Locals bring high-end hockey back home with Team Combat
Despite not having as many creature comforts as some others growing up, Billy Bellmore and Nate Mauer ended up playing hockey at just about as high a level as one can play. Now, the two Woodbury residents are trying to help kids who grew up like them reach their goals on the ice.
Bellmore and Mauer, who were teammates at Hill-Murray High School, run Team Combat - a AAA Hockey Club and development program - based in large part out of Bielenberg Sports Center and Cottage Grove Ice Arena. Bellmore is the Team Combat owner and president and Mauer is the director of Team Combat.
"In Minnesota there's hundreds of hockey schools, camps and clinics with a lot of good instructors," Bellmore said. "But I think what separates us is we put the player first. All of our instructors are really passionate about being teachers. We try to instill life values like dedication, commitment, hard work and loyalty through our sport that you can take away from the rink."
AAA club hockey gives players an outlet to continue to play on competitive teams, and against other elite teams, in tournaments during the offseason as an extension of their youth association or high school teams.
Founded by Bellmore, the Team Combat AAA Hockey Club has grown into a very well respected and highly competitive organization. Bellmore said Team Combat was founded with the sole purpose of providing elite players from across North America the opportunity to play with and against the best players at their respective age levels.
"We want to build our program's foundation of what we do on the practice rink," Bellmore said. "It's not where they are now, it's getting better and creating a process where kids buy-in to the development side and improving."
After playing for Hill-Murray, Bellmore went on to play Junior A hockey, made the Team USA under-20 team twice and played in the WHL with the Spokane Chiefs. His career ended with an injury in his first professional season.
"To become a professional at anything there's certain things that really successful people do on a regular basis," Bellmore said. "You can't just show up. There's a lot that goes into it. That's what we're trying to teach these kids."
Mauer was an all-state football and hockey player at Hill-Murray and a finalist for Mr. Hockey in 1996, which is awarded to the top high school hockey player in Minnesota. After high school he went to the USHL where he played for the Omaha Lancers, winning the Clark Cup championship and was awarded the Clark Cup MVP. Mauer then played Division 1 hockey for Minnesota State-Mankato and two years in the CHL.
After his playing days were over, Mauer took five years off from hockey until his interest was renewed as an "A" Squirt coach while living in McKinney, Texas.
"I was kind of burnt out," Mauer said. "I didn't think I'd have the drive anymore. But, I got involved and found out that my excitement, my emotion and my competitive edge was fulfilled by coaching teams and coaching these kids. There's more to it than I ever thought. The teaching aspect of it is what I've learned at over the years and what we bring to the table at Team Combat."
One thing important to Bellmore and Mauer was to keep costs low. Hockey is a very expensive sport. Bellmore and Mauer said many of the elite camps and AAA club teams can price out a faction of kids who can't afford them.
Team Combat is working with Mauer Chevrolet - owned by Billy Mauer, Nate Mauer's cousin and the brother of the Twins Joe Mauer - to provide some form of financial assistance to kids in order to continue to be able to not only play the sport they love, but to do so at a high level.
"When I was kid I went to one hockey camp each year and that was it," Bellmore said. "It was tough. We want to try to give everyone an equal opportunity. It's certainly one of the values we want to keep as a company. It doesn't make sense if everyone can't participate. Now we can give back to the kids by providing an affordable, high-end level of playing for this community."
Bellmore said most programs charge roughly $15-20 an hour and well above that, but that Team Combat's fee is around $9 an hour.
"I want to give opportunities to the kids who may not be able to afford it," Nate Mauer said. "Bielenberg and Cottage Grove Ice Arena have really been on board with what we're doing. They help us out and we pass it on to the families. Our camps are typically about 20-25 percent less than a lot of the other ones around town."
Between the two of them, Bellmore and Mauer have roughly 16 years of coaching experience. In addition to its Team Combat AAA teams, Team Combat offers private lessons, year-round camps and clinics and has a gym and strength and conditioning coach for off-ice training.
Mauer said the instructor to player ratio at Team Combat is very good, which allows the coaches to break down drills and teach skills rather than just have them doing repetitions and picking up bad habits.
"Anybody can go out and show how to do a drill, but if you can actually break the drill down and show each kid how to do it correctly, that's where Team Combat steps it up," Mauer said. "We're not just a money-making machine that puts as many kids on the ice as possible. We know it has to be a good instructor to player ratio for a kid to actually understand what happens and learn the right way to do things."
Team Combat is currently running its Squirt/PeeWee and Bantam/High School Spring camps at CGIA and Bielenberg. On April 1, the program will open the doors at its new gym and off-ice training facility in South St. Paul.
After that Team Combat will host its Summer program at CGIA and Bielenberg. The Squirt/PeeWee camp will be in Cottage Grove and the Bantam/High School camp will be at Bielenberg. Those camps will run from June through August and provide 60 hours of on ice training and 30 hours with a strength and conditioning coach. Also, this summer, Team Combat will host tryouts for their AAA club teams.
"The ultimate goal is to develop the St. Paul area players no matter what part of town they're from - the East Side, Afton, Mahtomedi, Cottage Grove or Woodbury," Mauer said. "We're just trying to develop those players to give them the best possible chance to make their varsity teams and someday build their teams to play in the Minnesota state tournament."