Winona Cotter looks like a hockey team in its infancy when it steps on the ice.
Ten players, no goalie, a lot of in-game learning, and a lot of stopping to be thankful by players who are happy they have the opportunity to be in on the ground floor of southeastern Minnesota’s newest high school hockey program.
After decades of co-oping with Winona High School, Cotter, a Catholic school in Winona, is going out on its own, on the ice.
The Ramblers started a program this season and are playing a junior varsity schedule. They have just 10 players, and they pre-arrange with opponents to “borrow” one of their goalies, as Cotter does not have its own.
It’s all part of the baby steps the Ramblers are taking this season under head coach Martin Raymond.
“It’s a monumental task to get this going and get everybody going in the right direction,” Raymond said. “It’s been, obviously, a big task to start a program in the middle of a pandemic. But we came in with the help of a lot of people behind the scenes who pushed for this.
“Meeting the kids was a great experience. There are only 10 of them, but they are 10 dedicated young men. I wish we could have more games, but with COVID and being a new program, maybe the practice time was a God-send for us.”
Cotter intends to expand in the coming years from offering classes for students in grades 5-12, to offering Kindergarten through fourth grade, as well. The school is upgrading its dormitories and putting $20 million into renovating classrooms. Raymond and the Ramblers make no bones about it: With the availability of on-campus housing, and a 30-year-old boarding program in place, the school hopes to attract hockey players “from the local area and abroad.”
“We’re hoping for 18-20 kids next season,” Raymond said. “With the dormitories and things we have to offer at Cotter, there will be some students who will come into the program from other areas. We’ll have more (than 10) kids next year for sure.”
Raymond, a native of Quebec, has coached at all levels of hockey, from professional teams to college to juniors.
“The last four or five years I’ve coached at the high school and youth hockey levels,” he said. “It is more rewarding, not in a negative way. I’ve enjoyed coaching at this level. The kids are thankful and you can make a big difference. It’s something I enjoy very much; the kids improve so much and so fast.”
Raymond said the staff and administration at Cotter have been very supportive of the upstart program.
“It’s very exciting to see our boys’ step onto the ice in their Cotter hockey jerseys,” said Marie Barrientos, the Ramblers’ interim Athletic Director. “We know that this is just the start of something wonderful.”
Ramblers player Ashur Rouleau, who joined the team in January, said being a part of the first Cotter hockey team is a dream come true.
"It is a great program full of hard-working players and coaches willing to push the players to their full potential,” he said. “The team is awesome, and we all get along great. Support by the parents and Cotter community has been great as well and I look forward to being a part of the program in the future."
Raymond said the Ramblers will focus on more than just hockey.
“We’ll work on work habits, understanding what it takes to become a better person and player, a better teammate,” he said. “We have to teach them about motivation coming from within, dedicating yourself to being a good student and athlete, and setting the culture of the program.”