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Boys' Hockey: Walz moves on from East Ridge coaching position

Wes Walz has decided to resign after three seasons coaching the East Ridge boys’ hockey team. (Bulletin file photo)

Wes Walz has decided to focus on family after spending the past three seasons as head coach of the East Ridge boys' hockey team.

In a phone interview on Tuesday afternoon, Walz said he decided to resign from the coaching position in large part to free up time to watch his kids play hockey next winter. Walz had previously coached the East Ridge girls' hockey team for two seasons before taking over the boys' program in 2014.

As a former NHL forward, Walz played in 607 NHL games over 11 seasons before retiring in 2007. Seven of those seasons were with the Minnesota Wild. He also was an assistant coach from 2008 until 2010 with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

After spending most of his life on the road in the NHL, and recently as a high school coach, Walz hopes to devote more time to watching his youngest children play youth hockey.

"I didn't really get much of a chance to be around them much when they were young playing hockey because I was playing myself," Walz, a father of five, said about his oldest children. "I think I owe it to my two younger kids just to spend more time with them during the winter."

Walz currently has two children playing Division III hockey. Jaedyn Walz just wrapped up her junior season with the UW-Eau Claire women's team, and son Kelvin Walz was also a junior with the St. Mary's University men's hockey team. His daughter Brehna Walz, a junior at East Ridge, was a key piece to the Raptors girls' hockey team that made a run to the championship game of the Class 2A, Section 3 tournament this winter.

With practices most afternoons and games two-to-three times a week, being a hockey coach requires some sacrifice. Walz also works as a studio analyst for Fox Sports North's Minnesota Wild broadcasts.

"Coaching high school hockey takes up a ton of time," Walz said. "It's a huge commitment between the summer program, and a lot of video to be watched and practices. It's a lot of work, so I just kind of felt it was the right time."

Walz cited family ties as the biggest reason why he decided to step away from the East Ridge coaching position. But he also mentioned the challenge of keeping high school players at both the Woodbury and East Ridge High School programs. Without Woodbury and East Ridge having their own youth hockey associations to develop players, kids do not grow up with the same attachment to the local high school teams as in other programs. Instead, most kids play under the Woodbury Area Hockey Club.

Most of the state's top-end varsity teams like Grand Rapids, Stillwater, Wayzata or Edina have youth programs that help feed interest to their high school programs.

"All those boys and girls, they all want to grow up, and they all want to be Ponies," Walz said. "Or they all want to be Trojans. Right now, there is not that brand there. It makes it really, really difficult to keep kids here in Woodbury to stay. A lot of them move on, and they head off and play at the private schools. So we never really have an opportunity to keep a lot of those kids in our own community."

East Ridge finished the winter season with a record of 4-21-2.

Walz said he is ready to take time off next winter, but he is leaving the door open to future coaching opportunities. He said he enjoyed the interactions with the players and parents at East Ridge over the past three seasons.

"I'm sure there is going to be a point next winter when the high school season comes around again when I'm going to miss it," Walz said. "I'm just going to take a year off here and spend a little bit more time with my younger kids, and then who knows where life will take me after that."

East Ridge Activities Director Joel Olson said the school plans leave the head coach job posting open for "about a week" and pursue interviews with candidates after spring break. The spring break for District 833 is April 10 through 14.