FOREST LAKE, Minn. — If Rob Hartshorn had been blessed with a bit more skill on the rink, the adult hockey leagues in the Twin Cities might look different today. Or at least, that is the joke he likes to tell.
“I wasn’t good enough to make the best squads around, so I had to make my own teams,” said Hartshorn, 63, who this week was named USA Hockey’s national Adult Player of the Year.
Over the past few decades, Hartshorn has become so well-known for his love of the game and his propensity for organizing adult hockey teams and leagues that the weekly Wednesday night ice time slot at the Super Rink in Blaine is now just known as “Hartsy Hockey.”
“He’s usually the last one on the ice because he’s setting up his cooler and his tailgating stuff,” said Super Rink manager Pete Carlson, who has become one of Hartshorn’s good friends and nominated him for the award. “I’ll get a call from him asking if I’m coming to hockey, and saying, ‘We’re having ribs tonight.’”
Carlson estimates that while organizing three hockey leagues over the course of nearly two decades, Hartshorn was responsible for collecting more than $100,000 in league fees from players.
“That’s one guy, and it shows the importance of a manager of a team,” Carlson said. “I’d say out of that, he’s maybe collected $75,000, and the rest over time has come out of his pocket. But he’s always happy at the rink, and he loves hockey, playing it and watching it.”
First on skates when he was 3, Hartshorn was raised in the St. Paul suburb of Maplewood, and his life-long work of organizing hockey games and hockey people came with a part-time job as a teenager.
“There were no indoor rinks back then. There might have only been one, so we played outside for years and years. I ran the warming house at Four Seasons Park in Maplewood,” he recalled. “Back then we had to shovel the rinks and flood them ourselves. There were no Zambonis or anything. I got a bunch of guys together and when they would help me shovel 20 times, the city would get us tickets to a North Stars game. That was pretty fun, having programs like that that kept people playing hockey and keeping the rinks clean.”
Now officially retired from a career owning pawn shops and selling cell phones, Hartshorn said the ability to be his own boss allowed for getting away to open hockey at Roseville Ice Arena for a few hours in the afternoon.
“I was always an entrepreneur, doing all kinds of crazy stuff. I had to make sure I had a job where I could get out and play hockey once or twice a week,” Hartshorn said. “Almost all the guys I play with are the same. If they get a real job, they don’t show up for six months. They show up on Presidents Day. If you don’t see a guy for a while, that means he got a job.”
Hartshorn’s team, the Lumberjacks, has represented Minnesota at adult tournaments in Las Vegas, Florida and several cities in Canada. In a normal year, he would be traveling to USA Hockey’s Annual Congress in Colorado to accept the award, but the coronavirus pandemic means those things are being done virtually this year. Most who know Hartshorn expect a more in-person celebration will be held when things are safer.
“There a couple guys that I’ve been playing with for 30 years,” Hartshorn said. “We’ve all been injured with things like broken arms and cuts, but we’re all still generally healthy and still playing. It’s been a great sport for me. It keeps me healthy.”