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Millen and Minnesota Wilderness part ways

The Minnesota Wilderness junior hockey team announced Wednesday that head coach Corey Millen and assistant coach Josh Petrich will not return next season.

Millen, a Cloquet native who played for the Lumberjacks, Minnesota Gophers, in two Olympics and ultimately in the National Hockey League, said he found out from management on Wednesday morning.

“I had planned to come back, I thought we had an understanding,” said Millen, fresh off a playoff run with this year’s team, which was defending their North American Hockey League Robertson Cup title from last year. “I have a lot of pride for what we built in a short period of time here. I feel good about it.”

Dave Boitz, the current Wilderness general manager and an experienced coach, will assume the additional role of interim head coach until a new coaching staff is announced.

Boitz will run the tryout camps in Andover, Minn., in two weeks and likely the North American Hockey League draft for the Wilderness on June 6.

He said the owners decided to move in a different direction. He wished Millen and Petrich the best, and thanked them for their contributions in a press release.

“Corey Millen is an amazing coach who’s done an unbelievable job,” Boitz said. “I’m sure he will land on his feet and be a terrific coach somewhere else. He can coach at the highest level.”

Millen was still absorbing the news when he talked to the Pine Journal on Wednesday, but said he intends to continue coaching.

“I love coaching,” he said. “I really enjoy it and I plan to pursue it. We’ll see where it goes.”

Millen said returning to Cloquet after being away for three decades was a wonderful experience.

“The reception and support people have given me has been incredible, so I’m completely thankful for that,” he said.

As for a new coach?

Boitz said he got three applications in 15 minutes after announcing the news Wednesday, but stressed the team wants to be thorough.

“It could be two days, two weeks or two months before we select someone,” Boitz said.

The Minnesota Wilderness is a Tier II NAHL junior hockey team that plays at Northwoods Credit Union Arena in Cloquet. They will enter their fourth season of play for the 2016-17 season.

Pine Journal sports writer Jeff Papas contributed to this story.