Death of coach leaves Alexandria team fighting emotions
The Alexandria girls' hockey team experienced a whirlwind of emotions on Tuesday that finally ended with the Cardinals taking the ice against Hopkins that night in an attempt to move forward.
First came shock for head coach Mitch Loch when he received word that his former assistant coach had died in an accident at his home in rural Little Falls on Monday evening. Verd Anez spent the last three seasons prior to this year as an assistant to Loch with the Alexandria program.
On Monday night, the Morrison County Sheriff's Office received a report that Anez had fallen through the roof of his pole shed while trying to remove snow. When deputies arrived, they found that the 46-year-old had died from apparent injuries suffered in the fall.
It was news that hit this current group of players and coaches especially hard.
"My initial reaction was shock," Loch said. "I kind of had to call a few other people who had the same connection and get the definite details. Once you find out, you go into that real sad state, but also knowing when you start reflecting back on what he has done, it kind of brings back all the positive things he did. It was a difficult day with a lot of emotions."
Anez put on a lot of miles to help maintain a strong program that has made six state tournaments in the last seven years. He and his daughter, Michelle, made the commute from their home near Little Falls to Alexandria on an almost daily basis during the season. Michelle became the Cardinals' top offensive threat over the past two years. Both were a part of the 2007-2008 state championship team.
The time and effort Verd put into the program was an indication of what kind of person he was, Loch said. The near 60-mile drive to and from practices and games was a small price to pay for the joy he got from coaching this group of girls.
"The best way to describe it is he was an all around good guy," Loch said. "He would give the shirt off his back for any of us coaches or any of his players...one of the quotes he always used to say is, 'Always do the little things because they don't add up, they multiply.' He kind of lived his life that way, too. He was always willing to do the little things to help the girls take that next step."
Loch met with his team early Tuesday morning to talk about what happened. He said many of the girls shared stories and looked back on moments that stood out from their time with Anez. Discovery Middle School and Jefferson High School also made someone available for anyone who wanted to talk.
"Just constant reflections," Loch said of what was talked about during the meeting with his team. "I think the girls handled it as well as they can. We reminded them that you have to continue to move forward. And there's no right or wrong way to get through this situation. Some are going to laugh by looking back and some are going to cry more to get through this, and that's fine. The important thing is we get through it."
The day ended with Alexandria getting back on the ice in a road game against Hopkins. The Cardinals came out with a lot of energy as they skated to a 1-1 tie through the first period. The Royals pulled away in the second with four goals on their way to a 6-1 win.
It was the end of a long day for a group of players and coaches who are forced to move on with Anez in their hearts. They will dedicate the rest of the season to him and honor him by wearing a decal on their helmets with the initials V.A. on the side of two hockey sticks. The Cardinals have just one regular season game left next Tuesday in Moorhead before they start section playoffs later in the week.
"We just have to move forward," Loch said. "Do whatever it takes to do that, and we have to do it together...a lot of the girls were talking about the things Verd used to say and do and that's good. We will definitely remind them of that and hopefully that gives us a little extra push to go out there and get the result we're looking for."