For the late Dick Emahiser, hockey was all about seeing smiles on the faces of the kids he worked with.
Emahiser, who passed away in February, was honored with the Wm. Thayer Tutt Award, presented annually by USA Hockey to a volunteer, who, during many years of service, displayed a selfless dedication to the enhancement of ice hockey at the grassroots level of America.
It’s the top volunteer honor awarded by USA Hockey each season, and the award is named in honor of the late Wm. Thayer Tutt, who served as president of USA Hockey from 1972-86.
“I’m super happy that his love for hockey has touched so many lives, and I would even say that a lot of his old players have become coaches, so that legacy of volunteering your time so your kid can be in a hockey program is being carried on,” said Diane Emahiser, Dick’s wife. “I know he’s received other awards, but receiving this one for being a volunteer is very special because Dick volunteered time his entire life to teach kids about hockey.”
Emahiser, who was affectionately referred to as “Emmy,” was married to Diane Emahiser for 49 years. The couple had two kids, Rob and Jennifer, and five grandchildren.
Emahiser was a well-respected coach, who also volunteered his time by completing necessary tasks like building hockey rinks, flooding rinks, sharpening skates, making goalie shooter tutors, constructing equipment shelves, picking up and washing jerseys, and driving buses to practices and games, among other countless endeavors.
“For Dick, it was all about the kids,” Diane said. “And sometimes, it was maybe about the people in the background because they made a big difference in the way the program could run, so it helped Dick. It didn’t matter if you were the best player or his manager. He would love to see the kids smile.”
Emahiser enjoyed a close friendship with the late Bob O’Connor, a legendary Olympic, college and youth coach, and former coach-in-chief for USA Hockey, who also dedicated his life to hockey. Emahiser instructed camps run by the late Herb Brooks, who led the U.S. to a gold medal and the famed “Miracle on Ice” during the 1980 Olympic Winter Games.
In 1999, Emahiser was one of two coaches selected by USA Hockey to travel to the Czech Republic and coach in the International Ice Hockey Federation’s Select 15 camp.
“I know who was there to greet him when he hit heaven,” Diane Emahiser said. “Bob was one of Dick’s very best friends. They ran hockey schools together, they wrote books together … they went to Czechoslovakia together, and North Dakota, and Alaska and Michigan for clinics.”
A native of Minnesota, Emahiser was a three-sport standout in hockey, football and baseball at Mounds View High School, and he played one year in college at Bemidji State and three years at Hamline. Emahiser helped start the high school and youth hockey programs in Eden Prairie, Minnesota. He was also involved as a USA Hockey Coach Education Instructor, and was on the Minnesota Hockey Coach and Player Development staff for 34 years.
Pat “Westy” Westrum coached with Emahiser for 36 years.
“He’s well-deserving because he did everything for the hockey community, both in Minnesota and around the country,” Westrum said. “I just think that this is awesome because he loved coaching and developing players.”
Westrum also frequently woke up to 2 a.m. text messages from Emahiser, outlining different drills, aspects and ideas to improve his players.
“He just loved working with kids and it was part of his life,” Westrum said. “He put in so much time and energy, that to me, he was one of the best people around, as far as a role model. He walked the walk, and what he believed in, his family, friends and faith, he never stepped away from that and his attitude was awesome.”
Emahiser also noted her husband’s penchant for helping his players improve.
“Dick loved to draw drills,” Diane Emahiser recalled. “He would sit up for hours and just draw drills. That was his outlet, just drawing up these plans and going to see the kids succeed. He just went the extra mile because he wanted his teams to be good.”
That sort of meticulous attention to detail made Emahiser a trailblazer in the way hockey drills are conducted throughout the country.
“When he had some time off, he’d go down to the rink before practice with those big markers, and he’d draw on the ice,” Westrum said. “He’d draw 18 different stations of different things people would do on the ice, so he started station work way before anyone else was doing it, which is kind of cool for him.”
Westrum described his coaching as a “hand-me-down,” noting that there were numerous kids Emahiser taught, who returned for coaching clinics later in life.
“They had the understanding that hockey wasn’t total life, but it was a heck of a lot of fun the way Emmy did it,” Westrum said. “He didn’t pressure the kids to win at all cost, or anything like that, and I think that’s what you want, is the kids coming back when they’re young men and saying that they remember you and they liked what you did.”
Emahiser served as a select coach for USA Hockey and Minnesota Hockey with the Select 15, 16 and 17 teams. He was also the assistant coach on the 1990 USA Hockey Select 17 National Team, and was the head coach of the 1997 and ’98 Minnkota Select 16 team that won the USA Festival Championship both years.
In 1996, Emahiser was named the first USA Hockey Developmental Coach of the Year. In 2002, he was awarded the prestigious USA Hockey Walter Yaciuk Award for his involvement in the Coach Education Program (CEP), and Emahiser was also recognized four times by the Minnesota High School Coaches Association (MHCA), as the assistant coach of the year.
Additionally, he was awarded the Dave Peterson Award for his dedication and commitment to developing Minnesota hockey, and the Ted Brill Award in 2016.
“He got every award there is,” Westrum said. “He wasn’t in it for the awards. He enjoyed and loved doing it for the kids. He was more into the future than how it was done in the past or any awards. He was way ahead of his time.”
Westrum estimated that about five years ago, Emahiser told his players and coaches that they had to say ‘WOW’ after every game and coaches instructional meeting.
“Before they left, the people had to say WOW,” Westrum said. “He said that life’s too short and you have to be happy for every day, so the players would put their sticks together and say, ‘WOW,’ so that they know that it’s fun to play hockey. The kids really loved it and so did our coaches. They got up and smiled.”
Westrum said that all the kids had stickers with the words “Emmy” and ‘WOW’ on the side of their helmet during the spring. Emahiser passed away in February, but a celebration of his life is being held today, June 12, at the gymnasium of Eden Prairie High School.
Diane Emahiser said that they will say ‘WOW’ at her husband’s funeral.
“We’re going to ‘WOW’ because that’s what Dick would’ve wanted, and it’s a celebration of his life,” she said. “If we didn’t say ‘WOW’ loud enough, we’d have to say it again. I just think the ‘WOW’ was that you did a great job, and maybe you didn’t think you did a great job, but by the time you said ‘WOW’ a few times, maybe you believed you did a good job.”
Emahiser certainly made his presence felt in the world of youth hockey and beyond. Social media was abuzz after Emahiser’s passing.
“I always felt like he was sort of famous,” Diane Emahiser said. “When I would go places, I would see how he was respected by other people, they would talk about all he did, and then I knew why he was at the computer all the time and why our house was full of white boards. We wanted to hear other hockey people talk about him at the funeral because we know that other people appreciated him as much as we did. They had fabulous memories of Dick, and what he did, and Dick was someone who always had a smile on his face. It was sort of contagious.”
Emahiser said her husband would want to be remembered as a great person, who was willing to lend a hand and help in any way necessary.
It wasn’t just hockey that drove Emahiser’s volunteer nature and generous spirit. Emahiser, also a skilled carpenter, helped build cabins, frame decks, assisted neighbors with Christmas lights, shoveled snow, cut grass and more.
“I think being a volunteer was sort of built into him,” his wife said. “If Dick was your friend, he was your friend for life. If you’re having trouble with something, you could call and he’d be over to help.”
Fittingly, Emahiser was recognized by USA Hockey as the Wm. Thayer Tutt award winner on the day of his celebration of life.
“I think that’s a gift and I know Dick can see it,” Diane Emahiser said. “I have a very strong faith and I know that Dick was looking down at the funeral. I think it’s exciting that he’s getting this award.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.