Bruce Plante, in an interview between the second and third periods of Tuesday night's Hermantown-Duluth Denfeld varsity boys hockey game at Essentia Duluth Heritage Center, reflects on his many years of coaching high school hockey at Hermantown and some of his experiences in the sport. He coached boys hockey at Hermantown for 22 years, taking a break in between to scout for the former Minnesota North Stars. He mentions some of the best teams and players he coached, including Jon Francisco, Dylan Samberg, Neal Pionk and Cole Koepke, among many others. Plante attributes the success of the Hermantown youth and high school programs to their multiple natural-ice outdoor rinks located next to historic Hermantown Arena, which continue to help develop creative and skilled players in the community. He also talks about his grandkids (Zam and Max Plante) who will join the Bulldogs program starting next season, and gives us a scouting report on each of them. The good news is Bruce Plante is enjoying retirement, while staying active with hunting and fishing. He says he wants to be remembered as a fair coach who held kids accountable. Enjoy.
On his hockey experience as a former goaltender, coach and professional scout – "Oh, it's been wonderful. My opportunity to teach and coach at Hermantown was pretty cool, when I had a lot of great kids to work with. It was a lot of fun and the relationships that I've built over the years with other coaches, certainly the players and some of their parents, how do you beat that? It's been a pretty fun deal for me personally."
On his coaching run at Hermantown – "I coached there 18 years, including their varsity team for six, and then I took six years off to scout for the North Stars. Then I went back to Hermantown, where I was teaching at the time, and then coached 22 more years in hockey."
On some of his best teams and players – "That's hard because I had a lot of good teams and several great players. Jon Francisco was one of my first really great players as one of the best two-way players that I ever got to coach. Of course, you've got (Dylan) Samberg, (Neal) Pionk and (Cole) Koepke, among many others. The last three or four, five teams were probably our best. We were loaded, pretty deep with a lot of great players, and they all loved the game. They were a fun group, kids who had a blast in the locker room and on the bus, and wherever we went and on the ice they were serious. They knew how to shut off all the outside noise, which I still ask myself how they did it because most high school kids can't do that. They goofed around in the locker room and but when they stepped on the rink to practice, they'd practice. We had a lot of really, really good hockey players."
On Hermantown hockey's secret sauce, the outside rinks – "The outdoor rinks have been a savior for Hermantown. That's where the program continues to develop the ultra-special, creative players who do extraordinary things on the ice. They learn it all in on the ponds – and it develops good leaders, good teams, and basically good guys that you can really count on to play at a notch above everybody else. I hope they always keep it that way because that's the secret of the program."
On grandsons Zam and Max playing for the Bulldogs starting next season – "I love watching them play, and I feel pretty intense with them. They haven't been around here much the last couple years, so having them back to play for UMD will be a special treat for our family and a highlight for them."
Scouting Zam and Max – "Well, Zam's had a really great year this year (with the Fargo Force of the USHL). He had a rough time last year. He had come off that shoulder surgery and couldn't do anything for six months, so he lost a summer of development. He couldn't even run. So, he came in two months late to the (2022-23) season and was behind his teammates when he came back a little timid and shy. But he worked hard out all last summer, got his groove back and now he has been playing great this season. I'm really, really happy for him because after losing most of a year he's come back strong and is doing great.
Max is with the U.S. National Development Program, where he's doing really well. He also got hurt, broke his hand and was out for six weeks, and he's just now coming back. It's the same kind of a deal: a guy's out for six weeks, and the teammates are playing, getting better and stronger and faster, and the rhythms are there for them. Max is a little off rhythm, just coming back from injury, and has played in about four games since, I think. He's a good player – a great passer, a vision guy – and I can see him being a really good college player, too. He's playing against college teams this year, and he's done okay. I'm hoping that he can stay healthy for the next two or three months, finish the season strong, and get his game back to where it can be. That would be really good for his confidence."
On his personal life, in retirement – "Life is good. My wife and I are having fun and aren't having any major health problems. I had hip surgery a couple of years ago and knee surgery last year, so I've had a few of those sort of little dings, and I got some crooked toes from wearing hockey skates that were too small in my youth. I still hunt and fish, and I can do everything that I used to always do, albeit just a little slower and more methodical than in the past. We get to watch the grandkids play now and then, so it's all good."
On how he'd like to be remembered – "Probably, if anything, I just want hockey people to say that I held kids accountable and was fair with them. If my players put in a good effort, they usually got to play for me."