St. Thomas Campus News
- The Final Cut: A Q&A With St. Thomas’ Olympic Coach
It’s a well-known story about Herb Brooks that he was the final man cut from the roster of the 1960 U.S. Olympic men’s hockey team. He watched from home in Minnesota as his teammates represented their country in Italy. A scene in the film “Miracle” shows Kurt Russell playing Brooks and pulling out the official roster photo of that 1960 team; there’s Brooks sitting in the front row with his teammates. Twenty years after 1960, Brooks was on the opposite side of the encounter as the coach of the 1980 Olympic team, having to tell Ralph Cox that he wouldn’t be going to Lake Placid, that he would be the team’s final cut.
Four years before Cox and 16 years after Brooks, another man was on the receiving end of a coach telling him he was the final cut: Jeff “Duke” Boeser, St. Thomas’ men’s hockey coach. Boeser had led St. Thomas to national tournament appearances his junior and senior seasons, was the conference’s MVP in 1974 and racked up a gaudy 201 points in his collegiate career. Shortly after graduating in 1975 he tried out for the Olympic team, eventually playing a full exhibition schedule under coach Bob Johnson in 1975-76, right up until the final plane ride to the games in Austria.
As the 40th anniversary of those Olympic Games approaches, I asked Boeser about his memories of playing for his country.
Do you think back on your playing career and the Olympic team very often?
Not too much. When I played I loved doing it so much, sometimes I couldn’t even tell you if we won or lost. It was so much fun playing. I couldn’t wait when we got to the rink to get out there and play.
[As] I grew up, my dad had a rink in the backyard and we’d cry when we had to come in for dinner even. It’s always been in my blood.
My dad [Robert Boeser] played on the ’48 Olympic team. They had two teams that year that went to the Olympics and he didn’t know if his team would play. They had an AAU [Amateur Athletic Union] team and a USA Hockey team. They both went over on a ship and didn’t know until they got there who would play. … He was also a player-coach at Saint John’s in ’52 as a junior in college. … Not too many people in the MIAC that have been player-coaches.
But my dad never really talked about that stuff. I think I got that gene.
Did you know as you were trying out that he had been on the Olympic team?
I did know that, but he never talked about it. His jersey was at home and we saw it, just never talked about it.
So you tried out in summer ’75 and played with the Olympic team that year?
They had regional tryouts and one was in Bloomington. I made that and the main tryout was in Madison in like August. [I] trained all summer, had individual meetings at the end of the tryouts and they said, ‘You’re the 21st person. We’re going to Czechoslovakia for two weeks and are taking 20 guys. You have a chance to go to Waterloo, Iowa.’
There was a senior men’s team [there] that gave me an opportunity to keep skating and to see what would happen in two weeks. So they came back from their trip and called me back and I was able to play [with the Olympic team]. We lived in Wisconsin and they had apartments for us. The home base was Madison since Bob Johnson was our coach. Practiced every day and played like a 45-game schedule before the Olympics. We played the Gophers, played [University of Minnesota Duluth], played Harvard. Played a Christmas tournament in Colorado with the Czechs, the Russians – not their best teams. I got to play that full pre-Olympic schedule.
In college my senior year I had hurt my shoulder and it kept popping out, and I wore this brace. Like anything else with an injury, the shoulder was hindering me from having success. So I took off the brace and sure enough it popped out again and kept getting weaker and weaker. Mike Randolph, the Duluth East High School coach, and myself went to Finland to play in a pre-Olympic tournament and we were sitting in the Denmark airport to go to Austria [for the actual Olympic tournament], and that’s when the coaches told us we couldn’t go. They said we could go to the Olympics, but we couldn’t stay with the team in the Olympic village, couldn’t travel with the team. In 1972, in the summer Olympics, they had terrorists come and kill some Olympic athletes, so that’s when they started limiting teams to a certain number of athletes they could have around. They were battling to get us all on the team and it didn’t work out.
Mike was pretty devastated. For myself it wasn’t as hard because I wasn’t 100 percent anyway with my shoulder. I came home and had surgery and never really thought twice about it. I knew I wasn’t 100 percent. It was OK. I’m not saying they would have taken me anyway, but it was easier.
Did you watch the games?
I don’t even remember. We came in like fifth. We didn’t have a real good showing that year. It was still amateurs that year. Herb Brooks and Bob Johnson didn’t really get along, so we didn’t have really any Gophers because Herb wouldn’t let them go. … That’s probably what gave me my opportunity, a lot of those Gophers not going.
When you came back and your shoulder was feeling better, was it just trying to continue playing and staying around the game?
I came back and took a while to rehab the shoulder. I graduated but didn’t have my teaching certificate, so [I] came back here for school in ’76-77 and helped coach. I missed hockey. I got the name of a guy that recruited American hockey players. I put a resume together and scrapbook, gave it to a guy and he said there’s a team in Finland interested in having you out because they think you could make their team. He never gave me that scrapbook back, which my mom was not real happy about.
I went over, they picked me up – the GM of the team and his family. They took me to his house, went out and tried out. You could only have a certain amount of foreign workers, so I was the only American on the team. It was in their elite league, their best league, and they would never put me on the power play because of the language barrier. I was an assist guy and you couldn’t buy an assist there because they didn’t give out second assists. I remember it was a fun year. I was kind of a homebody anyway so was a bit homesick, but it was a good experience and good hockey.
Did you jump back into coaching when you were back from Finland?
No, they had an assistant here. He stuck around until about 1981 when Terry Abram came in. I interviewed with him and he selected someone else, but he called me in January and said, ‘I made a mistake, would you come help us out? I don’t have any money for you but we’ll get you something next year.’ I’ve been here ever since.
- Faculty Offer ‘Flipped Classrooms’ – An Idea They Learned in the Open Classroom Project
To help professors keep up with a changing educational environment, the Center for Faculty Development (FDC) fosters strong communication among professors through the Open Classroom Project.
The Open Classroom Project encourages professors to learn teaching techniques by observing each other in the classroom. FDC director and psychology professor Ann Johnson said the idea came about partly because she took a French class, and discovered she learned a lot more than language skills.
“I was just blown away by how much I could learn from my colleagues by just sitting in class and watching how they teach,” Johnson said. “Even though we teach very different subjects, I really picked up a lot of good ideas, and it was just very inspiring.”
The Open Classroom Project developed out of this idea. With the majority of teaching taking place inside four walls, Johnson wanted to dispel the idea that teaching is an isolated act.
The FDC has developed a roster of Open Classroom faculty who are using techniques such as discussion groups, active learning and practical simulations. Interested faculty members request a meeting with a professor and set up a time to observe his or her class. The FDC provides the observed professor $10 to go for coffee afterward to facilitate conversation about the experience.
“I’m big on community building,” Johnson said. “St. Thomas has grown so large, and with all of our different schools and colleges, it becomes increasingly difficult to have cross-communication and people actually talking to each other.”
Sociology and criminal justice professor Buffy Smith was asked by Johnson to be part of the project and to invite other professors to observe her teaching methods.
“I agreed to participate because I believe we grow and develop as teachers when we can observe other teachers in the classroom,” Smith said. She said one of her goals in her classes is to create an active learning environment where everyone is learning from each other. To achieve that, she employs the Socratic method, where students engage with big ideas and questions in discussion groups.
Engineering professor Brittany Nelson-Cheeseman thinks the opportunity afforded by the Open Classroom Project is an important expansion of the peer evaluations professors already perform. “I just thought that I learn so much when I [do evaluations] or when I have people give me feedback, so I wanted to expand that to not just once per year, to actually have more interaction between faculty members to expose them to different techniques,” she said.
According to Johnson, one teaching method that has received a lot of attention from faculty members lately is the “flipped classroom” concept. In a flipped classroom, students first engage with the material outside of class, often through video lectures, and then come to class to ask questions and work on the lessons.
Nelson-Cheeseman, an Open Classroom Project professor, uses the flipped classroom method. She films lecture videos, usually about five minutes long, and has students watch a few of them before class. Then students spend class time engaged with the material, watching demonstrations and asking questions.
Nelson-Cheeseman explained that this method allows students to engage with class material multiple times, which helps students remember it better, as well as still providing opportunities to tap into the professor’s knowledge.
“It really helps clarify misconceptions and also increases their confidence with their understanding of the material,” Nelson-Cheeseman said.
Francesca Ippoliti ’17, who is taking an engineering materials course from Nelson-Cheeseman, said the flipped format works well for her.
“I think going through example problems in class is very helpful for a better understanding of the ideas introduced in the pre-lecture videos,” she said. She noted that as long as students are prepared for class, she thinks the flipped classroom works.
Accounting professor Matt Stallings, a recipient of an Innovative Course Development Grant to establish innovative learning techniques in his courses, also employs the flipped classroom method.
Stallings’ students watch video lectures outside of class and then complete packets of problems in class. “It allows for a more efficient use of classroom time because I am there to work with [my students] during their active learning. My students are engaged throughout the class period and work hard to understand the material,” he said.
Stallings said the flipped classroom method has increased student performance substantially and is one way of reaching St. Thomas strategic initiatives, including the theme of Excellence in Learning and Student Engagement and the priority of Educating for the Future.
The overarching concept behind the Open Classroom Project, and any classroom innovation, is to help faculty be the best they can be.
“In any profession I think we benefit by talking to our peers and our colleagues in order to become better at what we do,” Johnson said. “So I think any effort toward that end is going to make teaching better, and of course our ultimate goal is to provide the best possible learning environment for students that we can.”