By James Schugel, WCCO-TV
WADENA (WCCO) — Outdoor hockey probably doesn’t sound all that appealing right now, but it sounds great to some northwestern Minnesota hockey players.
After a tornado tore down the Wadena Community Center last June, Wadena-Deer Creek High School hockey players were left with no place to play hockey. A few hundred homes were also damaged or destroyed.
“Everybody I saw, there wasn’t a dry eye,” said Taylor’s Coach, Danny Savoie, who recalled seeing the Center after that tornado hit.
There wasn’t much Taylor Bienusa, a senior on the hockey team, his teammates or anyone else was able to salvage, except some trophies and some loose equipment scattered around the old Center.
“I was kind of mad,” Bienusa recalled, about seeing his home rink destroyed. “I wasn’t going to get to play there senior year.”
Bienusa wanted to finish at the place he started playing at in fourth grade, but he believed, at that point, there was no way he would be able to.
“It did look like a war zone,” Coach Savoie said about the town. “It’s tough. It’s a tough situation. It’s not a question it’s over. It’s what do we do now, what’s next, what do we do to get this done.”
Players got bused to practices in Long Prairie and other nearby communities, so the season could still happen, but parents and many others in town realized it just wasn’t the best idea.
They looked beyond the debris from the Center, and they realized the rink was still intact.
“We wanted to make sure, this year, and all the kids they had a season,” said Bienusa’s dad, Pat.
So, he and other parents flooded the rink once winter hit. It took a week for the ice to build up. They got boards from nearby towns and spent some nights putting them up, along with the glass.
Soon enough, the team was back in business.
It’s been a team effort to keep this team going in Wadena, from parents donating their time clearing the ice, to light poles that were donated. A local business also donated a construction trailer that’s now the team locker room.
“The kids really wanted it, so that’s why we did it,” said Pat.
Now, Bienusa’s senior year wish in Wadena has been granted.
“After looking at what happened, the tornado, I didn’t know if it was going to happen,” Bienusa said.
In fact, all the players in town, from grade school to high school, are now back on home ice.
“It kind of puts some faith back in humanity,” said Coach Savoie.
The tornado signaled the end of an arena, but the beginning of a new chapter in Wadena hockey.
There are now plans to rebuild the Center with a roof, of course. The town hopes to have it ready by next fall.
Some of the photos used in the story were provided by Darrel Janson with Janson Flying Service Inc. in Wadena.