With summer here it’s easy to overlook all the hard work being done by athletes in the offseason but with the opening of the Otter Hockey Strength and Performance Center in January — coupled with getting ice back on the rink for the first time in 10 years for summer training — investing time for success has never been more accessible for Fergus Falls hockey.
One team taking advantage of this new offering is Otters girls’ hockey led by head coach Tim Lill who said he’s also seen a surge in popularity since the center’s opening with 16 new players added to the mix and 42 projected to compete.
“I can see the benefit right away because when we have 30 high school girls in here working together it’s a game changer because lifting weights can be intimidating,” Lill said. “When we have our own workout facility and we get 30 to turn out and they’re all smiling and they’re working their butts off I can see an improvement already in a month on the ice.”
Inspiration for the training facility came when former Fergus Falls Hockey Association (FFHA) girls’ director and board member, Scott DeBrito, was in Warroad with his son for a hockey game. After walking by a small facility attached to Warroad’s hockey rink and looking inside only to find the entire varsity girls’ hockey team training on a Friday night DeBrito knew he found his calling.
“I thought, ‘That is awesome,’” remembers DeBrito. “I called the two high school coaches Tim Lill and Mike Donaghue and I said ‘Hey, if I can raise the money would you guys support this locally?’ and they said ‘yeah, knock yourself out,’ and so we started on the project a little over two years ago.”
Coupled with $100,000 the FFHA had set aside for building projects and the two coaches’ blessings DeBrito began spearheading fundraising efforts which reached $500,000 for the remaining money, including funds from both boys’ and girls’ booster clubs. In a type of three-way partnership the hockey association owns the building the center is in which leases the ground from the school district including an agreement with the city to attach to the Community Ice Arena. Currently both boys and girls high school teams pay 25% of the operating costs each while the FFHA pays the other 50%.
“Scott DeBrito gets things done and he doesn’t stop when it gets tough, he digs his heels in,” Lill said. “Anything that’s worth doing is sometimes a little painful to get done and Scott did it. He’s relentless and this wouldn’t have happened without him.”
Upon seeing the training center open for the first time DeBrito says he was elated.
“It felt incredible! Seeing the kids be able to use it for the first time was an awesome experience,” he said. “In addition to the list of donors, I'd like to give a lot of thanks to Greg Buckmeier (FFHA boys’ hockey director) and Mike Richards owner of Otter Electric for all the hours they spent helping with the project as well. Jeff Jennen of Comstock Construction was the general contractor and was also a big help.”
One Otter athlete who has seen the benefits of the newly opened training center firsthand is girls’ hockey captain Gabby Brimhall.
“Our team is getting a lot stronger and we haven’t had this opportunity before, so in the past it’s been girls on their own lifting and trying to get better, but with this we’re all getting better together so it’s been really good,” Brimhall said. “We’ve been doing a lot more bonding having this and the chemistry is definitely increasing so I think girls see that and they’re like ‘Oh, I want to be a part of this.’”
With Otters rivals Alexandria and Brainerd already possessing hockey training facilities of their own Lill says the new center will help level the playing field for Fergus Falls ushering in a new era for all Otters hockey programs.
“That’s why they beat us every year they’re strong up and down and that’s where we need to get to be, is three and four lines strong so the whole team is good instead of just leaning on a couple stars which is usually what happens in Class A hockey,” Lill said.