Prep boys hockey: CEC’s Esse, Two Harbors’ Wasko honored at Wild game
The longtime friends were inducted into the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame Thursday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
During the Minnesota Wild’s win over Vancouver Thursday, two local hockey coaches were honored for their contributions to the game.
Longtime Cloquet-Esko-Carlton coach Dave Esse and former Two Harbors and North Shore coach Steve Wasko were inducted into the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul along with Virginia's Doc Stanaway.
Stanaway and Esse are part of the 2020 class and Wasko is a 2021 inductee. The ceremonies for the past two seasons were canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In his 18 years guiding the Lumberjacks, Esse’s teams appeared in two state tournaments and twice more in his eight years as an assistant. During his tenure, CEC produced a number of elite players, including Seattle Kraken center Karson Kuhlman and Minnesota Duluth’s Koby Bender. Bender recently finished his career with the Bulldogs and is now playing for the Bridgeport Islanders in the American Hockey League.
Esse, a health and physical education teacher at Cloquet High School, was a first team All-American during the 1990-91 season while playing for Wisconsin-Superior and was named to the All-Wisconsin State University Conference team for three seasons. Esse was inducted into the UWS Athletic Hall of Fame in 2005.
After stepping down as the Lumberjacks boys coach in 2017, Esse joined his daughter — Courtney Olin — on the Lumberjacks girls bench. In 2020, CEC finished second at the Class A state tournament. In all, Esse has been a coach in the CEC program for more than 31 years.
Esse said he was “flattered” to be honored by the MHCA and credited former Cloquet football coach Roland Bromberg with his decision to become a teacher and a coach.
Esse said his “longevity” was a part the reason he was selected and that he couldn’t have done it without all the assistants in the program over the years, particularly his “right hand man,” Kyle Young.
Esse and Wasko became friends while the coached the Lumberjacks and Agates and Wasko was happy to see his buddy honored.
“Dave is a class act, he always has been and always will be,” Wasko said. “I think it’s great that he’s working with his daughter now, but he always had high standards for his players and his team’s always competed well. Dave is a stand-up guy and he’s good for the game of hockey.”
Wasko started coaching as an assistant with the Princeton program before moving to Two Harbors. While working at Two Harbors High School as an art teacher, he became an assistant with fellow MHCA Hall of Famer Roger Koster.
Wasko took over the top job in 1996 and continued to coach the Agates until they merged with Silver Bay and Cook County to form the North Shore Storm. He worked with North Shore coach Shawn Bartlette during the first year of the cooperative program in 2012-13, but stepped down following the season.
Since leaving coaching, Wasko has remained involved representing the MHCA at the state hockey tournament each year.
Wasko never led a team to the state tournament, but coaching at the high school level isn’t just about success on the ice, it’s about developing players — not just as athletes, but as students and people.
“Not everything is based off of wins and losses — you’re working with people, for crying out loud,” Wasko said. “I just think that to be recognized by your peers for what you’ve done is pretty special.”
Esse concurred and said while Wasko “didn’t have the numbers” some years, his teams competed and, more importantly, were a credit to the North Shore community.
“We need more Steve Waskos in the world,” Esse said.