Lakeville native Ryan Poehling is tearing it up at the IIHF World Junior Championships.

The Team USA forward is tied for first in the tournament in scoring with eight points (five goals, three assists) in four games. He helped the U.S. team win four of its first five games at the tournament, which showcases the world’s top players under age 20. Team USA defeated Czechoslovakia 3-1 in the quarterfinals Wednesday in Victoria, British Columbia, and will play Russia in the semifinals Friday. Medal-round games will be Saturday in Vancouver.

Poehling, who helped Lakeville North High School to an undefeated season and state championship in 2014-15, started the World Juniors playing wing. However, first line center Jack Hughes – who’s expected to be selected first overall in the NHL draft next summer – was injured and Poehling was moved to that spot. He led a U.S. comeback in pool play against Sweden, scoring three goals in the final 6 minutes, 35 seconds to force overtime in a game the U.S. eventually lost 5-4 in overtime.

After the world tournament Poehling will return to St. Cloud State University, where he’s a junior forward for the Huskies and the team’s second-leading scorer. St. Cloud State, 13-1-2 overall, is first in the U.S. College Hockey Online NCAA Division I rankings. Poehling was a first-round draft choice of the Montreal Canadiens in 2017.

‘Mean Gene’ mourned in Burnsville

Word of Gene Okerlund’s death was a gut punch to anybody who followed professional wrestling since the 1970s, when he rose to fame by interviewing some of the most outrageous personalities in the business. Locally, he also was known as a sports parent. Todd Okerlund, one of Gene’s two children, was a hockey and football star at Burnsville High School in the 1980s. Todd went on to play four years with the University of Minnesota men’s hockey team and also was a forward on the 1988 U.S. Olympic team. He played one season of pro hockey before injuries cut short his career.

Gene Okerlund is known mainly for his work in what is now called World Wrestling Entertainment (WWE), but he started as an interviewer in Verne Gagne’s Minnesota-based American Wrestling Association. In a Star Tribune interview in 2015, Okerlund said it happened by accident. The regular interviewer, Marty O’Neill, was unavailable for a taping. Gagne asked Okerlund, who worked in advertising sales at the time, to fill in. That led to a sudden change in career path.

And the “Mean Gene” nickname? That came from someone else with strong Minnesota ties – wrestler-turned-actor-turned-politician Jesse Ventura.

Okerlund, 76, died Wednesday morning at a hospital near his Florida residence. Cause of death was not immediately known.

Berkvam milestone

Former Lakeville North girls basketball coach and current Northfield boys basketball coach Andy Berkvam earned his 500th career victory in a Northfield boys game Dec. 6.

The first 419 came as head coach of the Lakeville High School and Lakeville North girls teams, which he led to three state championships over 22 seasons. In 2013, he stepped down to become head boys coach at Northfield, his alma mater.

When Berkvam was inducted into the Panther Hall of Fame in 2017, he noted that 27 years earlier he and current North boys basketball coach John Oxton applied for the same job – coaching the Lakeville High School boys team. Oxton got that job, and Berkvam took the girls head coaching job. Now both have reached 500 victories and are in Lakeville’s athletic hall of fame.

Tollefson to be honored

Eastview’s Mark Tollefson will be honored for coaching his 100th high school season at a Lightning boys swimming and diving meet Friday, Jan. 11, at Falcon Ridge Middle School. The meet starts at 6 p.m.

Tollefson is head coach of Eastview’s boys and girls swimming programs and is an assistant coach in track and field.

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