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The Best Of John’s Journal From 2021-22/ No. 8: Adapted Floor Hockey Is A Hit In Mankato Debut

Posted: Wednesday, July 6, 2022 - 12:16 PM

Mankato coach Dylan Boettcher talks with the team.

As the countdown of my favorite John’s Journal stories from the 2021-22 school year continues, today our focus is on the first adapted floor hockey team from Mankato. I was invited to attend the team’s debut game, and I was blown away by what I saw. It was highly inspirational.

Here’s the story that was originally posted on Jan. 10 …

MANKATO – The first goal in the history of the Mankato adapted floor hockey program was a beauty, as was the celebration, as was the entire first game ever.

Mankato, with athletes from Mankato East and Mankato West, played host to the team from Stillwater/Mahtomedi on Monday inside the little gymnasium at Franklin Elementary School, which has stood in a quiet Mankato neighborhood since 1928. A large crowd of fans watched from balcony seats, and they saw quite a show.

The game’s opening goal came quickly. After Mankato junior goaltender Jacob Watson made a couple of sharp saves, the puck was knocked to the opposite end of the floor. It found its way to the stick of Mankato ninth-grader Shanti Esters, who gave it a whack and saw it bounce off the goalie’s pads. Shanti gave it a second knock with the same result, and the third time was the charm. The puck went in, the crowd went wild and Shanti began a celebratory run down the court.

She was so excited, and rightfully so, that she lost her footing at midcourt and went down. Her big smile, shining brightly through her facemask, never wavered as she tumbled. And after landing, she posed. Yes, she posed, putting one arm behind her head, sticking up one knee with that perfect smile on her face. It was magical.

“That first goal today and the celebration, it was probably one of the best things I've seen in my 19 years,” said Mankato East activities director Todd Waterbury, who helped shepherd the team into existence. “It was just a lot of fun with the joy around here, a lot of positivity.”

Shanti scored again in the third period, setting off another round of cheering. The game went the way of Stillwater/Mahtomedi, which won 17-2, but the outcome was much less important than the event itself.

“I really truly didn't know how it would go. But our kids did great,” said Mankato coach Dylan Boettcher, 28, who attended Franklin and played hockey at Mankato East. “They exceeded my expectations. Honestly, the scoreboard doesn't necessarily show it; Stillwater is a great team, it looks like they've been playing for a long time.”

The crowd was hockey-flavored, including a whole bunch of players from the Mankato West girls hockey team, as well as some from the Minnesota State Mankato women’s squad. Between the second and third periods, anyone wearing a hockey jersey was invited to come down to the court and try to make a shot from one end to the goal on the other end. The hockey-playing girls from West, using a different kind of stick and a much lighter puck than they are used to, didn’t have tons of luck but they sure had fun.

The Mankato athletes wear uniforms that are black and gray, just like the combined East-West girls and boys lacrosse teams. They looked awfully sharp. The pregame period was filled with music on the little gym’s PA system … the tunes included “Sweet Caroline,” “Ice Ice Baby” and “Party in the USA.” It was good stuff.

All the players from both teams were introduced before the game began; athletes waved their stick in the air and some waved a hand to their families sitting up above. The Guns N’ Roses classic, “Welcome To The Jungle” played as the game began.

After the clock ran out on the first adapted floor hockey game in Mankato history, the teams lined up for a postgame handshake line, just as in every other high school sport. They thanked the officials, Ryan Swafford and Aaron Anderson, who are veteran hockey officials working their first adapted floor hockey game.

The hockey players from Mankato West came down once more and gathered with their counterparts on the floor hockey team for a photo. They held a sign that read “Let’s Go Mankato.”

Boettcher gathered his team around him, telling the kids, “You guys did a great job. Have a good night with your families.”

Dylan’s wife, Heather, watched from the balcony in a chair that included this hand-written sign: “Reserved for coach’s very pregnant wife” … the word “very” was underlined. A cesarean procedure was scheduled for the next day, with Dylan and Heather looking forward to welcoming their first child.

East and West already have adapted bowling programs, with floor hockey the district’s first adapted team sport; the MSHSL also sponsors adapted programs in soccer and softball. The Minnesota Association for Adapted Athletics pioneered those activities in the state, and they came under the MSHSL umbrella in 1992. Programs are offered for Cognitively Impaired (CI) and Physically Impaired (PI) students. The Mankato team is in the CI division.

“It’s important to me to make sure it’s a big deal,” Dylan Boettcher said. “I’m hoping this can be a jump start for adapted sports in Mankato. I’ve fallen in love with the people involved in activities for special needs kids.”

Waterbury offered an apt summary of the new program, saying, “The opportunity is what we're all about. That’s what the League's about, it's what our district’s about, to increase the opportunities for those who don't have a lot of chances to be involved in an activity.

“I just think it's the best thing we could do. You saw the people here today. Not only our school community, but the college representation that was here and all the other folks. It tells you the importance of it and what a big deal it is.”

--MSHSL media specialist John Millea has been the leading voice of Minnesota high school activities for decades. Follow him on Twitter @MSHSLjohn and listen to "Preps Today with John Millea” wherever you get podcasts. Contact John at [email protected] 

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The Best Of John’s Journal From 2021-22/ No. 7: Life On The Road Is Every Day Up North