This winter was unique for the Halonen family of Delano, as it had one skater at every level from Mites to Division 1
DELANO — Six hockey games and/or practices. That’s quite a week of puck watching for most hockey lovers. For one Minnesota hockey family, however, that’s a light week.
Delano’s Carol Halonen is not a typical hockey mom. In her world, six games in a week is nothing. Try six games and/or practices in a single day. It happens in Carol’s world, especially this winter, when she has chauffeured and followed her six hockey-playing boys around the state of Minnesota and in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.
“I just love it. Jim isn’t as into it as I am,” Carol said, referencing her husband of 25 years. “For me, if there is not a game one night, I am wondering what I am going to do.”
This winter has been different than all others for Carol, Jim, and their 11 children (seven boys and four girls), as, for the first and last time, none of those six hockey-playing boys are overlapping on the same team.
The hockey stars have aligned this winter to create the unique scenario where the six Halonen boys span every level of organized amateur hockey from the Mites level all the way up to Division 1.
“We have one at college, high school, Bantam, PeeWee, Squirt and Mites. Every level,” Carol said. “This will be the only year, because, next year, I will have two at high school and none at Bantams, and then PeeWees, Squirts and Mites.”
This year’s Halonen players are:
Adam: Mites - Delano Stars
Lance: Squirts – Delano A
Daniel: PeeWees – Delano A
Wes: Bantams – Delano B1
Bruce: Delano High School
Brian: Division 1 – Michigan Tech
The seventh son? That’s Chet. He is the oldest of the 11 children.
Chet led the hockey way, playing all the way through the Delano system until graduation in 2014. He is no longer a player. Instead, Chet traded a hockey sweater for the black-and-white stripes of a referee. He lives in the Detroit area and currently works games in the North American Hockey League (NAHL).
The four girls? They are (oldest to youngest) Greta, Judy, Katie and Emily. They, too, are or where involved in sports growing up, but only one, Judy, who graduated high school in 2019, dipped into hockey. She played through her 12U season.
That the group of girls did not break up the string of Halonen boys playing at all levels this season is a hockey miracle.
“It doesn’t happen too often, because there aren’t too many who have a college player and also a Mite. And that many boys,” said Carol.
“Families are not this big anymore,” said Bruce, who is skating with the Delano High School team this weekend in the Class A State tournament.
The closest situation to what the Halonen’s have this hockey season may have been Carol’s family, which grew up playing hockey in the Detroit area.
“My parents never had a college player. They had one at every level, but they never had a college level,” said Carol, who is one of 12 kids in her family (10 boys and two girls).
With 22 kids growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, Jim’s family of 18 boys and four girls certainly had the numbers for a string of hockey players like his own, but it didn’t happen.
The aroma of freshly-baking bread (10 loaves per week) demanded the attention of the olfactory system as Carol spoke about her busy winter schedule while seated at the family’s dining room table, which mirrored the size of an NHL neutral zone.
“It’s just life. It’s not that amazing, really,” said Carol, who works as an insurance agent, and has an online calendar that requires a PhD to decipher. Jim works at Honeywell. “It’s a fun life. It’s busy, but what else would you do, right?”
As for costs, fees to play do add up, but the family is frugal when it comes to equipment and logistics.
“Hand-me-down equipment. I will find it at Goodwill or online or something,” said Carol. “We do a lot of carpooling. For travel, there is a bit of running around but it isn’t too bad.”
It’s a family effort.
“The kids help out. Everybody pitches in. It’s not that big of a deal,” Carol said.
Not a big deal to the Halonen family, maybe, but others around the Delano hockey community have taken notice of the well-oiled hockey factory that is the Halonen household.
“They truly are a hockey family. It’s remarkable to consider the time and organization it must take for Carol and Jim to ensure each of them is at the right rink at the right time, no gear forgotten, and so on,” said Delano varsity coach Gerrit van Bergen, who has coached Chet, Brian and currently Bruce at the high school level, and has had Wes and Dan at summer camps. “I know the boys are crazy about hockey, so I’m sure they are bugging their folks or the older siblings to get them there early.”
A freshman at Northern Michigan University this winter, Judy Halonen is watching the organized chaos involving her brothers and parents from afar for the first time.
“I am always impressed with how they handle the busy schedule. They also have carpools on each team, so that helps the boys get to games early,” Judy said of her parents. “There are some Saturdays that they are going from game to game all day. One day I called home and they had watched five games that day; all different ages.”
A sixth game in one day occurs when the family watches Brian’s college game at home on the computer or while in the car driving to another game. Judy attends Michigan Tech’s home games as Brian’s guest.
“It definitely takes up a majority of the winter, so it’s good that we all enjoy the sport,” said Judy, who played volleyball at Delano.
As for the Halonen shuffle in Delano on those busy days, the older kids drive the younger kids to and from practices when they can. Even the youngest organizes and packs up his own gear — usually a day early.
“Every Friday night, he comes up and he has his bag packed. He puts them right at the top of the steps; his bag and his sticks and everything. He’s ready to go for Saturday morning,” Carol said of Adam, age 5, who is the Mite. “He knows how many days he has until hockey. He just loves it.”
How could Adam not love hockey. Naturally, that love trickled down.
“These little guys — Bruce, Wes, Dan, Lance, Adam — they’ve all been really into it since they were really little. Probably from watching the older boys,” Carol explained. “Adam, my baby, was 18 months when he started skating. He couldn’t talk, and I was downstairs tying somebody else’s skates, and he pointed to the rafters because he wanted some skates. I’m like ‘ah,’ but he insisted, so I put them on. He went out there and he skated. He was little.”
A little big man according to his older brothers.
“He thinks he’s one of us,” Bruce, the high school player, said of Adam. “When you are young and all of your brothers are out there playing, you want to be playing with them. It’s fun.”
‘Out there’ meaning the family’s backyard rink. It is the best training ground a hockey player could ask for.
“On the outdoor rink, you have an older brother, like Brian, pushing you to compete. That’s what makes you better — when you play against players who are that much better than you.,” said Bruce. “We have a lot of people to get a good game going. Family games are fun. We are never short a player.”
Adam is one of the best rink attendants the family has.
“He’s always out there shoveling, and, before he has hockey with all of his friends, he will be out there scraping it,” said Bruce. “He will be out there 20 minutes early getting it all ready — getting the nets and pucks, and having it all set up.”
Those family and neighborhood games have developed quality players and teammates, a trait the Halonen boys carry with them to their organized Delano teams.
“With all of them, their love of the game is so deep and they have all had a few of the same characteristics — they love to be the first ones on the ice and the last ones off; they work very hard in the offseason to develop their strengths; and they all love to learn about the game to continue to improve,” said coach van Bergen. “As coaches, we have really enjoyed each of the boys so much, and they are a big part of our brotherhood.”
The conclusions of those organized games and practices rarely mark the end of the day’s ice team for the Halonen boys.
“They come home from practice, and they head downstairs and get their skates back on, and they are right back out on the rink,” said Carol. “For me, it’s really nice. They are completely happy all winter long.
“It’s my babysitter,” she said of the rink, which is framed perfectly by the large picture window in the living room.
The entire family — boys and girls — use the outdoor rink.
“They love it. Then they come in and they are tired,” said Carol, whose escape from her hockey-crazy house often includes, what else, hockey — for herself with a group of women in Plymouth.
When the boys are tired after skating in a neighborhood pickup game, they walk back to the house with their skates still on to the basement, which doubles as a warming house, locker room, dry land training facility, and equipment room, where dozens of pairs of skates still hang in the rafters.
On weekend nights, those outdoor pickup games are sometimes shortened to allow time for the family to gather around a monitor to watch Brian and his Michigan Tech team.
“It’s fun to play with them all on the backyard rink, and it’s fun to watch Brian every Friday and Saturday night,” said Wes, the Bantam in the family.
“The boys are all really excited. Everybody likes to check up on him and see how his games are going,” Carol said of the family’s pride for Brian, who is a sophomore with the Huskies. “It’s quite an accomplishment to play D-1 hockey. There are not that many in the country.”
Brian is one of four former Delano players from the Class of 2017 currently playing Division 1 hockey. The others are Ben Meyers (Minnesota), John Keranen (Army) and Andrew Kruse (Air Force), all of whom sharpened their skills at the Halonen rink.
Brian is hoping to continue his hockey career after Michigan Tech. He participated in the Dallas Stars summer camp a year ago and will do the same with the St. Louis Blues this summer.
“It’s a start. Don’t hang your hat on it, but, if he keeps working at it, we will see what happens,” said Carol, a proud mom, of Brian’s future.
Professional hockey is in the bloodline.
Carol’s nephew Blake Pietila is currently in the Anaheim Ducks system playing for the San Diego Gulls in the AHL. A Michigan Tech product, Pietila appeared in 38 games for the New Jersey Devils, the team that selected him in the 2011 Entry Draft.
Right now, Brian isn’t thinking about professional hockey, as he is concentrating on his time skating with the Huskies. Michigan Tech is 19-15-3 heading into this weekend’s WCHA first-round series at Northern Michigan.
It’s probably safe to say Brian’s parents and 10 siblings will be watching from afar — after all of the brothers’ other games, of course.