This article originally appeared in the January 26, 1982 issue of Hockey Exchange.
While many Wisconsin communities are developing their first generation of hockey players, others are into their second generation.
There’s a small city of 2000 in the central part of the state that’s well into its third generation. Mosinee, the home of the Papermakers, has a long and rich history that can rival most of the towns in the Midwest.
Hockey in Mosinee dates back to the 1930s when Harold Walters and Herb Kell started the first program. Walters and his brother Ray helped start hockey in neighboring Wausau in the 1920s. Walters also was instrumental in developing teams in Tomahawk and Medford. Herb Kell built the first hockey rink in Dessert Park and his grocery store, across the street, served as a warming house. By 1938, a high school program and a four-team league were operating.
World War II interrupted the hockey activity in Mosinee. Following the war, in 1947–48, hockey was revived. Kell reorganized the program while George Goldsmith sought out donations from the community and Harold Walters donated old Wausau uniforms. The “W” turned into an “M” and the Mosinee Papermakers joined the Wisconsin State League that included such teams as Rhinelander, Wausau, Marshfield, and Stevens Point. In the early fifties, Wausau and Rhinelander were the best teams in the league.
With Herb Kell managing and Harold Walters coaching, the Papermakers soon became one of the powers in the Wisconsin State League. From 1953–1957, the Papermakers complied a 54-10-4 record while winning state championships in 1954 and 1957. The ’57 team also participated in the National Intermediate Senior Tournament in St. Paul. Some of the top Papermakers players in the fifties were George Grabow (goalie), Stanley Grzadzielewski, Florian Kuklinski, Ozzie Liter, Bob and Tom Yirkovsky, Charlie Michalski Jr., and Ron Krautkramer.
The Town is Crazy over Hockey
A February 10, 1957 Milwaukee Journal article entitled “The Town is Crazy over Hockey,” described the hockey atmosphere.
“It was two above zero in Wausau one recent night when the Mosinee Papermakers played the Wausau Bears. The game took place on an outdoor rink. There were no seats; the spectators had to stand. Of the crowd of 500, half were from Mosinee. One of out every six Mosinee residents had driven to Wausau and stood out in the bitter cold to see the contest.”
The following Sunday more than 500 spectators stood in the snow banks encircling the Dessert Park rink to watch the Papermakers host the Madison Cardinals. In the 1950s, up to 1500 spectators braved the cold when Mosinee hosted the state senior tourney.
In the late fifties, the Madison (Rockton) Cardinals, led by Orv Walsvik and Jingles O’Brien, became the Papermakers’ chief rivals. Up north, Eagle River was changing from an imported team to a local outfit, and would become Mosinee’s biggest rival and challenge during the sixties and seventies.
Mosinee senior hockey success during the fifties was accomplished with a home-grown squad that practiced twice a week on an outdoor natural ice rink. The Papermakers often stepped out of their league to play wherever and whenever they could. On January 28, 1958, the Green Bay Bobcats, a semi-pro outfit, hosted the Papermakers.
During the fifties, players like Ozzie Liter, Bob Yirkovsky, and Florian Kuklinski organized the youth program that continues to this day. These teams had their greatest success during the sixties. The Pee Wees won state tournaments in ’62,’63 and ’65; the Bantams in ’64,’65, and ’67; the Midgets in ’67 and ’68; juveniles in ’69 and the juniors in 1968. The Papermakers also won state senior titles in 1960, ’65 and ’69. Quite an impressive record! These accomplishments helped Mosinee rival Eagle River for the title “Hockey Capital of Wisconsin.”
New Rink Helps Program Thrive
By the early 1970s, larger communities with better ice facilities were replacing Mosinee as the top youth programs in the state. In order to continue its fine program, the Mosinee hockey community decided to improve its facilities. Through the federally funded LAWCON program, Mosinee built a clear span roof that houses the ice rink, and in the summer, serves as a park pavilion.
By 1975, the natural outdoor rink at Dessert Park, which had served the community for almost 30 years, was replaced by a new rink at the new recreational park.
No doubt, hockey supporters miss the atmosphere of Dessert Park that was sun-screened by a tall grove of white pine. Visiting teams will not. The Eagle River News-Review described it best when it said the Papermakers ”never had a reputation for boy scout play or moderate fans.” Those fans stood in the snow banks and quickly picked out the opposing teams’ top players to receive their verbal abuse. The players skated a rough, tough “never give up” style of hockey that made them successful over the years. The “no more than two step” rule for charging probably was instituted because of Mosinee’s “little regard for their own bodies” style of play. And for a number of years, they left that rule change out of the book in Mosinee.
The Mosinee style of hockey developed through its senior team and was quite successful.
But, today’s game of hockey has changed considerably. The hockey people in Mosinee recognized this and benefited from some of the second-generation players who returned to town following college hockey.
During the late sixties and early seventies, the senior program in Mosinee slipped a bit. A number of top-notch youth players were away at school. And, Eagle River, with its indoor arena, had bypassed the Papermakers. Florian Kuklinski, who laid the groundwork by developing the strong youth programs in the sixties, took charge. Assisted by college grads coming home, Florian again fashioned one of the most successful senior teams in the state. Florian urged the players “to forget the cheap stuff, earn the respect of the crowd as quality hockey players, and not as roughnecks.”
Led by his three sons, Gary, Tom, and Jeff, the Papermakers again became a team with which to be reckoned. Goal Kuklinski, Assist Kuklinski, Assist Kuklinski has been recited quite often in Eagle River, Fond du Lac and especially Mosinee. With homegrown talent, the Papermakers again won a state championship in 1976.
Today, hockey in Mosinee continues as it benefits from its rich tradition. First generation skaters like Florian Kuklinski and Stanley Grzadzielewski, along with first generation fathers like Merlin Baur and Bob Schipferling, still are very active overseeing the program. This fall, the four were at the rink putting the finishing touches on the boards that they built. Second generation skaters now are coaching. Tom Kuklinski, who coached at Mosinee high school, now is the successful high school coach at Eau Claire North, while Pat Grzadzieleweski is the current coach at Mosinee high school. Other second-generation skaters are active coaching in the youth program while many are still playing.
Recent high school graduates now playing college hockey include Bryan Maciejewski at UW-Superior, Jim Koskey at UW-River Falls, and Dennis Drake at UW-Stevens Point.
The first gives way to the second, the second to the third, and names like Kuklinski, Michalski, Grabow, Kreig, Yirkovsky, and others continue as Mosinee hockey thrives because of a strong family tradition.
Dennis Drake returned home and coached the Mosinee high school boys’ team and later the Central Wisconsin Storm girls team that won its first state championship in 2008. His daughter Hilary played goal on that team. In addition, Drake’s nephew Drake and his niece Kim played for the men’s and women’s teams at the University of Wisconsin. After a long drought, the Mosinee Papermakers won state senior championships in 2003,2004, 2006 and 2009 and two national championships. In addition, Gary, Tom and Jeff Kuklinski were inducted into the Wisconsin Hockey Hall of Fame in 2014 bringing the number of Mosinee members in the Hall to ten. Check the WAHA website for the bios of past Hall of Fame inductees including the Kuklinskis.