SHERIDAN — The local hockey program in Sheridan has a new head coach this year, who to many is not so new at all.
Zane Garstad has been an active member of the Sheridan community since 1983 when he came to Sheridan College on a rodeo scholarship. Here he met his now wife, Lisa Heath, a Sheridan High School alumni.
After graduating from SC he went on to the University of Wyoming where he attained a bachelor’s in business administration before heading off to the professional rodeo circuit where he stayed until 1994. His combination of education and bull riding experience landed him a job at SC in 1990 as the rodeo coach. Twenty-three years later, he’s still there, now the director of admissions services and a proud holder of a master’s degree, which he achieved at age 47.
A native of Canada, Garstad grew up doing rodeo in the summers and playing hockey in the winter, because, as he says, that’s what you do up there.
Now in his 21st year serving on the Sheridan-Wyo-Rodeo board, he is currently the president, the arena director and is in charge of sponsorships. This may leave some wondering, where will hockey fit in?
“November through March is the main rodeo and hockey season,” Garstad said. “There are things that conflict but people understand.”
He added he doesn’t plan on missing any games or practices.
Garstad took over the team when last year’s coaches Dan Carlin and PJ Johnson decided they needed to back off on their commitments.
“I knew PJ was going to retire,” Garstad said, “but I hoped Dan would stick around.”
Carlin did stay in the program but decided to coach a younger group of players.
Garstad also brought on a fresh batch of assistant coaches with only one man returning from last year’s coaching staff, Larry Eisenman. However, this year’s coaches are no rookies.
Assistant Coach Brent Milner previously coached the Bantams level squad with Garstad for four years. This is also Garstad’s second year coaching with Kirk Viren.
Viren was on the Sheridan hockey team as he was in high school when they became two-time state champions in the 2004-2005 and 2005-2006 seasons. After coaching for one year, he got married and moved away. Garstad said he is most excited that Viren is back this year.
“He’s played a lot and been to state championship games,” Garstad reflected on Viren, “so the team really respects him.”
Garstad’s faith in his players is as strong as his faith in his coaches.
“I haven’t seen this deep of a team in a long time,” he said. “From first through third line, they’re all about the same and that’s great.”
He also knows they have some struggles ahead of them, the main one being injuries. Only one weekend into the season and three players are already working through injuries. Griff Milner and Thomas Moore are both battling shoulder injuries and Will Ohlson has a concussion.
Another hurdle the team continues to face is the fact that hockey is simply not as big of a sport in Wyoming as it is in other parts of the country and Canada.
“A lot of people only see the physical side,” Garstad said, “but there’s a lot of finesse. We want to play physical but we’re concentrating on the skill level of skating, passing, shooting and playing good hockey.”
He added that the sport is growing in the community.
“I wish it would be more recognized,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that it’s not a varsity level sport at high school but it is getting more and more support.”
Garstad is grateful for the community’s growing support and the opportunity the outdoor rink presents.
“I love the game,” he said. “It’s exciting when people say to you, I wish we had this when I was a kid. To share your passion is pretty cool.”
One person Garstad is particularly excited to share his passion with is Logan, his son. In his senior year now, Garstad is happy to get to coach his son in his last year.
“Everything I know I’ve learned from him,” Logan said. “I’ve grown a lot from when he coached me when I was younger. I call him coach at the rink, and I know when to be quiet and when it’s good for the team for me to speak up.”
Logan added on his dad’s coaching style, “he likes to yell a lot, but we all feed off of it. To be honest, I like getting yelled at.”
However, the only yelling that could be heard from Garstad during the course of Thursday night’s practice was “watch your mouths, there is a lady present!”