NEWS & EVENTS
Dordt College News
Hockey is family affair for Woudstras
March 18, 2008
By Jacob Hall, for the Sioux Center News, March 5, 2008
Hockey has always been a family affair for the family of Dordt’s Nate Woudstra. It, like his family, has been there when he needed them. And next week, Woudstra, a senior on the Blades team, will help lead the Blades into the national hockey tournament in Rochester, Minnesota.
Nate’s dad, Wytze, went to Dordt and played goalie for the Blades. He encouraged his sons to play hockey and they loved it. It has given them memories they’ll never let go. But when Wytze passed away, it also served as the greatest escape for Travis, 26, Bryan, 24, and Nate, 20. All three, like their dad, have played for the Blades.
While nobody is certain why Wytze wanted to go to Dordt, there are those out there with their own suspicions.
“I know he wanted to go to a Christian college and somebody probably told a good story about Dordt,” Travis said. Wytze hitchhiked from his home in Ontario, Canada, to Sioux Center. His duffle bag with clothes was all he took.
“He was kind of blind going into Dordt,” Nate said. “He didn’t know what to expect, he just came. He never visited. I don’t think he even knew they had a hockey team.”
Dordt is where Wytze met his wife, Sandy.
“He was a lot of fun and cared about people,” she said. “It didn’t matter who he was with, they’d always feel like he liked them. He didn’t worry about what people thought of him.” She remembered the infamous duffle bag, and all of its uses.
“He took his duffle bag which he ended up using as a bag for hockey and a golf bag at Sandy Hallow,” Sandy said. “He stopped in towns from Ontario to Sioux Center when he was hitchhiking that he knew had a Christian Reformed Church and ask if he could stay at somebody’s house.”
Nate started skating when he was three years old on a pond behind his family’s house in Canada. But when they moved to Colorado as a preschooler, he took a couple of years off. He didn’t play on a team until he was six years old.
He started to play with traveling teams and has since. His teams traveled to states like Texas and New Mexico from Colorado. Once when he was playing peewee, the team traveled to Quebec City. He was 12 years old.
“We played teams like the Czech Republic, France, Italy and a bunch of teams like that,” he said. “We were always the best team at our association in Littleton so I’ve always been competitive. I really haven’t been on a non-competitive team since I started.” The experience provided a unique aspect of the game.
“It was definitely different,” Nate said. “They would say something to the ref and not get called for it because nobody knew what it meant. We’d say something and get called for it because they understood everything we said. That was a little bit of a disadvantage.”
About this time was when Nate decided he was going to make hockey a major part of his life for as long as he could. “When we started playing against teams from other countries and against the best players, that’s when I knew this would be a great time,” he said. “When I was a little younger I was like ‘oh, I have to go to practice.’ But then I was thinking ‘when do I get to go to practice.’”
Being the youngest meant taking a beating sometimes. Maybe that’s why Nate leads the Blades this season in penalty minutes.
“We used to make him wear goalie pads because he couldn’t play with us,” Travis said. “I managed to shoot right at his chest every time. I didn’t really worry about scoring, I wanted to make him hurt. That’s why he’s tough. Why he’s going to nationals now, I guess.”
Nate’s older brother Bryan said he’s not quite sure who the oldest brother Travis was referring to by “we.” “That was Travis’s deal,” he said. “He didn’t care so much about scoring as putting welts on our chests. He definitely took full advantage of that.”
Bryan and Travis remember getting sent to the penalty box together during one game later in their careers. Travis was called for hooking and Bryan voiced his opinion to the official.
“We both ended up in the penalty box,” Travis said. “But he kept beeking at the ref and finally the ref said ‘you’re out of here.’ But he pointed at me, I didn’t say anything. Bryan kept beeking and then had a moment of truth, politely admitting he said it, not me. The ref kicked both of us out.
“As we were skating off the ice, I was first and Bryan was second. We got into the locker room and he looked at me and said he just wanted to put his arm around me going off the ice. That was a good story for the Woudstra brothers on the ice.”
Strong family influence
Wytze started playing in Canadian church leagues. He went on to play for London District High School before attending Dordt. He manned the net for the Blades, even without a mask for the first year. His passion for the game was passed on to his three sons.
“That was pretty much all of the influence,” Nate said. “I’d say 100 percent of my playing hockey at a young age was because of my family. My brothers played, I had to go to their games. My dad would play so I’d go to his games. I was pretty much forced into it. I wasn’t allowed to play any other sport.”
But it’s not to say he was pushed into it. At the end of the day, he loved hockey too and that’s what he wanted to do.
“He did a lot of stuff, but he never went overboard,” Nate said. “He always made sure it was fun for us. As soon as we felt he was pushing hard, he’d back off.” That’s likely why the guys are still playing hockey today.
“He never really pushed us over that, which is why we kept playing,” Nate added. “A lot of kids grow up playing with parents who pushed them too hard and that’s why they don’t play for a long time. Our dad made sure we loved the game and was always very supportive.”
Nate said he was constantly compared.
“Growing up, I pretty much always had a couple of kids on my team say ‘you’re pretty good, but I think your brothers are better,’” he said. “It’s kind of hard to tell, but a couple of players said I was better than my brothers, fine. They were always pretty good players and all the kids I played with looked up to them as well. Kids that didn’t have older brothers would look up to my brothers. I never really felt the pressure that I had to be the best Woudstra out there.”
Bryan said it was something they could all do as a family.
“It’s something we did together and enjoyed,” he said. “It was a big sacrifice that our parents did for us but definitely well worth it. I remember we’d be playing and 25 minutes in, we’d all be fighting. Then mom stayed outside and we kept playing. We were definitely rivals out there, but we went to each other’s games and supported each other.”
Nate was in eighth grade when he, Sandy and Wytze went up to some mountains. It was July of 2001. Travis was between his sophomore and junior year at Dordt and Bryan had just graduated from high school. He was getting ready to go to Dordt and join Travis on the ice for the first time.
“It was a very big shock,” Nate said. “Dad went and got checked up and the doctor said he was fine. Then we went up to the mountains and Dad had a heart attack. It hit all of our family really hard.” With the kids growing up and moving away, there was little doubt the morale of the family would be put to a huge test.
“It changes the way you see the world, that’s for sure,” Travis said. “We definitely grew closer out of the deal. There was more of a typical older brother role for Nate and me. I’d check in, make sure everything was all right and he was doing the right things. We’re pretty close now.”
Just three weeks earlier, Wytze was the main speaker at Bryan’s high school graduation. Bryan said it brought the family even closer. “It was just one thing that bonded us,” he said. “It’s nice that we had such a great, strong mom who was able to work through that.”
Hockey gives back
When Wytze died the Littleton Hockey Association held a golf benefit. A family fund was set up as well to help offset costs of a college education for the three boys.
“(National Hockey League Star) Patrick Roy’s family was a big instigator in that,” Sandy said. “Bryan nannied for him for a summer. He’s been a big help and a big part of my life. Especially Michelle, Patrick’s ex-wife now.”
All of them remembered what the association did at the funeral. There was an entire section of the church for hockey players from the association who wore their jerseys to the funeral.
“There were more kids than I even knew from the association,” Nate said. “He not only impacted our family but a lot of people we knew and a lot of people’s lives.
“Going to tryouts the year after it happened, I had a lot of people praying for me there. A lot of kids saying sorry about your dad. Some kids that I never talked to would do that. It was kind of a warming thing to know that he had that kind of impact on others’ lives as well as my own.”
The time came for all of them to relive memories of hockey without Wytze for the first time.
“I remember walking back into the Littleton Hockey Association after,” Sandy said. “He had always coached, that was really hard. Going back to Sioux Center to watch Bryan and Travis together.”
Returning to Dordt to watch the brothers play together was made even more difficult because of the missed opportunity the two had while Wytze was still around.
“As midgets at the high school level they could’ve played together,” Sandy said. “Travis was hit on the line in football and broke his foot.” Nate said there was a time when he wasn’t sure if he wanted to keep playing hockey.
“It was definitely something I didn’t know if I wanted to do,” he said. “Once I hit the ice, man, I didn’t have to think about anything. I knew he was right there watching me, with his hand on my shoulder.”
Travis also found hockey as an escape.
“About a week after he died I went and put the skates on again,” he said. “My brothers were back in the stands watching. It’s something in your blood and we were taught to love the game. Nothing else mattered when I was on the ice. I needed to get back out there.”
Bryan’s first time back on the ice is easy to recall as well.
“I was with my old hockey team,” he said. “We had a Saturday pickup game. I was playing hockey with my second family. All of my brothers wore a patch on our shoulder, WW, so we always remember where our love for hockey came from.”
“You try to look past it now and remember the good parts,” Nate said. “Remembering pretty much anything is kind of nice right now.”
Fortunately all four were able to play in a men’s league together prior to Wytze’s passing. The kids called it the geezer league.
“It was always fun when we could all get together and play,” Bryan said. “We always made sure not to be on the same team so we could go after each other.”
Travis said it’s hard to forget the first time you beat family.
“You never forget the first time you beat your dad at something,” he said. “It was fun playing with Dad, but more fun in the locker room afterward. He was joking around, we were seeing a side of Dad we never got to see when he was at the dinner table or in the garage even. The jokes that came out. You felt like you were one of the boys.”
Sandy said she’s glad Wytze was able to coach the boys as much as he did.
“He tried not to coach one year,” she said. “Looking back, he could’ve worked more, could’ve done a lot more, but he always struggled with that. He always took more time for the kids. That was more important. That paid off too. They could never say he wasn’t around for them because he was.”
Memories never fade
Nate said he never understood why his dad could handle just a 30-second shift when they played in the men’s league. “I asked him why such short shifts and he said he’s not in the shape he was anymore,” he said. “He was only here to socialize.”
Sandy said she and Wytze enjoyed their time together in Sioux Center.
“One time we were standing kind of where B.J. Haan’s house was on the corner,” she said. “We were talking to the town cop at the time and saw a bunch of kids we knew coming. Wytze convinced him to act like he was arresting him.”
After the mock arrest, Sandy and Wytze went home. They were married by now. “It didn’t take 10 minutes and people were calling to ask how they could get him out of jail,” she said. “He also decided one time to jump out of a car in front of the commons there. Just to get attention but he broke his collarbone.”
She also remembers the makeshift rink the boys had in Canada before they moved to Colorado. “In Canada we lived on an acreage,” she said. “We had water puddles, but they were kind of linked, kind of marshy but they tried to skate on that. Then Wytze made his own rink. He put a hose out of the laundry room window. He used hot water and drove the truck to mash the snow down. The kids would go out in the morning before school and skate for at least 10 minutes.
“He’d stand out there at night preparing the rink. You could hear the coyotes as he was watering the ice to get it ready.” The climate of Colorado didn’t offer quite the same cold to have a rink.
“We had a friend in the foothills, it was not even a pond, just water on the side of the road, but it was big enough to skate on,” she said. “They’d go up and skate on this little pond. Some of the Dordt guys came out, it must’ve been when Travis was a freshman.”
Sandy also remembers one game Wytze regretted.
“I don’t know that the boys realized what a nervous wreck he was before the game,” she said. “If there was a mess-up, he always thought it was his coaching. He would relive it and relive it and relive it.”
Then there was one game that was tied for a long, long time. Long enough that the teams had to leave and take a four-hour break. That was a rule.
“Nate’s team was in the championship, we waited for four hours to go back and he put the second or third line out to start the next overtime in hopes they’d have an advantage with their first line,” Sandy said. “That was a bad decision. We lost on the first run. They lost after 10 hours of hockey.”
After his father’s passing, Nate taught himself the guitar. He’s found a second talent with music. “I play acoustic Jack Johnson-style,” he said. “I actually play the guitar and sing. I have a producer now.”
Nate kind of downplayed his musical ambitions.
“He’s in the process of trying to get a record recorded,” Sandy said. “The first time he played in public was at a funeral for one of his classmates who was killed in a car accident. He wrote a song for her and the family asked him to play at the funeral. After that, music has been a huge release.”
Sandy added she noticed he wasn’t playing as angry on the ice after he began playing the guitar.
“He took a lot of aggression out on the ice until he started playing music,” she said. “After beginning the music, I saw him playing with not so much aggression on the ice.”
The music has helped Nate with more than coping. It also attracts attention from the girls. “It’s definitely a winner,” he said. “You play a guitar and all of a sudden girls come running.”
He writes his own music, but plays other songs.
“Give me a couple of weeks and I can pretty much play anything,” he said. “The loss of my dad started that too. I don’t have to think about things too much when I’m playing music.”
Nate has a myspace page with music. It is myspace.com/nodayspromised. His girlfriend, Jessica Folkerts, came up with the name.
Third son’s a charm
Nate had other options after high school. There were coaches in a junior league in Canada that offered him a roster spot but he turned it down.
“I had a couple of offers but decided I wanted an education while I was playing hockey,” he said. “It was a hard decision. I really had to think about it. Hockey can be fun for a long time, but I knew I would go any further than that. I knew I wasn’t going to the NHL. I wanted to have fun while playing hockey and both brothers played at Dordt and had a blast. They still talk about it now.”
Besides, hockey is a sport, and like any sport, there’s a risk of injury. Nate knew the value of a degree. “Education is way more important than just having fun,” he said. “Hockey’s a great thing, but I can’t do it all my life. I know that. I might as well have fun while I’m doing it and not take it too seriously.”
Now Nate is the leading assist man for the Blades, the first Blades team to travel to the national tournament. “It’s definitely pretty much all luck,” he said when referring back to how Wytze ended up at Dordt. “The fact we can all come here and have a good time is even more of a luck factor. A lot of kids come and go. All of us came and we love it. We have made a lot of good friends.”
Little brother, last laugh
As for whether or not Nate has one-upped his brothers by being a key part of Dordt’s first team to go to the national tournament, it’s a loaded question.
“I led the team in points, he’s leading in penalty minutes,” Travis said. “That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Bryan’s team qualified for nationals but couldn’t make the trip.
“He still has to win a game yet,” he said. “Our team got an invite, but we had to pass on it for different reasons.”
Bryan is more than willing to take credit for making Nate a better player, however. “His biggest beatings were from us,” he said. “We made him a better hockey player in the long run.”
Dordt’s lasting impression
“All three boys have really good friends they played hockey with,” Sandy said. “Travis and Bryan continue with their Dordt team, I’m sure Nate will too.”
Their dad’s gamble has paid off.
“Dad had a good experience there, Travis was having a good experience,” Bryan said of his decision to go to Dordt. “I had a great time there. We all had great experiences at Dordt. And definitely a major part of that was playing for the Blades.”
Things were a little different when Travis first played at Dordt. The team wasn’t as successful as it is today. “My freshman year, the first game I played, I had never played in front of more than 50 people,” Travis said. “I had a penalty shot and the crowd went nuts when I scored. I looked up at the scoreboard and we were losing 9-2.”
The national tournament in Rochester, Minnesota, will give alumni and former Blades another reason to reunite. Travis will be there, but unless Bryan can find a really good deal on a plane ticket from Boston, he won’t be able to make it.
“I’m keeping my eyes out for low ticket prices,” he said. “But I don’t think I’m going to make it. I’m certainly going to try.” Travis is looking forward to it.
“Hopefully I’ll be a part of it behind the bench,” he said. “It’s really kind of special. A Christian school out in the middle of Iowa that recruits from Canada and built a hockey program that’s competitive and offers scholarships. That sounds like fun.”
Bryan said no matter the reason for his dad choosing Dordt, he’s glad he did. “It’s kind of neat,” he said. “We’ve all made similar choices and turned out to be very successful.”
Nate is enjoying it. “Here at Dordt, you get to play in front of 500-1,000 people every weekend,” he said. Now, the reality of making it to nationals has set in a little more.
“It’s kind of like bragging rights on my brothers,” he said. “Bryan’s not ready to accept it. We won at 4 p.m. his time to qualify for nationals and I called him and said, ‘Bryan I’m better than you’ and hung up.”
But, getting there is just half of it. Soon it will be time to perform.
“It’s very cool but very intense,” he said. “We don’t want to let our fans down. Our fans come from a small town but fill an ice arena, of all things. Every weekend almost. We just want to play hockey and show people we’re more than a small school in a small town. We have 1,300 kids at Dordt. Central Florida, our first opponent, has 60,000. We’re pretty excited and a little nervous. We’re going to play hard and not going to stop until the game is over.”