Traveling Trails Less Traveled. By Buckshot Anderson

For February 27th, 2009 Edition.

The photo of the Lakeland T-Birds boy's hockey team celebrating their conference championship in the February 10th edition of the Times brought a genuine smile to not only my face but also to my heart. The team's 13-0 record in the Great Northern Conference is an astounding feat and one to be rightly proud of.

My sincere congratulations go out to the team members, their coaching staff, and their fans. This marvelous milestone took time to accomplish, but as the years rolled by, beginning with the inception of the sport at Lakeland High, it was easy for this Monday Morning Critic to see the program was destined to be a highly successful one. And all of us in the Lakeland area who enjoy and support winter sports are winners also!

My reaction to the team's successful rise to power stems from the fact I played a tiny part in the development of the ice-hockey program in the Lakeland Area. I was but one of a number of folks from North Lakeland that got the ball rolling to start a youth-hockey program at NLES in the late '70s and early '80s. I was also invited to sit in on the early planning sessions at the high school when the ground floor for their hockey program was laid.

As a kid I was the product of what is now referred to as "pond hockey." Just about every kid who lived on or near a lake made a skating rink as soon as the ice was safe. After we cleared off an area to skate picking up a hockey stick and pretending you were Gordie Howe was just a natural thing to do.

Maintaining those lake rinks was real work, and if our parents had made us do it we'd have howled like a pack of hungry wolves! Generally, early in the winter season after a two or three inch layer of ice was present, kids created skating rinks that were very large! By March, those same rinks resembled postage stamps!

Back then, because many of our so-called hockey games took place after the sun set, the ever-growing snow banks surrounding the rinks became "puck magnets" and devoured dozens. Often before a game under the full moon ended we were using a beat-up tin can or a chunk of wood for a puck.

At the time I attended high school in Eagle River during the early 1950s, to my knowledge no area school had an ice hockey program. But quite a few kids from Eagle River and Rhinelander areas were successful in playing hockey for state college teams, such as Superior where a half-dozen of my pals and I played the sport.

I was into my seventh year as an instructor at NLES when interest in forming a youth hockey program was launched. The project had excellent community support as well as from the Board of Education and administration. Fundraisers were held, and with approval from the board a site for a hockey rink was cleared on the school's playground area.

I volunteered to coach the newly approved sport during its first year in existence and practices were held on the school's figure skating pond after school. I must admit during that first year of the program during the winter of 1980-81, I had my doubts about its success.

We had hardly any equipment. Basically, all we did that first season was practice hockey fundamentals and scrimmage on an ice surface without "boards" for boundaries. When spring arrived we gradually recovered all the pucks the snow banks had swallowed, a situation that brought back memories from my youth. For shin pads the rookie player's taped magazines to their shins, a trick I learned many years earlier.

As donations from area businesses and individuals began dribbling in orders for equipment took place and the sun began to rise on the new program. One gigantic boost to our program came in the form of a considerable amount of well-used equipment donated by the good folks in Wakefield, Michigan. The youth hockey program in that community was well established and their caring and generosity in helping North Lakeland get its hockey program off the ground was deeply appreciated!

During our second season we played several games at Wakefield and took our lumps, but with the lumps came learning and a desire to improve. More young bodies joined the program, including one girl. Even early on ours was a co-ed program!

By the third year we had our very own official hockey rink! Local craftsmen and carpenters pounded the rink together using donated materials and donated time. I recall Skip Skrobot worked many hours putting up the boards with the help of numerous other parents and supporters of the project. Schmidt-Haus Reality donated generous amounts of capital, as did many other area businesses and individuals.

A year later lights appeared around the rink and our first night games were made possible, plus after school practice sessions could be extended. I believe it was during our third season when we sponsored our first tournament. Ice hockey was here to stay in the North Lakeland area!

I continued to coach the sport for nine seasons. From that first tentative step when we had little equipment, few participants, and no hockey rink the program quickly expanded from one team of mixed aged players to four teams, mini-mite, mite, squirts and pee-wee.

Citizens with no former experience in the game came forward to coach, set up concession stands, haul players to distant away-games and continue to raise money to expand and improve the program.

We even had a woman coach! Debbie Skrobot stepped up and successfully coached the mites and mini-mites! The success of the program is testimony to what can be accomplished by dedicated citizens and community cooperation!

As our program improved our number of opponents expanded. The "little school in the woods" took on the big guys from Rhinelander, Medford, Wausau, Eagle River and points north, south, east and west. But our favorite rivals played in Wakefield and Woodruff.

Ah, the memories of riding in a bus over huge frost heaves on highway 519 from Winchester to play Wakefield - and then back again! Another fond memory was that of my pee-wee team gaining a 1-0 home victory over a very tough team from Rhinelander on my 50th birthday. That was the greatest of all birthday presents!

My favorite memory concerning our long-standing rivals from Wakefield occurred during a game played there during the early beginnings of our program. Our equipment was minimal and some of our players were still learning how to dress properly using all the pads and protective gear.

Shortly after a line change during the heat of battle a "protective cup" from one of my players suddenly appeared on the surface of the ice, which one of the Wakefield players momentarily mistook for the puck. The officials were puzzled for a few seconds as one of the North Lakeland players controlled one puck, (the real one) and a Wakefield player controlled a second "puck."

Finally a whistle halted play as spectators erupted into howls of laughter, and the embarrassed player recovered his protective equipment and headed for the dressing room!

Without a doubt this was a genuine "one of life's embarrassing moments!"

And finally, let me give the Lakeland T-Birds boy' hockey team one final "high-fives!" Hail to the conquering hero's, and good luck in the playoffs!

Mr. Leon "Buckshot" Anderson is one of the few old time hunting and fishing guides left in Northern Wisconsin.   Buckshot is a personal friend of the family and has known and worked with my grandfather, Howard "Pop" Dean,  both of whom are members of the fresh water fishing hall of fame, Legendary Guide.   Buckshot has authored 7 books on the great outdoors. All of his books can be purchased directly from him, at a discount, by email:  or by mail to: 2220 Deadman's Gulch Road, St. Germain, WI 54558.

Books by Leon "Buckshot" Anderson Click Here

Yes; Deadman's Gulch is the correct name, I have been on that road many times. Sincerely David D. Cruger

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