The Bandolier Bandy Club was formed in December 1980. They were the first U.S. Bandy Club and the only club that still exists from the origins of U.S. Bandy in the 1980s. It might be expected then that the Bandolier would be a perennial power in U.S. Bandy. Their U.S. Championship this year, the 8th since 2000, as well as their 10 North American Cup Championships since 1998 would support this. The story, however, and the Bandolier Championship this year, is even more compelling.
In 2014 the Bandolier won their 10th U.S. Championship. They were led by six time U.S. scoring champion Jon Keseley and National Team Captain John Arundel who combined accounted for over 80% of the Bandolier goals that season. Their supporting cast did include National Team players Andrew Knutson, Peter Knutson, Wyatt Wenzel and Ian Middlebrook, the latter three in their early 20's but the majority of the remaining players were under 18 years old, with Kevin Bowen a Bandolier since 1997 being the exception. The Bandolier seemed poised for years of dominance. This, however, was not to be, as Keseley and Arundel left the Bandolier to form a new club, the Dukes, and Wyatt Wenzel went to Sweden to play for a season.
This was not the first time that a new Bandy club had been formed by Bandolier players. In the fall of 2006 Rick Haney and six other players formed Duluth Dynamo. The Bandolier who were 2006 U.S. Champions needed to rebuild. They did so in 2008 by adding four players who would become National Team standouts, Keseley, Arundel, Mike Hosfield and Scott Arundel. The Bandolier became Champions again in 2009 and 2010. Mike Hosfield and Scott Arundel left the Bandolier after the 2010 season to form the Mississippi Mojo and the Bandolier again rebuilt, winning the Championship in 2012 and 2014. With the formation of the Dukes for the 2014 - 15 season the Bandolier could now rightfully claim to be the mother club of three of the five other teams in the U.S. Elite league, Duluth, Mojo and the Dukes.
The Dukes became the new U.S. Bandy power in 2014-15, going undefeated in the regular season and winning the 2015 U.S. Championship. The Bandolier, on the other hand, struggled to a one victory season with elimination in the first round of the playoffs. They did add three new players in their early 20s, Sam Blaisdell, Brett Stolpestad and Neil Hultgren.
The 2015-16 season showed promise of a more competitive Bandolier team, but no one in U.S. Bandy would have predicted anything more than moderate success. Andrew Knutson, Peter Knutson and Ian Middlebrook continued in their now veteran roles. Derek Wypyszynski, Dane Erickson and Alex Eide, all in their early 20s joined the team. Jake Perpich and Zach Knight, veterans of the Dynamo Washburn youth team which dominated U.S. D1 Bandy for many years, both graduated from college and returned to the Bandolier full time. Jake Bauerfeld’s work allowed him to play on a consistent basis and Kevin Bowen returned for his 20th season. Perhaps most important was the return of National Team half back Wyatt Wenzel from Sweden and the addition to the Bandolier of 2015 National Team goalie Zander Aslesen.
Even with a rebuilt team the 2015-16 season started out slowly for the Bandolier as they were unable to win any of their first five league games. The turning point in the Bandolier season occurred on January 2, 2016 when they dismantled the Blades 8 - 5, scoring the final five goals of the game. The Bandolier gained momentum with a stunning 4 - 2 defeat of the previously undefeated Dukes on January 6. They then culminated an amazing second half of league play by defeating the Mojo 2 - 1 on the final day and thus denying the Mojo the regular season championship
The Bandolier finished league play in fourth place and began playoffs versus fifth place Duluth on February 24. They sensed that they still would be underestimated by their opponents, but felt they were the team to beat. And so it proved to be. A 3-2 Bandolier defeat of Duluth led to a February 27 semi-final match against the mighty Dukes. Once again the Bandolier prevailed 4 - 2, thus advancing to the best two out of three championship round on February 29 and March 1. Their opponents were the veteran led four time U.S. Champs The Blades. The Blades had defeated the Tigers 8 - 3 and then the Mojo 3 - 2.
The Blades prevailed 3 - 0 in the first match on February 29 relying on a powerful and physical defense and an opportunistic offense. Few U.S. Bandy observers felt that the Bandolier had any meaningful chance of winning the two straight games necessary to become U.S. Champion. The Bandolier, however, proved them wrong by wining game two 4-2 on goals by Dane Erickson (2), Wyatt Wenzel and Sam Blaisdell. The Bandolier then took the deciding game three 2-1 with goals by Brett Stolpestad and the winner from Neil Hultgren with five minutes remaining. Bandolier championship number eleven was in the books.
Andrew Knutson, Bandolier fullback and Team Captain summarized the Bandolier rise to the 2016 U.S./Gunnar Cup Championship as a complete and total team effort. “I have never played for a team thats success so much resulted from the combined efforts of each and every player on the team. We played and competed as one entity, not as a bunch of individuals. This is why we are champions. I couldn’t be more proud of this team”.
Chris Middlebrook and John Magnuson, Bandolier coaches also emphasized the character of the Bandolier players as being an essential element to the team’s success. They noted that the players combined high skill and intensity with complete team focus. “Each and every player on this team was a major contributor to this years Championship”, Middlebrook stated. Middlebrook, however also spotlighted two players, goaltender Zander Aslesen and fullback Andrew Knutson for their contributions. “Zander was extraordinary in goal for us. He is a world class goalie and it is no surprise he is the 2015-16 U.S.A. Goalie of the year and the MVP of the playoffs”. In regards to Andrew Knutson, Middlebrook noted “Andrew combined extreme defensive skills with the ability to bring the ball up the ice and create offense. He is also a consummate leader on and off the ice and was a key element to the Bandolier resurgence this year”.
Of note, Ian Middlebrook, Wyatt Wenzel and Peter Knutson each won their 5th U.S. Championships, Andrew Knutson won his 6th and Kevin Bowen his 8th to tie him for second place with most U.S. Titles as a player. The Bandolier roster is as follows:
Kevin Bowen Age 52
Andrew Knutson Age 27
Jake Bauerfeld Age 27
Sam Blaisdell Age 25
Ian Middlebrook Age 24
Peter Knutson Age 24
Wyatt Wenzel Age 24
Zach Knight Age 24
Jake Perpich Age 24
Neil Hultgren Age 24
Derek Wypyszynski Age 24
Brett Stolpestad Age 24
Alex Eide Age 24
Dane Erickson Age 24
Zander Aslesen Age 24
Photo's courtesy of Jeremy Olson www.digitalgopher.com