by Bruce Strand, Sports editor
The opening kickoff of the football season suddenly felt a lot closer, as it does every year, when 149 golfers gathered for the Elk River Quarterback Club Tournament on Friday.
The annual fundraiser at Elk River Golf Club featured a sunny if somewhat sticky day (high 80’s), thirty five-person teams and a familiar group placing first, one past NHL player along with one and possibly two current NHL players, one team in fancy knickers, five of the last six Elk coaches, one family with nine members teeing off, and introductions of a new head coach and a long-ago Elk captain.
Elk golf coaches on winning team
Longtime Elk golf coaches Dave Bleyhl (girls) and Dave Conley (boys) were members of the first-place team along with 19-time club champion Steve Johnson, Chris Prosser, and Brad Grupa.
They combined to shoot 20-under-par 52. A year ago, the same group except with Dave Christensen instead of Conley, won with 22-under.
“We didn’t play as well as a year ago,” said Johnson, “but we made a couple of two’s on par-four’s that gave us a little impetus or other things we didn’t do as well.”
Conley chipped into the cup on No. 13, and Grupa sank a 100-yard wedge shot on No. 16.
“Two eagles on par fours is what turned us around,” said Bleyhl. “Chris Prosser’s driving length was phenomenal. I contributed moral support and a couple putts, once in a while!”
“We all contriibued about evenly,” said Prosser. “For us to get a par on the second hole and still finish 20 under is remarkable.”
The runners-up were Matt Pagh, Joe Nelson, Jeff Peterzen, Jeff Stringer and Curt Erickson with 53.
Placing third were Paul Martin, Matt Johnson, Nate Kopetka, Tyler Grupa and Matt Smerdon with 54.
The top three were in the money.
For the record, fourth-place was earned by Bob Schlltz, Scott Krueger, Scott Schab, Scott Michaelis, and Jason Stoerman with 55. Tying for fifth place with 57’s were the teams of Ryan Servaty, Kurt O’Konnick, Chad Christian, Dave Carlson and Scott Berg, and the team of Chris Miller, Jason Anderson, John Osterman and Robb Osterman.
The fanciest fivesome
The fanciest-dressed group as usual was Martin, Johnson, Kopetka, Tyler Grupa, and Smerdon, decked out in old-fashioned knickers, bow ties and plaid vests.
“It’s always a lot of fun,” said Martin, the Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman who was Minnesota Mr. Hockey in 2000 for the Elks. “We dress up and have a good time. We come with a different outfit every year, and this year was the most extreme so far.”
Martin, 30, has a home in Minneapolis and spends most of the summer here.
“I’ve been here for every one, except a year or two,” said Martin. “It’s always the same group.”
An all-state wide receiver for the Elks, he plays with the two guys who threw passes to him, Grupa in 1998 and Kopetka in 1999, and another football teammate, Johnson. They add one “golf ringer” among their former schoolmates whenever they can — Mark Christianson last year, and 2008 ERGC club champion Smerdon this year.
Martin brings Penguins items this year
Martin, who helped the Gophers win two national titles, has played in the NHL since 2003, and made the 2010 Olympic team (but couldn’t play due to an injury), always brings NHL items for the auction table.
This was the first year he’s brought Pittsburgh Penguins stuff — an autographed jersey and hockey stick. (Winning them was Dave Bleyhl).
Martin switched via free agency this past year to the Penguins, one of the NHL’s strong franchises both in the standings and at the box office, after six with New Jersey.
Expecting to be among the top teams, the Penguins were hit hard by injuries to superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. They still went 49-25-8 but lost in the first round of playoffs.
“It was tough to lose our two top scorers, but we were still a good team. If we get healthy we’ll have a good chance again,” said Martin.
About Pittsburgh, he said: “They love hockey there and we have a brand new stadium, It’s a great sports town, a blue collar town, a little smaller than New York but a great place to play.”
Another NHL connection?
Another QB Club Tournament player with an eye on the NHL is Chris Prosser, whose son Nate, former Elk and Colorado College skater, is currently in training camp with the Wild.
Nate, a defenseman, played three games with the big club at the end of the 2009-10 season after signing as a free agent, and had a strong minor league season with Houston last winter under Mike Yeo, who has since been hired as the Wild’s head coach.
“Nate is training hard, and if he goes through camp the way he ended last year, he has a legitimate shot to stay with the Wild this year,” said Chris. “I know they are going to go younger this year, and Mike Yeo was his coach last year, so he knows the Yeo system and that’s not going to hurt his chances. He has to work hard but he is right on the bubble.”
Nine Otto’s play
The Otto family had nine members playing — former Elk athletes Joel, Kraig, Kurt, and Erik, their father Bob, Joel’s wife Kary and son Ben, and Kurt’s son Jace and daughter Jamie. Their 10th was family friend Joe Guidarelli.
“This the most we’ve had. We usually fill out one team,’ said Bob, a retiree who announces Elk basketball and softball games. “My sons have been playing for several years, and when they missed one, the boys (grandsons) would fill in. They got a taste of it and decided they wanted to keep playing. Kurt’s daughter golfed for Blaine, and Joel’s wife is a pretty decent golfer.”
For the record, the Kary-Jaimie-Ben-Jace-Joe group edged the Bob-Joel-Kurt-Kraig-Erik group 59 to 60 for the family championship.
“The young team got us at the end,” chucked the patriarch.
Coming the farthest was Joel’s family. They live in Calgary, Alberta, where Joel, an NHL player for 12 years, was a member of the 1989 Stanley Cup champions.
New coach Hamilton greets crowd
Steve Hamilton, the new head coach of the Elks who’s been working with the players all summer, was formally introduced by tournament chairman Phil Johnson during the post-tournament ceremonies. He was a high school coach in his native Michigan and more recently in Georgia before being hired to succeed Mike Cross, who resigned.
“I am super excited to be here,” said Hamilton. “It’s great to be at a school with such a long tradition. My last school (in Georgia) was 10 years old and and we had one of these golf tournaments and only had 11 teams.”
Pointing to about 20 of his charges gathered behind him, Hamilton said, “Please come on Friday night’s and support this team. This is all about the kids. We’re going back to old school football and we’re going to run the ball. We will score some points and win some games.”
Five of the last six Elk coaches were on hand. Cross was absent due to another commitment.
Nord, 1950 Elks captain introduced
Johnson also introduced Jim Nord, who was the Elks’ captain in 1950, and whose family owned the farm land that became Elk River Golf Course.
“We ran the single wing and I was left halfback and safety,” said Nord, whose team had a 4-3-1 record under Duane Anderson his senior year.
About the golf course land, he said, “It was homesteaded by my grandfather, Henry Olson. My dad sold it to the golf course, and we built a house just down the road from here.”
Nord was delighted to have his photo taken surrounded by current players and wished the boys well for the 2011 season.