The Edina Lakers have played 23 hockey games so far this season, winning a dozen of them to stay within a sliver of a top-half finish in the Minnesota Division standings of the Minnesota Junior Hockey League.
To outsiders, that sort of line would make it seemingly easy to gauge the success Edina has experienced so far this winter.
It would also make it even easier to understand the importance the Lakers are putting on this coming weekend, when they travel east for a three game series with the Dells Ducks Nov. 30 and Dec. 1 and 2.
Yet, while there is plenty behind the emphasis Edina is giving to this weekend’s road trip, the organization will be similarly concerned with what is going on at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minn., at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minn., and on numerous other college campuses across the nation.
In essence, the true measure of success Edina holds itself to will be playing out on college rinks, where their alumni hold a candle that still burns bright long after getting its spark while wearing a Lakers sweater.
“That is what this league is all about,” said head coach Joe Long. “Sure, we’re worried about this weekend. We know how important it is. But this league is about developing players for the next level, and when you see that actually happen, those are the success stories you get to tell.”
Long and the Lakers have a pair they are boasting about this season, including the emergence of an immediate impact player at the Division III college level.
Adam Wiertzema spent nearly two full seasons with the Lakers, coming over in a trade with the Minnesota Owls early in the 2010-11 season.
His impact with the Lakers was noticeable, as the Breckinridge, Minn. native posted five goals and a dozen assists in the 26 games he dressed for Edina during that 2010-11 season.
The following year, he returned to the team, and went right back to work statistically, finishing the year with 20 goals and 15 assist in 42 games.
He ended up third on the team in scoring, transforming himself into the type of player college recruiters would go for.
“I felt that I really became an all-around player,” said Wiertzema. “The coaches put me in a situation where I could succeed, and that gave me the confidence to just go out and play hockey.”
Wiertzema has used a similar approach in this, his first year playing college hockey. He ended up committing to Concordia College in Moorhead following last season with Edina, and after waiting out his chance to crack the Cobbers line-up, Wiertzema has taken advantage.
In three games, the Cobber freshman already has three points. He recorded his first college point in his college hockey debut Nov. 16 in a game at Bethel University, and then netted his first college goal the next day.
He also had an assist in a game at Wisconsin-Superior Nov. 21, and was sure to be in the line-up this weekend when Concordia visited St. Thomas University Nov. 30 and Dec. 1.
“It’s been an awesome experience so far,’ Wiertzema said. “Once I got my chance, I just went out there and played. It’s just hockey, so I didn’t worry about too much else.”
Said Long, “Adam has earned the right to play, and I’m not surprised. He understood when he was here what it was going to take to get a shot at the next level, and to his credit, he’s taken what he learned in this league and used it to his advantage.”
He’s not alone. Laker alumni and Japanese import Tadayoshi Shibata landed at Hamline University after leading Edina in scoring last year with 25 goals and 23 assists in 48 games.
Others will follow, Long admitted. And it won’t be because of what happens this weekend against the Ducks, or even in next week’s Minnesota Division Showcase.
“It is a body of work thing,” Long said. “Adam and Yoshi are just two examples. There are a bunch in this league, where guys come here to develop, and really work at it week in and week out. This league isn’t anyone’s final destination. All of these guys have dreams of playing college hockey, so it’s good to see a couple of them realize that dream and get that chance.”