Bridget.
“It doesn’t exist,” he said.
That hasn’t stopped the longtime hockey coach from staying close to the game he loves. Last winter, the longtime Cloquet-Esko-Carlton boys assistant and girls head coach kept his hand in the game by coaching Cloquet’s U-12A girls team, and found the process surprisingly rewarding.
“I really enjoyed it for the most part,” he said. “The kids seemed to be at that age where they really wanted to learn things. The teaching part of the game became fun for me.”
Coaching is all about teaching, and last season marked the first time Cloquet had ever fielded an A-team at the U-12 level. That made Bartholdi a fine choice to coach them.
“It’s obviously a lot less stressful than the high school job in many ways,” Bartholdi said. “I think every coach says they enjoy the practices more than any other part of the game – even more than the games, I think.”
The winter made hockey even more fun for Bartholdi, who took his team all over the area.
“We didn’t have a lot of kids [on the team],” he said. “That was just the way it has turned out. We also had a lot of sickness, more than I had experienced in years past. At this level we want to do a lot of team kinds of things and that’s hard when they aren’t all there.”
Still, though, the process of helping young players develop provided a source of rejuvenation for the longtime coach.
“Building relationships with younger kids is rewarding,” he said. “Kids are kids, and you can be a part of their life.”
The excitement of younger players is also rewarding.
“I felt like a valuable resource of information for them,” Bartholdi added. “The players are old enough to start learning things about how to play a team game, and to learn things they might not have been taught before. I enjoyed that part of it.”
As well, the U-12 team also helped fill the void of not coaching the high school program. Bartholdi was the only coach the varsity program had ever known until his replacement this season by Tony Bender.
“I had trouble watching our high school team this year,” he admitted. “That was because I coached some of those kids since they were 7 or 8 years old all the way up. I would be wrong to not say that I really missed a lot of the high school coaching and being with those kids as they got better and a year older.
“It’s just my problem, nobody else’s,” Bartholdi added. “It’s just like anyone, whether they are relieved of duty or voluntarily leave, it’s difficult for me and a lot of people to walk away from something you have done and something you started from scratch. It was hard.”
Bartholdi was a social studies teacher at Cloquet High School and hadn’t considered coaching until he sat at lunch one day with Bill Kennedy.
Coach Kennedy, known for his gruff manner, was hired as a teacher at the same time as Bartholdi and had a problem with which he needed help.
“Bill asked me if I knew how to skate and liked hockey,” Bartholdi said. “I said yes, and he asked me if I wanted to coach.”
That was over 40 years ago. Bartholdi was a coach on the first Cloquet team that ever won a district playoff game and served in that capacity for Kennedy and Tom McFarlane before serving as a co-coach with Dave Esse when McFarlane took a year’s sabbatical.
He was then asked to take over the fledgling CEC girls program and guided it to three state tournament appearances.
This winter, the opportunity for a fresh start appealed to him, as did the chance to help young players improve their skills.
“I don’t do a whole lot other than coach now,” he said. “I felt I really had to coach. It seems like I’m afraid to find out if I quit coaching totally, I have to find something else to fill the void.”
Thankfully, that wasn’t necessary. Bartholdi’s team did well against top-level competition even though they were, as he put it, “schizophrenic” at times.
Yet, player improvement is the main goal, even if a coach can’t always see it.
“It’s satisfying when you can see that improvement,” he said, “but sometimes you are so
close to the player that you don’t see it. That’s why I like cutting the grass. You always see
Bartholdi enjoyed the season.
“I want to do it again next year,” he said. “Almost all the players move up to U-14 next year and I’d like to go with them. And I think it will probably
Regardless of the level at which he coaches, there are things that will always remain the same.
“I don’t think coaching changes a whole lot,” Bartholdi said. “You yell ‘change’ the same way. And the end of the season is the same, too. I was reading about [Minnesota Wild coach] Todd Richards in the Minneapolis paper saying after about 60 games there isn’t much more you can tell players. Even in high school, late in the season, it’s up to the kids. The coach is along for the ride after that.”
But, what a ride it’s been. For a man who got his start working with the legendary Bill Kennedy, the end of the coaching trail is nowhere in sight.
“I’m in good health,” Bartholdi said. “Since I retired from teaching, I have had more time to exercise and I’m in better shape now than I have been in for a while. I’d like to do this for as long as I can.”
And even when his team isn’t in season, hockey always is.
“I have NHL Center Ice and I watch hockey a lot,” he said. “I keep a board by me and if I see something I didn’t think of before I jot it down. Intellectually, it stimulates me.”
And he may even find the perfect forecheck.