Denfeld News

Jan. 7, 2010
Duluth News Tribune

Tonight, Duluth shows off its ‘Heritage’
By Kevin Pates

The Heritage Sports Center’s artistic beauty will be beamed to hockey fans throughout Minnesota today by Fox Sports North television.

The $19 million, two-building complex at 29th Avenue West and Michigan Street, which opened in the spring of 2008, has its first statewide exposure in a high school boys doubleheader — Duluth East facing Blaine at
6 p.m. followed by Duluth Denfeld playing Cloquet-Esko-Carlton at 8 p.m. on Charter cable channel 37, DirecTV 668 and Dish Network 436.

The 1,200-seat rink in the brick-encased Heritage Arena is surrounded by history with wonderfully detailed photos, banners, uniforms, newspaper clippings and other memorabilia, and a list of names saluting Duluthians who have gone through the youth, high school and college ranks. This is the second season the building has served as a home for the city’s youth and prep teams.

“I’ve never seen anything quite like it. The effort by so many people in the community has given us something very special,” said Don Bourdeau, who coached Duluth East for 17 years and Cloquet for five.

Bourdeau, 79, was among a group of five Denfeld graduates to recently tour the Heritage Center at the invitation of fundraising committee chairman Pat Francisco, also from Denfeld. Francisco wanted to make sure some of his hockey heroes and pioneers got a chance to view the city’s latest and greatest venue. Part of the tour was videotaped by FSN North.

Also in the group were Milt Boyat, 86, who began his playing career after being in the U.S. Army; his brother Bob Boyat, 79, who spent 1954-55 as Minnesota Duluth’s coach; Frank Johnson, 79, Proctor’s first head coach and an assistant and head coach at Morgan Park High School; and Alex Sisto, 75, a former Morgan Park head coach. All but Milt Boyat played hockey at UMD.

“I’m amazed at all the extra little things in the rink that make it so appealing, so comfortable,” said Bob Boyat, who retired in 1990 as Stowe Elementary principal and worked as a high school hockey referee.

The Denfeld-connected group participated in Duluth hockey from outdoor rinks, to the old Duluth Curling Club on London Road, to Peterson Arena, to the Duluth Arena and the adjoining Pioneer Hall.

During the era of outdoor competition, high school games would be played unless temperatures were colder than 15-below zero, said Johnson, a retired math teacher, who coached for 25 years and spent 25 years as a high school event manager at the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center.

When Sisto was Morgan Park’s coach for 18 years (before the school merged with Denfeld), the team’s rink, for a time, was next to the school and he remembers many below-zero practices.

“You reminded the students they were playing a game and having fun, and you tried to enjoy everything no matter what the temperature was,” said Sisto, a retired industrial education teacher.

Milt Boyat played basketball at Denfeld in an era before hockey was a varsity sport. After being discharged from the U.S. Army in 1946, he became a firefighter and played senior hockey in Hibbing and Duluth making as much as $75 a game. In 1977, at age 54, he played in a no-check benefit game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, and got rave reviews from NHL Hall of Famer Bobby Hull, who was a guest referee.

Bourdeau likes the idea that Duluth’s prep teams now have a place to call home, even though there were many glorious moments at the DECC. Bourdeau’s 1975 East team beat Cloquet at the DECC to get to the Minnesota high school tournament.

Johnson and Sisto expect to be in the crowd tonight as the rest of the state gets a look at Duluth’s jewel.

“It’s such a beautiful rink and really stands as a tribute to all of the players from the city, boys and girls, who ever played the game,” Johnson said.

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