The Lakeville hockey program started around the same time that the "road to nowhere, " also known as the Interstate 35 E bridge, was built across the Minnesota River in the late 1960s.
In 1967 the NHL had expanded to Bloomington, MN and the Minnesota North Stars franchise sparked the interest of many new hockey fans in the south metro and small farming communities.
A group of young men from the Lakeville community caught "hockey fever."
On October 21, 1967, the North Stars played their first home game against the California Seals. The North Stars won 3-1. The team achieved success early as it was in first place in the West Division halfway through the 1967–68 season.
In the fall of 1969 a group of young men went to City Hall and asked for funds to build an "official" hockey rink. They had formed a Men's team called the "Lakeville Leafs" and planned on playing games in a Southern Minnesota Men's B League against teams from Owatonna, Faribault, Farmington, Mankato, Austin and Albert Lea.
They Leafs were given a $2000 check from Mayor Leo Aronson and a small, flat area of land right behind City Hall to construct the first outdoor ice rink for hockey.
There is a Lakeville Leafs jersey in the history display at Ames Arena. All members of the 2015 State Champion Panthers have autographed the jersey to honor that team for making hockey possible in our city.
With the labor of hockey dads and high school shop students and with wood donated from a local lumberyard, the first hockey rink was built near the current Winsor Plaza Senior homes on Howland Avenue in downtown Lakeville.
The lights for the rink were donated by the high school, (now McGuire Middle School on Holyoke Avenue) and came from the football stadium which had just installed new ones. Farmington's hockey legend Louis Schmitz took time to come help the volunteers install the lighting.
The site of Municipal Rink (built in 1969) with lights in the distance was near concrete storage silos. The location was "perfect" with shade provided to keep the ice solid through April and May. To the left is the old Lakeville Water tower.
In the late 60's the new 35E "Road to Nowhere" extended further south and many new residents migrated to our growing community from established hockey programs in cities such as Richfield, Bloomington, and even Burnsville.
The new hockey families were shocked that no "formal" programs existed for their sport, so along with a few Lakeville hockey dads, they organized and started to lobby for their sport.
There was no skating rink in Lakeville designated for hockey. Most of the kids played their "rag tag" style of hockey on Lake Marion, or were dropped off at a friends farm to play pond hockey on the latest homemade rink.
A few pleasure rinks for ice skating existed in the city. It wasn't long before the youth in the city brought their pucks, sticks and equipment, invading the pastoral pleasure skaters with unintended broken car windows, collisions, and disruptions.
Municipal Rink was located right next to City Hall and the Watertower in downtown Lakeville.
With the Municipal Rink built, there would be other teams looking for the city to provide sports opportunities for broom-ball, hockey skating lessons and youth hockey programs. The Lakeville Athletic Association eventually took notice and organized.
However, some might say that the puck dropped for a formal Lakeville hockey program when the Weimelt family moved their family nursery business from Bloomington to Lakeville in 1970.
With Paul Weimelt, a known hockey star for Bloomington in the early 60's (many say he could have played D1), and his younger brothers Dave (Panther Captain for the first varsity team in Lakeville) along with a twin brothers Mark and John, the city of Lakeville's hockey acumen grew instantly.
Paul Weimelt played hockey for Bloomington in 1961-63. His family to moved to Lakeville in 1970-71 and brought a load of hockey talent (3 future Panther Stars) to Lakeville.
Coming from a city with a great hockey program, a benchmark program in Minnesota some might say, they were taken a back when they learned that there was NO PROGRAM in their new hometown
"My family and few others in Lakeville started the program," said Mark Weimelt, "Our kids program was outside on the ice where our parents had flooded the rink," he joked.
Prior to the Weimelt's arrival there was literally no formal hockey organization in Lakeville. The only rinks that were used for hockey were Municipal in downtown, Lake Marion or on the ponds throughout the rural community with a population of 4,000.
More about the history of Lakeville Hockey is coming soon. The next story will be about how the new hockey families committed themselves to building the programs, including the establishment of a hockey program for Lakeville High School's Panthers.