Detroit Lakes hockey team wows the crowd with kindness, good sportsmanship

We've all heard the joke about going to a fight and a hockey game breaking out. It's a sport that for years has been notorious for hot tempers both on and off the ice.

Seventh grade hockey players from Detroit Lakes and Sauk Rapids-Sartell show the perfect example of positive sportsmanship, joining together on the ice for a group photo.

We’ve all heard the joke about going to a fight and a hockey game breaking out. It’s a sport that for years has been notorious for hot tempers both on and off the ice.

But a group of 7th grade girls hockey players from Detroit Lakes and a team of their competitors is showing the world what true sportsmanship is all about. There were no adults trying to make a point or teach a lesson; this time it was the younger generation stepping up to the plate and leading by example.

What’s going on here?

Sauk Rapids dad Brent Pakkala, who is also a fifth grade teacher and coach, got to his daughter’s U12 A hockey tournament in Detroit Lakes a day late on Saturday. His daughter Callie’s team, the Sauk Rapids-Sartell Stormin’ Sabres, had already played the day before against Detroit Lakes. So when he walked in Saturday, he was puzzled to see a bunch of girls in Detroit Lakes jerseys sitting with and talking to some of the Sauk Rapids-Sartell parents as if they knew them well.

“So I asked one of the parents, ‘What’s going on here?’” said Pakkala, assuming maybe there was some sort of previous connection with the DL girls.


“And he told me, ‘I don’t know. These Detroit Lakes girls just showed up to our Saturday morning game, and for some reason unknown to us, they started cheering for our team, cheering for them by name and greeting them when they came off the ice,’” said Pakkala, who says although he missed all this, he saw what the other parents were buzzing about that night when the Sabres played against Champlin Park. The Detroit Lakes seventh grade girls picked up where they’d left off in cheering on this random, visiting team.

“I smiled and laughed throughout the game, even though our girls were in the process of losing 5-0,” said Pakkala. “It was the most positive amount of energy I have seen at a youth sporting event.”

“It was really neat to see,” said Detroit Lakes 7th grade Coach Brian Burhans, who was proud to see his team’s show of sportsmanship, but wasn’t necessarily surprised by it.

“When we played them Friday night, it just seemed like our girls and their girls had a mutual respect for each other right away; they were all just really cordial to each other,” said Burhans, who says this particular group of girls he’s been coaching for the past few years is a friendly, positive group.

Although the Sauk Rapids-Sartell team lost their Saturday night game and felt down about it, the hungry, tired team refused to call it a day and go get something to eat. It was Detroit Lakes’ turn to play, and the visiting girls wanted to return the spirit and encouragement the DL girls had shown them.

Doing the wave and cheering for the Detroit Lakes team as if it were their own, the young players left parents from both teams in awe of the unusual show of sportsmanship between the teams.

“We were just kind of the outsiders looking in, but it was super cool to see,” said Detroit Lakes parent Dawn Brehm. “It was unbelievable; normally teens seem to hate each other, but this was just awesome.”

Brehm’s daughter, Livia, says it all got started Friday.


“They (Sauk Rapids-Sartell) were lined up to go onto the ice, and we started talking to them,” she said. “And they were just really nice, so we started cheering for them.”

Livia says after that, the girls all started hanging out and getting to know each other. Instagram and Snapchat friends were made, and the camaraderie grew with every game and every display of support.

“I think we played better when they cheered us on; it just felt good to have their support,” said Livia.

When Sunday rolled around and it was time for the two teams to play each other again (this time for third place), parents wondered if these new friendships off the ice would be tested on it. But right away, this mutual respect continued.

“Our girls got to the doors first for warmups and decided to let Detroit Lakes enter first,” said Pakkala. “Upon entering the ice, two Detroit Lakes players stayed and waited to high-five each and every one of our players as they came on the ice. I kept telling myself that if I was a kid, this was the team that I would want to play for.”

“It wasn’t awkward at all to play them,” said Livia Brehm. “We knew them better by that time, so it was competitive, but still really fun.”

The Detroit Lakes team lost that game to Sauk Rapids-Sartell. The DL team was gathering up its things, while the third place trophy was being handed over to Sauk Rapids-Sartell for a team photo.

But the celebrating, young visitors didn’t believe they were the only winners in this game. The team started calling out for the Detroit Lakes girls to get back out on the ice to be with them for their team photo.


“We just wanted to be good sports like they were,” said Sauk Rapids seventh grader Callie Pakkala. “And we thought they were winners, too, because they were such good sports the whole time.”

As the two teams of seventh grade girls, who had all been complete strangers just two days earlier, all piled together on the ice, it was enough to melt a parent’s heart.

“I was so proud as a coach and as a parent,” said Burhans, who says these young girls were a shining example of what hockey can be and should be. “I’ve never seen anything like it in all the years I’ve coached, but it was cool. I think it touched a lot of people.”

Looking at the photo now, Pakkala says if the trophy had been taken out and only the girls from the two teams were in it, it would have been impossible to tell who had just won that game.

“Last weekend I encountered what I would consider one of the finest moments of sportsmanship that I have seen in youth sports,” he said.

As for the girls, they may not have realized at the time how much of an example they were setting for the rest of the sports world; they were just being nice. To them, sports is fun, life is about making friends, and the two ideas can certainly still be intermingled.

“It’s more fun to play hockey and be competitive without disliking the other team,” said DL’s Livia Brehm, as Sauk Rapids’ Callie Pakkala added, “I think that if people learned about the power of good sportsmanship, sports would be a lot more fun. They can be competitive, but it’s a not all about that - it’s about meeting new people and making good friends, too.”


Paula Quam joined InForum as its managing digital editor in 2019. She grew up in Glyndon, Minnesota, just outside of Fargo.
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