MOORHEAD — A fixture on the Moorhead hockey scene for decades, Dennis Bushy has decided to move toward retirement.
The longtime Cullen Hockey Center manager officially handed those duties over to his grandson Aaron Herdt on July 1. Bushy said he will continue to do janitorial and some maintenance work until next summer.
“I’m not retired, I’m just stepping down as manager,” said Bushy, who has been a youth rink manager in Moorhead for nearly 30 years to go along with his more than 40 years of coaching hockey, primarily at the bantam level. “I know that if I would have quit, cold-turkey quit, I would have had a hard time with that. That would have been tough on me because I really enjoy the kids.”
The 73-year-old Bushy still plans to be at the rink for 6 a.m. practices during the hockey season, but looks forward to being able to leave the rink mid-afternoon as opposed to late in the evening, which he often did in his decades as the rink manager.
“Aaron, who has been there for a long time, needs to be on his own and not rely on me in case something happens,” Bushy said. “I can go home at night and not have to worry about getting phone calls. He can handle it. … I’m getting up there in age now and I should sit back a little bit. At least get rid of the stress, that was the main thing.”
Bushy, who graduated from Sacred Heart High School in East Grand Forks, Minn., in 1966, moved to Moorhead in 1977 and started coaching youth hockey that winter. Bushy helped develop NHL players like Chris VandeVelde, Matt Cullen, Mark Cullen, Jason Blake, Brian Lee, Ryan Kraft and Will Borgen.
Moorhead head coach Jon Ammerman and Spuds assistant coach Tony Kunka both played for Bushy in bantams. Bushy also coached Kunka’s son, Will, in bantams. Tony played bantams for Bushy in the mid-1980s.
“There’s very few people that are around Moorhead hockey now that didn’t play for him at some point,” Tony Kunka said.
Bushy was awarded the William Thayer Tutt Award from USA Hockey in 2017. That honor is given annually to a “volunteer who, during many years of service, has displayed a selfless dedication to the enhancement of ice hockey at the grassroots level in America.”
“He’s been a staple of Moorhead hockey,” Ammerman said. “He’s allowed for the development of a lot of really good people and a lot of really good hockey players, too.”
A 2014 Moorhead High School graduate, Herdt said he’s been able to learn from his grandpa for “many, many years” how to manage a rink. The 25-year-old Herdt was 15 years old when he first cleaned the ice with the Zamboni.
“I didn’t even have a driver’s license yet and I was Zamboni-ing the ice,” said Herdt, who played junior hockey and college hockey at Alaska Fairbanks and Concordia after his high school career. “My mom would have to come and pick me up around midnight when we had tournaments that would go to 10:30 at night.”
Herdt said Bushy was the epitome of a rink manager.
“He knew every sound of the building, every smell of the building,” said Herdt. “If something didn’t sound right, he knew. Then he was able to diagnose a lot of the issues himself.”
Bushy also knew how to make hockey players feel welcome, greeting the 12-, 13-, and 14-year-olds as they showed up for early-morning ice time.
“You would see him in the concession stand handing out free samples of popcorn or gummy worms, always making the kids feel welcome when they came in for their practices and stuff,” Herdt said.
“All those kids are my easier hellos every morning, but they would be the toughest goodbyes if ever (go) cold turkey,” Bushy said. “Those are going to be tough goodbyes.”
Kunka said Bushy always found a way to connect with the young hockey players.
“They looked forward to going to the rink and seeing him,” Kunka said. “He’s that dynamic personality. He always put the kids first.”
Bushy plans to eventually step away from helping with the rink by the end of next summer.
“This retirement would be way too hard for me to cold turkey. I’d rather do it gradually,” Bushy said. “I think I’ve got a few more good things coming up before my official retirement. I hope so at least. I would like to see the Moorhead Spuds win a state high school championship. That would be good. I’ve seen them lose all eight of the state championship (games). I don’t want to see any more of those.”
The Moorhead Youth Hockey Association arena was re-named the Cullen Hockey Center a few years ago and one of the ice sheets at the facility was named after Bushy.
“He deserves to live on his own time at this point of his career and I’m glad he’s taking those first steps to do that because he’s earned that,” Herdt said. “Where do you even start? It’s crazy that he was able to do so much for building Moorhead youth hockey.”