A lifetime of coaching
When Tom Peart was growing up in Alexandria during the 1970s, he had no idea that he would someday become a head hockey coach with more than 400 career wins.
The 1975 Alexandria graduate did not even know he wanted start a career in coaching during his first year in college after a stint as a Marine. But it was not long afterwards that Peart realized he wanted to spend his life teaching kids the game of hockey.
“My experiences with coaches and what not, I suddenly realized I wanted to become a teacher,” Peart said.
This decision to get into teaching and coaching has led to a 30-year career behind the bench of boys and girls high school programs, college teams and even a professional hockey team in Europe.
Peart’s long career has eventually led to numerous milestones as the head coach of the Totino Grace girls’ hockey team this past season.
Peart picked up his 400th career coaching victory, was named the recipient of the Wild/3M Charlie Stryker Coach of the Year award and was selected to the second-ever class of the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
“It’s been pretty cool,” Peart said. “You look at it because you start coaching because you love coaching and you love the kids. All of a sudden it creeps up on you.”
Peart first developed his interest in hockey while playing for the Alexandria high school team until his graduation in 1975.
High school hockey in Alexandria in the mid-1970s was nothing like it is today. There were no indoor ice sheets back then, so home games were either played outside or in another city.
After his time in the military, Peart played one season of college hockey at Mesabi Community College in Virginia and three at St. Cloud State University. Peart said he did not get much playing time in St. Cloud as he backed up two all-American goaltenders, but he still enjoyed his work toward a teaching degree.
“I didn’t get a lot of playing time, but that was fine,” Peart said. “It kind of changed my life; I wanted to get into coaching after that.”
Peart originally wanted to work in law enforcement and started college as a psychology major, but after remembering all that former Alexandria head coach Dick Gustafson did for his hockey players, instead pursued a teaching degree.
After graduating from St. Cloud State University in 1982, Peart was hired as an assistant varsity coach at Armstrong High School in Robbinsdale. His job duties also included coaching the junior varsity team and working with the goaltenders.
There he got to know head coach Bruce Johnson, who Peart said ended up becoming his career mentor.
But on his first day, Johnson told Peart he had to tell a player he was cut from the team.
“I hadn’t even seen the poor kid on the ice and my first job was to cut a kid and tell him he was going to midgets,” Peart said. “That was tough. Bruce later said he wanted to see how I would handle it.”
Peart spent six seasons as an assistant at Armstrong High School, part of that time with another assistant who would later become the head coach of the Minnesota Wild – Todd Richards.
In 1989, Peart finally received his first head coaching position at Minneapolis Roosevelt High School.
That first season was rough for Peart, as the team had 17 players suspended for disciplinary reasons.
“It was just a program that was kind of out of control,” Peart said. “So I had to kind of draw a line in the sand. Over the next four years we only had to suspend one kid.”
He eventually led Roosevelt to the high school hockey tournament in 1993.
After five years at Minneapolis Roosevelt, Peart had assistant coaching stops for a season in England, a season with the Augsburg men’s team and at Buffalo and Wayzata high schools.
But Peart felt his coaching career hit a dead end, until girls’ hockey became a varsity sport in the 1990s.
“I kind of reached a point in my career when I didn’t know if I wanted to keep coaching or what I wanted to do,” Peart said. “And then girls’ hockey started up.”
As high schools across the state began fielding girls’ varsity hockey programs, Peart was asked if he would be the head coach of a cooperative team called the Wright County Blades for the 1997-1998 season.
At the same time, he was asked to be a co-head coach of the St. Benedict women’s team.
“For two years when I was head coach at Wright County, I’d run practice, get done around 5 [p.m.], jump in my car, grab a bite to eat, and run up to Richmond, Minnesota for practice,” Peart said.
Peart was the head coach at Wright County until 1999 and was co-head coach for two seasons at St. Benedict before becoming the head coach for four seasons until 2003. In 2003-2004, Peart became a girls’ hockey coach at the Gilmour Academy High School in Ohio.
He returned to Minnesota for coaching jobs at Augsburg College and St. Mary’s University until he finally settled on his current coaching job for the girls’ varsity team at Totino Grace in 2009.
After picking up his 400th career victory, Peart, who is on the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association hall-of-fame selection committee, was asked to leave the room during one of their voting sessions.
“It was a complete surprise to me,” Peart said. “So I left and they voted to have me in.”
As he continues to get older, Peart said coaching has worn on his body a bit. He has had both hips replaced surgically over the past three years, which makes it impossible to skate in hockey camps for six or seven hours in a day.
Peart will be back to coach with Totino Grace for a sixth season this fall, but he said a decision has to be made about how much longer he can continue.
“My AD asked me that and I said, it’s year to year,” Peart said. “As long as it’s still fun and they want me, I’ll probably keep coaching.”