The Alexandria boys hockey bench is going to look a little different next season. Following the 2019-20 season, Ian Resch stepped down as head coach after seven seasons.
Resch led the Cardinals to five section championship game appearances and a state runner-up finish during the 2017-18 season during his tenure. That second-place Class A finish is the best result at the state tournament in program history.
"The biggest thing for me was the commute," Resch said of his reasons for stepping down. "I live in Montevideo, and I teach in Minnewaska. It was crazy the amount of hours I spent on the highway. There would be days where I'd have three hours of driving, and that's just for practices and home games. I did that for three years. The energy and the time it took was crazy."
Resch started as the head coach during the 2013-14 season. Over the last seven years, he saw first hand how much coaching at the high school level has changed.
"Hockey, like a lot of other sports, has become a year-round sport," Resch said. "In the summer, there's tournaments and camps and clinics. There's always something. That stuff has really increased over the last few years. It's really become a full-time job. To basically have two full-time jobs, and do them well with the commuting is overwhelming."
One of the expectations that come with the boys head coaching job in Alexandria is winning. Resch got his fair share of victories with a 126-59-9 record.
"One of my goals seven years ago was to change the culture," Resch said. "I wanted to be a team that didn't hope but expected to win conference, section and state championships. We got to the section championship five out of the last seven years, and that's what we expect. There was disappointment when we didn't get there."
One of the challenges the job posed for Resch was the relationship between his team and the Alexandria Blizzard in the NA3HL. High school players are allowed to skate in practices and play games for NA3HL teams before and after the high school season.
"In the beginning, there were fewer kids doing that. Now there are more kids playing with the Blizzard before our season," Resch said. "That's been a major source of my frustration at times because those kids are going to a different type of culture. It's just different. There are things that the kids at the junior level can do that they can't at the high school level."
Before this season, five Cardinals took the opportunity to skate with the Blizzard. Over the years, readjusting to how the high school game was played and officiated took time for some who had experienced playing a different style of game in juniors.
"It's great that the kids get to experience that because I know they want to play after high school," Resch said. "It took us a lot of time to get them to realize that there are things that they just can't do here… When you have that stuff trickle in, it affects our culture here. Even the way the game is called. The kids can get away with more at the junior level, and it's more aggressive. Some kids could adjust better than others."
Resch is thankful for his time at Alexandria. He remembers the people and players that helped turn his run into a successful one.
"When I got hired seven years ago, there were two people that went to bat for me," Resch said. "Chad Duwenhoegger and Judy Backhaus gave me an opportunity. I think that was the third time I applied… It was really special for me to see 20 individuals come together that become groups come playoff time.
“That first team we brought to the section championship game in 2013-14 wasn't the most talented but was the most tight-knit group. Even though we lost 2-1 in the section championship game, it was one of those years I'll never forget."
Another impressive run was the Cinderella trip to the state-championship game three years ago. After an overtime upset against St. Cloud Cathedral in the Section 6A championship, the Cardinals experienced an event that every high school hockey player wishes to in their career.
"What an experience for everybody," Resch said. "You can try and explain it to people and tell them what it's like, but unless you live it as a player, coach, parent or fan, it's truly unique. For one week, it's a chance for the players to feel what it might be like to be a professional hockey player.
“Even as a coach, it was larger than life. We had about 12,000 fans watching. To be able to watch the guys experience and navigate that, I thought they handled it so well."
As Resch steps away from Alexandria, he hopes that it's not the last time he's involved with the game.
"I'm going to take a year to sit back and recharge," Resch said. "I love the game so much. As a player at Bemidji State, our coach always told us to give back to the game. This last year was my 32nd year in the game. I could probably say that I've done enough, and I did my part, but I feel like I still have stuff to offer.
“I'm going to take a year to see where my passion levels are because I'd like to stay somehow involved… You don't get rich doing this. And yeah, winning is great, but it's about watching a kid develop as a student-athlete and then go out into the world is what I enjoyed the most."