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Rhino Hockey League: Old-timers still have it

The Wednesday night Rhino League has grown almost triple since its start in the early 1980’s. The 2013-14 Rhino League had four teams this year. SUBMITTED PHOTO

When Rick Lynch moved back to Detroit Lakes in the 1980’s after living in the Minneapolis metro area for 10 years, his love for the game of hockey still persisted.

There was a loosely organized hockey night on Wednesdays for those out of high school, but it held very little competitive edge to it.

“When I first started playing on (Wednesday nights), we just had guys out there skating with jeans on and trucker wallets in their back pockets and basically just passed the puck around,” said Lynch, who owns Shoreham Hotel in DL. “Some of us wanted something more competitive.”

Chris Brenk, Rob Weston and the late Bob Landry started Old Timers Hockey in the early eighties, with a team called the Detroit Lakes Lasers. 

They started playing amateur Old Timer tournaments and hosted several Fargo-Moorhead teams in a spring tournament. 

Teams would gather after the event at the old Erie Junior restaurant and bar for a meal and ceremony. 

The Lasers disbanded after two years and regrouped as the “Rhinos,” with Lynch leading the charge and penned as the “Head Rhino.”

Over 30 years later, it remains as strong as ever.

The Rhino hockey league has sprouted into a four-team Wednesday night league, with between 65-70 hockey players participating.

The name “Rhinos” was decided on after a night of hockey, with several names being thrown in a hat and drawn.

“Rick (who retired from the Rhinos in 1999) was the first one to organize something like this and once you can get something cemented, it just snowballs,” said Brenk, who has been a part of the Rhinos since its inception.

Thirty years ago, the league attracted about 20-25 players, who were out of high school and still had that hockey itch.

Now, that number has tripled, with four teams having 15-16 players on each one.

Three years ago, the Rhino League became more organized, with referees being hired each Wednesday night during play.

“Three years ago, we started paying refs $40 a game, so there are penalties called, offsides and the whole bit,” said Rhino organizer Sam Thomas. “At the end of the season, we have a four-team playoff, with the champion winning the Rhino Cup.”

But Lynch also helped start the Rhino Tournament, which turned 31 years old this year.

The tournament is an eight-team 30-years-old and over tourney.

“It’s been pretty popular, with teams from Fargo, Minneapolis and Fergus Falls,” Thomas said.

The tournament’s profits are donated to Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey, in the form of scholarships for players who cannot afford dues, as well as to Landon Hochstetler, who was hit by a car over three years ago and is undergoing therapy for his injuries.

The tournament is usually played on a Saturday at the end of the Rhino’s League play. Zorbaz is a sponsor of the tournament and a raffle drawing was held this year, with the top prize being an all-day muskie guided tour by Head Shakers Guide.

“There also is no admission for fans and it’s a kid-friendly atmosphere,” said Rhino League player Jeff Stowman.

The Rhinos also play on the road, with this year’s trip in Superior, Wis. 

For those old-time players who don’t want to play in such a competitive setting, there is ice time set up on Sunday nights, as well.

The league season starts in early October and runs through when the ice is taken out of Kent Freeman Arena, which is around late February.

Playing the game even at the age of 30 or 40 years old, proves hockey stays in the blood.

“I play because I still can and I will until I can no longer do it,” Thomas said.

“It just must be wired in us, we love it,” Brenk added.

Brian Wierima
Detroit Lakes Newspapers Sports Editor for the last 15 years. St. Cloud State University graduate, who hails from Deer Creek, MN.