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Shared Passion

By Bryan Zollman, 11/18/19, 12:15PM CST

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Father-daughter duo enjoying time together leading Cloquet-Esko-Carlton program


Courtney Olin still has the wood Sherwood her dad found for her and drilled holes in and sanded down to give her the best feel for the section tournament in 2009. She scored a hat trick. Now Courtney is coaching the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton girls' team and he

For one to understand how important hockey is to the Esse family, they just need to hear the “stick story.”

During Courtney Esse’s junior year at Cloquet-Esko-Calrton (CEC) in 2009, she broke her beloved Sherwood wood hockey stick in the section semi-finals. While her teammates preferred the new composite sticks that were overtaking the market, Courtney liked the feel the Sherwood gave her for the puck.

But for the life of them, they couldn’t find the same stick model she had used. Her dad, the boys’ hockey coach, eventually found a Sherwood, but with a higher flex. So he drilled holes in the shaft and sanded it down so it would give his daughter as close of a feel as she had with her old stick.

“I used that homemade stick in the section finals and scored a hat trick and we went on to win 4-1 to advance to the state tournament,” she said. “I still have that stick.”

That stick is with her every day at practice. Courtney Esse is now Courtney Olin and she is the head coach for the CEC girls’ team. She also has a new assistant: her dad, Dave.

Esse coached in the boys’ program for 28 years before resigning in 2017.

“Courtney asked me a couple times (to be an assistant) but I hadn’t decided,” said Dave. “Then one day at school a few of her players told me they were really excited I was going to be coaching them.”

That prompted a phone call to Courtney, who said, “Dad, I thought you said you were going to coach with me.”

He had agreed to help out sparingly, but not full time. But he soon found out it was too hard to not be fully committed.

“When I do something I always give 100 percent,” he said. “Needless to say, I became a full time assistant. It was also very hard to say no to my daughter!”

The Esse family was a typical Minnesota hockey family growing up on the frozen plains of Cloquet, Minn., in the 80s and 90s. Winters were for hockey and not much else. While Courtney was growing up, she was watching her dad have success running the boys’ program.

“I was fortunate to grow up around the rink,” she said. “Since I can remember, I have always wanted to be a Lumberjack. I just loved being at the rink and the atmosphere of the boys high school games.”

She specifically remembers the sold out games between CEC and Duluth East.

“I can still remember many of the players names and numbers from the early 2000s,” she said. “I have always loved the game of hockey and feel really lucky to have had the experiences I have had.”

Of course, her dad was the biggest influence on her playing career. A 2010 graduate, she scored 31 points her senior year and played collegiately at St. Scholastica.

Without question my dad was the biggest influence on my hockey career,” she said. “He is a coach through and through and would always give me advice after playing. I am still constantly learning from him.”

As his daughter’s assistant, Dave will run the defense during games and practices. But for his daughter, he brings much more to the table. 

“He is one of the most competitive, if not the most competitive, person I have ever met and that definitely transfers over to our program,” she said. “His accolades and 28 years of coaching experience speak for itself. His ability to see and read the game is second to none.”

Esse, who, like most successful high school hockey coaches in Minnesota, felt the stress and pressure from outside forces that didn’t always make his job the most enjoyable. Taking a lesser role has helped him enjoy coaching the game again.

“It brings me back to the feeling I had in the early 90s when I just started coaching high school hockey,” he said. “Since I resigned from the boys program, coaching with my daughter had been a great experience and has energized me.”

Father and daughter also are finding out they share a lot of similarities on the ice.

“We have similar coaching philosophies and I agree with pretty much everything she says,” Dave said. “There are many times I will be thinking of saying something and then she will say it. I guess you could say she’s a chip off the old block. But she has a nicer demeanor and is calmer than me.”

Courtney admits she is a chip off the old block and is proud of it. 

“I am definitely my father’s daughter,” she said. “I pride myself on our team’s work ethic and respect for the game of hockey. Of course we all want to win games, but playing the game of hockey is bigger than just your record. That has been instilled in me by his example growing up.”

The pride felt goes both ways.

“Watching her coach CEC makes me a very proud parent,” Dave said. “I think the girls in the program are very lucky to have her as a role model and a coach. She displays many great coaching qualities…hockey knowledge, organization, intensity, compassion, dedication to growing the program…and she is also a great communicator with her players and staff.”

For Courtney, it’s enjoyable to spend quality time with her father in their shared passion.

“Not many people have the opportunity to share this experience and spend so much time together doing something we both love,” she said. “There are many times during a practice or game we can make eye contact and know exactly what the other is thinking. It’s fun to have a bond like that.”

The father-daughter duo has lived the hockey life since Courtney was born. In that time many memories have been made. And now they share the ice with hopes of making many more.