Former Duluth hockey star turned coachIn the mid-1990s, Chris Locker was a household name for Northland hockey fans, as he was one half of one of the most formidable hockey duos in the state of Minnesota. Now, Locker is in the middle of his first season as the head coach of the Duluth Clydesdales hockey team.
By: Sarah Packingham, for the Duluth Budgeteer News
In the mid-1990s, Chris Locker was a household name for Northland hockey fans, as he was one half of one of the most formidable hockey duos in the state of Minnesota.
Now, Locker is in the middle of his first season as the head coach of the Duluth Clydesdales hockey team, and is looking to help hockey players ages 17 to 20 achieve their dream goals in the sport.
“If I can help kids to play at a high level, that will be the biggest reward for me,” said Locker. “When you get a thank-you card from a player, that’s a pretty unreal feeling.”
Although Locker grew up with immense talent in the sport, he said he never thought of coaching as an option for him.
“To be honest with you, not once [did I think of coaching],” he said. “I’d been told by coaches that I’d be a pretty good coach, but it was never really anything that crossed my mind. My goals were more set on playing. But now that I’m coaching, it’s pretty neat seeing it from a different perspective, but obviously there’s nothing like playing.”
Right now, Locker is enjoying this position, but he’s not sure what his coaching future holds.
Locker said that his first year of coaching has had some ups and downs, as with coaching any team, but he’s definitely enjoying having this fulltime job and helping the team improve.
“[The Clydesdales are a] second-year franchise and last year they won 11 games,” he said. “We've already won 11, so we’re improving.”
Locker practices with his team from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m. on a daily basis and then hits the gym for a workout. Once the workout is over, Locker is out of the arena and making phone calls and working with players.
While a good portion of his players come from the area, there is still a number of players who come from places such as Alaska, California, southern Minnesota and Wisconsin. Besides being head coach, Locker is also the co-general manager of the Clydesdales, and works with families in Duluth to find foster families for players needing a place to call home during the season, and sometimes it can be challenging.
It’s often an “eight in the morning until nine at night” job, Locker said.
Locker is enjoying his time with the Clydesdales, getting to know his players, and going on road trips to away games.
“You get pretty close with your team,” he said.
Those who attend a Clydesdale game are in for a treat.
“It’s a completely different style of hockey,” Locker said. “It’s all basically kids who are hoping to get scholarships to play at the college level; I really think people would enjoy it if they came.”
However, the Northland is a hotbed for hockey, with the University of Minnesota-Duluth men’s and women’s teams, collegiate programs at the College of St. Scholastica and the University of Wisconsin-Superior, as well as high school teams from around the area.
But, as Locker said, the Clydesdales play their own style of the game.
“It’s faster and more physical than high school hockey,” Locker explained. “There isn’t really as much fighting as people might think. There is maybe one fight every five games. The guys are obviously bigger and stronger. Most players wear half-shields, but some guys wear full masks.”
Locker said the game is played with the National Hockey League (NHL) rules and games are typically high-scoring.
“The game has good flow to it,” Locker said. “I wish more people would come out and give it a chance; I think they'd be pleasantly surprised.”
All of the Clydesdales home games are played at the Heritage Center in Lincoln Park. Tickets are $6 for adults, and kids watch for free. The price makes it family-friendly cost wise, for hockey-loving families in Duluth.