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GM takes helm as head coach

If your glass is half empty, Dave Boitz represents the third head coach in the last four seasons for the Minnesota Wilderness.

But if it's half full, the news of Boitz's new job title represents the continuation of a solid, stable junior hockey organization.

"The organization is in good shape," Boitz said. "We know what we want to do and we know what our players want to do while they're here."

Boitz, who has served as the team's general manager since it moved to Cloquet, became head coach after Tim Madsen left to take over the St. Scholastica men's team.

"Tim is a very good young coach and we're grateful for what he did here," Boitz said.

Boitz will remain general manager as well — a combination now virtually unheard-of in bigger hockey circles, but which is still fairly common in juniors.

"We'll be looking to hire some staff to take the day-to-day things off my plate, especially during the season, but I'll still handle things such as fundraising and major projects."

Boitz has worked with the Alexandria Blizzard, North Iowa Outlaws, Alaska Avalanche and the Wilderness during nine seasons in the league, including time as a coach. He's no stranger to life behind the bench.

"I like kids who can get up and down the rink," he said. "I like guys who can play both ends of the ice, and I can tell you this: My teams will work hard. Hopefully, we'll do a good job keeping the puck out of the net, without a lot of dump-and-chase."

Some of Boitz's philosophy might be seen in his first pick in the NAHL draft, which was Tuesday, June 4. Defenseman Nathan Poolman, a 6-foot-1 senior from Lake of the Woods, was the team's first pick. He scored 28 goals and added 26 assists in captaining the Bears to a 16-6-3 record last season. Eleven of his goals were on the power play.

Boitz was left to marvel at how far draft technology has come.

"I don't want to say getting players is easier, but you get more information quicker," he said. "I don't think we even had text messaging when we started this draft, and finding a player's phone number could sometimes be hard. Now we just type in a name and everything automatically fills in. I didn't even have to write Nathan's position."

Wearing both hats, Boitz is also involved in negotiations with the city and the Cloquet Amateur Hockey Association to extend the team's agreement to play at Northwoods Credit Union Arena, where the team is entering the last year of its lease.

"We would like to get a new contract," Boitz said. "We have momentum going in terms of fans and community involvement. We have so many people who volunteer and help with the game nights. They're some of my best friends in town, so it does feel like a family."

Boitz is optimistic.

"I don't expect trouble," he said. "I think the city is motivated to keep us in Cloquet. The new city administrator seems like a good guy and is on board with the impact we have in the community. He sees the big picture. Right now, it's just making it work with CAHA and the city and us. We all have ideas and they're pretty similar."

As for the management side, some of the new hires are already on board, including Garrett Hendrickson of Virginia, son of longtime Blue Devils coach Keith Hendrickson.

"He's a good hockey guy, a good young mind and he'll fit in well," Boitz said.

Moving forward, Boitz hopes to capitalize on past strengths.

"We have a system in place and know what we're trying to do every day," he said. "Both Corey (Millen) and Tim did an outstanding job coaching the team and that's important. Hopefully, I can do the same. The fun part is chasing the Robertson Cup."