Backers seek to honor hockey coach with life-size statue

Tom Osiecki

Osiecki called the ‘father of hockey in Burnsville’ 

A student manager from the golden days of Burnsville High School hockey is leading an effort to install a life-size statue of former coach Tom Osiecki in front of the Burnsville Ice Center.

The two-time state champion coach, who started the high school boys program in 1966, is the “father of hockey in Burnsville,” said Pete Heunisch, who was manager of the Burnsville Braves teams that won state championships in 1985 and 1986 and lost the 1987 title game to Bloomington Kennedy.

Heunisch said about $50,000 must be raised to commission a statue from Minnesota sculptor Nick Legeros, whose work includes bronze likenesses of sportswriter Sid Hartman, mascot Goldy Gopher and former Edina High School hockey coach Willard Ikola.

The Burnsville Parks and Natural Resources Commission voted Monday to endorse Heunisch’s request. The City Council is expected to review it in July.

Osiecki, who taught at BHS and still lives in Burnsville, won six section championships during his 24 years coaching the boys team. In addition to the state titles, two of his teams were state runners-up.

Osiecki was named Minnesota Hockey Coach of the Year in 1985 and 1986. He also coached BHS girls hockey from 1996 to 1998 and 2000 to 2004.

He was inducted into the Minnesota High School Hockey Coaches Hall of Fame in 1995.

“Hockey may be considered a dying sport in Burnsville, or at least a changing one, but a group of Burnsville residents, me included, and former players believe that now is the time to recognize Tom for his numerous contributions to Burnsville and its hockey program,” Heunisch told the Parks and Natural Resources Commission April 19.

At that time the commission voted to recommend some kind of permanent tribute at the city-owned arena or in Civic Center Park, where the arena is located. Heunisch and city staff narrowed the options to a sculpture.

Fundraising hasn’t begun, Heunisch said in an interview, but Legeros has already produced a clay rendering.

“A lot of the old players, I’m on Facebook with, and I threw it out there and I told other people about it and it’s just been kind of word of mouth. That’s how everybody’s kind of getting on board,” said Heunisch, whose father, Dick, taught and coached tennis and hockey at BHS and mother, Marcy, taught at Metcalf Junior High.

Heunisch said his father began coaching with Osiecki in 1967. The two played against one another as St. Paul high schoolers, Heunisch at Wilson and Osiecki at St. Agnes, Pete Heunisch said.

“Tom and I, I’ve known him forever and a day,” Heunisch said.

The Osiecki era “helped put Burnsville on the map of Minnesota, and Minnesota is the state of hockey,” Heunisch told parks commissioners in April.

“Burnsville’s changed,” he said. “I’ve been here since 1977, and every place changes. Obviously, the demographics and all, hockey isn’t as big as it used to be, but I feel that Tom has done a lot of great things with Burnsville” and should be honored “before he’s not around anymore.”

Osiecki left high school hockey from 1990 to 1995 to work as a pro scout for the Minnesota North Stars and Dallas Stars. After his first stint as the BHS girls coach, he started the women’s hockey program at St. Olaf College, coaching there from 2000 to 2004. He was named Minnesota Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Coach of the Year in 2002.

He later coached badminton at BHS. His teams won four state championships. He also coached football and baseball in the 1960s.

Osiecki was the 2001 recipient of the Cliff Thompson Award, which honors long-term contributions to Minnesota hockey.

One of the rinks at the Burnsville Ice Center is named for Gary Harker, a former college coach and NHL scout. He worked for the city as Ice Center manager and later as recreation and facilities director.

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