Youth hockey is often a family affair. Parents who have played hockey teach their children, siblings and cousins how to play the sport.
Brookings Rangers’ head coach Justin Kirchhevel takes that to heart and has developed a ‘family-first culture’ for his team.
“Our whole organization, 250 kids, is tight knit. We’re all family members. We’re very structured. On time is late, early is on time. Logan Bortnem likes that lifestyle. He’s an all-around great kid and a vocal leader,” he said.
Kirchhevel’s team exemplifies the idea of hockey as a family pastime. That’s not unusual. The rosters of nine of the 16 teams in Division I have at least two players with the same last name — and that doesn’t even include the Brookings Rangers family tree.
“I have two younger brothers in the Rangers system,” Bortnem said. “One will be a freshman next year.”
Bortnem is the South Dakota team’s captain in this weekend’s Chipotle-USA Hockey High School Division I National Championship in the Dallas-Fort Worth suburbs. Some players in the tournament will be committing to play college hockey next year. After Bortnem graduates this spring, he is committed to join the Navy.
“I considered joining the military about all through high school. I’m really serious about it,” he said.
Just as Bortnem is serious about his role with his teammates, he has set his sights high in what he hopes will be a lifetime in the Navy.
“I want to be the best of the best,” he said. “I want to try to be a Seal. I’ve learned how to swim and to do what I need to get better.”
Bortnem already has his summer completely planned. He’ll spend 10 weeks in basic training at the Naval Station Great Lakes in Evanston, Ill., followed by eight weeks at Naval Amphibious Base Coronado near San Diego, Calif. He said he has given up the thought of going from high school to college.
“I’m planning for 20 years,” he said.
Kirchhevel expects the qualities that have made Bortnem a hard-working hockey team leader will make him similarly effective in the Navy.
“He did the research on the Navy. He understands that group ethos. I think he’s going to make it in that career structure and work his way up,” Kirchhevel said.
“He has a job on the side, he’s a great student, he puts in a lot of time. He was raised right. He never complains, he works so hard. If I say ‘Jump!’ he says, ‘How high?’ He makes sure he controls the team’s attitude.
“He displayed that talent the last three years,” Kirchhevel said.
Bortnem left the Rangers in Tier II as a high school freshman but switched to high school hockey when he learned that Kirchhevel was taking over as Brookings’ coach the next year. The respect between them is mutual.
“I played for him all the way until my freshman year,” Bortnem said. “He played at the University of Alaska-Anchorage. He’s the only D-1 player from Brookings.”
The Rangers went to Nationals in Bortnem’s junior year last season, winning two games and losing two.
On the ice Thursday, Bortnem followed up scoring the Rangers’ final goal of the regular season by assisting on their first goal at Nationals. Owen Schneider scored it on the way to a hat trick as Brookings rallied from a 4-2 deficit to defeat North Broward Prep (FL), 7-5. Ashton Witte assisted on four goals.
That high-scoring game was uncharacteristic for the Rangers.
“We have the best defense in the state,” Kirchhevel said. “We pride ourself on defense first. I don’t think we gave up five goals all year.”
A look at Thursday’s score sheet for Brookings shows an assist for senior Brody Powers and a goal for his sophomore cousin Breck Hirrschoff. They have played together since Brody was 4-years old. Another assist went to freshman Luke Honkomp, who has followed older brothers Cody and Jamison by winning a state championship.
“Brody is one of our alternate captains,” Kirchhevel said. “He’s a workhorse on the third line with younger guys. He’s showing them how to be a team player. Luke’s oldest brother is a coach now, so Luke is versed in this style and is a top-four defenseman.”