Hockey coach teaches more than the game


North Minneapolis resident Janet Marvin is well known in the hockey world. Marvin has coached the Edison Youth Hockey Association (EYHA) girls’ 10U (ages 10 and under) team for seven years.

And if that’s not enough, hockey is a part of her family legacy. Her father Cal was instrumental in organizing the first men’s hockey team at the University of North Dakota. “He was huge into hockey,” recalled Janet. “He and a bunch of guys got together and went to the athletic director and started the men’s program at UND, the Fighting Sioux.”

“He started a men’s amateur team in 1947, and gave over 900 young men a place to play. They were in a very competitive league that played mostly in Canada. They did that for 50 years. He coached the 1958 USA National team, and those players went on to become the 1960 Olympic gold medal team.”

Janet Marvin grew up with 11 siblings in Warroad, Minnesota, just six miles from the Canadian border. She came to the Twin Cities for college and played with the Minnesota Women’s Hockey League. Today she plays for the Minnesota Blue Jays, a women’s B-level team. Several members of her family have also been involved with hockey. Her niece, who attends the University of Minnesota on a full-ride hockey scholarship, was named Miss Hockey last year.

Marvin lives in the Lind-Bohanon neighborhood in North Minneapolis. She was a teaching assistant at North Star Elementary School for 14 years. During that time she got involved with the Big Brother/Big Sister mentoring program and was paired up with an 8-year-old Hmong boy who wanted to play hockey, so Marvin enrolled him at the EYHA.

“That’s how I got involved at Edison. Sometimes you see things and it’s like, you better step in and help. I stepped in as a coach … and I’ve been doing it for the last seven years. I recruit other women to help me out with the 10U team, and my sister Robin [coaches] the 12U team.”

Marvin focuses on recruiting girls from the Hmong community who live in North and Northeast. “I recruit kids to play and…the Hmong girls want to do it. They’re good in school academically, so you know they’re going to be coachable on the ice. They want to be at the rink.” Marvin said she registers the girls with help from an interpreter at North Star Elementary School. “She’s been huge to our program.”

The 10U team is diverse. Of the 15 girls on the team, six are Hmong, two are African American and seven are white. Marvin assumes the full financial responsibility for each girl she recruits. “[My sister Robin and I] are like a parent to the girls—we find them equipment, we find them rides to the rink, we pay their fees or get their fees paid. The first years it was out of our pockets and it got to be too much, after you register 10 girls it gets to be a lot of money.”

Over the years Marvin has been successful at fund raising and soliciting donations, largely because of her extensive connections in the hockey world. “Dad was deep into it. His big thing was coming down to the boys’ state hockey tournament. He knew everybody there and he always took the time to introduce around whoever he was with.”

“I play in the Minnesota Women’s Hockey League, and a lot of those women have donated equipment and money to our program. That’s huge. If you don’t have equipment, you don’t do anything.”

Marvin said her garage, plus a shed, is full of equipment. She outfits her players and doesn’t require any money in return. She also received a large van as a donation from a couple that sponsors her senior women’s hockey team. “They gave us a van that can seat 9 to 15 people, and that’s what we use to haul the kids to the rink. We’ve had it for about three years, and my sister and I keep it maintained.”

Then there was the grant from City Kids, Inc. “John Evan lives on the North side,” said Marvin. “He lobbied for money for us last summer. [City Kids] saw the foundation that we had laid over at Edison and what a great existing program it is with the girls, and they wanted to help out so they gave us a very nice sum of money.”

City Kids’ $12,000 donation paid for 30 girls to participate in a four-month summer hockey program. From May through August the girls skated for free twice a week at Victory Memorial Ice Arena (VMIA). They received instruction from half a dozen women players from Augsburg College, and participated in a week-long hockey camp at Augsburg. Marvin said the experience on campus gave the girls a chance to see that there are hockey related college opportunities available to them.

And it markedly improved their skills. “Last year almost this same team was 0-15-2 (won-lost-tied), and this year we were 16-4-1,” said Marvin. “Our kids usually just skate from October through February, and then get killed by all the other teams. But after skating for three additional months in the summer…we were the team that was beating up on everybody because the they had the opportunity to skate.”

The summer program will run again this year, and will be expanded. “We’re going to do the girls program like we did last year, and then the last two weeks of June and the whole month of July, for an hour, we’re going to recruit 40 brand new kids from the North Side who have never skated before and introduce them to ice hockey,” said Marvin. “We’re also going to try to run a Pee Wee/Bantam age group (12 to 14 year olds), which we’ve never done before. And we have 10 and a half hours of ice at VMIA, plus a week at Augsburg. All three groups are open to girls and boys.”

As a coach, Marvin’s commitment to the girls extends far beyond the ice rink. “We’ll do something once a month, all year long,” said Marvin. “In March we’re taking them all downhill skiing. In May we have a big picnic and all the families come. We take [the girls] home for Christmas. We take them home during the summer time. We take them to my mom’s cabin. We take them camping and biking. My sister has a boat, and we take them to the lake and they tube and water ski. One of the coaches has a farm with five horses and she took them all horseback riding. It’s beyond the hockey.”

Why does she do it? “Growing up, our parents gave us every opportunity to do and try things as kids, and I don’t think the inner city kids have that opportunity,” she explained. “And because I worked in the schools, I’d see kids running around on the playground and I’d see how athletic some of them were. I would always talk hockey or wear a hockey shirt and I’d ask, ‘Do you want to play?’ and they’d say, ‘Yes.’ You do what you can for the kids.”