After a 15-year professional playing career that included stops with 18 teams in eight leagues in four countries, totaling 826 games, there isn’t much Rod Aldoff hasn’t seen or done in hockey.
He’s played in San Diego, Calif., and Sterzing, Italy, and many, many places on the 9,800 kilometres in between.
He’s won championships and missed playoffs, knows the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.
Aldoff is a hockey-lifer, so it wasn’t a surprise to see him step behind the bench just months after his retirement in the summer of 2010, taking over as head coach of the Wisconsin (now Minnesota) Wilderness of the Superior International Junior Hockey League.
“I love the game of hockey, I always have, and I enjoy coaching now, and I guess that’s what has kept me going all those years,” Aldoff said. “You like coming to the rink, you like being a part of the team and competing, and trying to get better. I take that same mentality towards my team.”
Three years later, Aldoff has led the Wilderness to the RBC Cup, Canada’s National Junior A Championship, and has made a little history along the way – the Wilderness, now based out of Cloquet, Minn., is the first-ever American team to compete for the national championship.
It’s been a long road not only for the Wilderness, which lost out at the Dudley Hewitt Cup in back-to-back years, but for its coach, who is the definition of “journeyman.”
After finishing a four-year college career at the University of Minnesota Duluth in 1995, Aldoff embarked on a cross-country – and cross-Atlantic – career. In his first two seasons alone, the defenceman played in Tallahassee, Fla., Salt Lake City, Utah, Quinto, Switzerland, and Florence, S.C.
In all, only once did he spent consecutive seasons with one team – the ECHL’s Pee Dee Pride in 1997-98 and 1998-99 – and five times he played for more than one team in a season.
“I was always looking not to be comfortable, not to be complacent,” Aldoff said. “I always wanted to strive to get to a higher level. I told myself the day I get complacent in this game and am happy where I’m at, unless I’m at the highest level, is the day I stop played. I’ve always strived to put myself in good position as a player, and I was very fortunate to be on some good teams with good coaches and great teammates.”
After splitting the 2009-10 season between the Amarillo Gorillas and Rapid City Rush of the Central Hockey League, Aldoff decided to call it a career, finishing with 101 goals and 314 assists in 826 games.
His time away from the game didn’t last long, though; returning to Minnesota after his retirement, he almost immediately joined the Wilderness as it prepared for its inaugural season.
“It was a smooth transition, and for me it kept me part of the game and part of the team atmosphere,” he said. “I just tried to implement all of the things I’ve learned from my coaches, and situations and experiences I’ve had over the years, and try to help these young guys out and hopefully develop their careers.”
A finalist for this year’s CJHL Coach of the Year award, Aldoff has been behind the bench for three SIJHL championships in as many years, although this season’s Wilderness team is undoubtedly his best.
Minnesota set league records for wins, points and goals in a season, finishing 51-3-2, going 41 consecutive games without a loss in regulation time and outscoring the opposition by a remarkable 282-85.
After missing out on the playoff round in its first two trips to the Central Region championship, the Wilderness became just the second SIJHL team to win the Dudley Hewitt Cup, beating the St. Michael’s Buzzers 4-3 in overtime in the final.
“We know we’re not the biggest league on the block, but we do have some good hockey teams,” Aldoff said. “We believed in ourselves, and like I tell the guys, if you believe in yourself, you can achieve anything. If the team believes in something, and you’ve got 20 good players pulling the same way, whatever the result is, we’ll take it, as long as we stay on the same page and work hard towards that goal.”
ROD ALDOFF’S TEAMS
1995-96 – Tallahassee Tiger Sharks (ECHL)
1996-97 – Utah Grizzlies (IHL)
1996-97 – HC Ambri-Piotta (Switzerland)
1997-99 – Pee Dee Pride (ECHL)
1999-2000 – San Diego Gulls (WCHL)
1999-2000 – Long Beach Ice Dogs (WCHL)
2000-01 – Ingolstadt ERC (Germany)
2001-02 – San Diego Gulls (WCHL)
2001-02 – SSI Vipiteno (Italy)
2002-03 – Greensboro Generals (ECHL)
2003-04 – Straubing Tigers (Germany)
2004-05 – Rockford IceHogs (UHL)
2005-06 – Pensacola Ice Pilots (ECHL)
2006-07 – Chicago Hounds (UHL)
2007-08 – Bloomington PrairieThunder (IHL)
2008-09 – Kalamazoo Wings (IHL)
2008-09 – Fort Wayne Komets (IHL)
2009-10 – Amarillo Gorillas (CHL)
2009-10 – Rapid City Rush (CHL)