In 1966, the number one song when then was Good Vibrations by the Beach Boys. The top-grossing movie in theaters was Hawaii, staring Julie Andrews. Minnesota Wild Head Coach Todd Richards was born in October of that year. It was also the year that Lorne Grosso started his career been behind the bench at Rochester Mayo High School.
Forty-four years and 621 wins later, Grosso is Minnesota’s newest record holder for most victories by a high school hockey coach, surpassing the legendary Willard Ikola in the process. Although winning comes naturally for Grosso, he’s one to value the effort more than the results.
“At times, I have more fun losing than winning because I see that the kids are playing up to their ability,” Grosso said. “If we play our best and happen to lose, I am fine with that.”
While this is not exactly the coaching mentality of Vince Lombardi, who coined the phrase, “winning isn’t everything, it’s the only thing”, it’s been an effective policy for Grosso. During his tenure as coach at Mayo, Grosso has compiled a record of 621-399-25. As the years pass by and the wins stack up, Grosso has noticed the game change but his fundamentals of coaching have stayed the same.
“The equipment is better, the kids are bigger, and the game is faster,” he noted. “But you try to teach them the same things that will make them successful. You try to get them to improve and develop. As far as the coaching aspect, it’s pretty much the same game.”
Grosso has been a fixture of Minnesota hockey since his playing days at the University of Minnesota, where Coach John Mariucci teamed him on a line with Roy Nystrom, the current coach at Albert Lea High School. Grosso and Nystrom have been friends and rivals ever since. With Rochester Mayo and Albert Lea both playing in the Big Nine Conference, they get plenty of time to talk shop.
“Roy and I are best friends, when our teams play each other we get together, talk hockey and have a cup of coffee,” Grosso said. “Whenever we see each other, we have a pretty good time.”
Nystrom has had some coaching success of his own, winning 534 career Minnesota high school hockey games. He has 94 additional wins from his coaching days in North Dakota, before he took over the Albert Lea program.
“Neither of us keep track of statistics,” Grosso said, “We both didn’t even know how many we had until it was brought to our attention last season that we were approaching 600.”
The humble Grosso, who has advanced his team to the Minnesota State High School Hockey Tournament seven times, downplays the importance of his record-setting win total, crediting the hundreds of players who have worn the green and gold of Mayo and called him coach.
“Win or lose, your kids are the ones that get you to where you are. I have never scored a goal or an assist,” Grosso said. “I have coached some great kids, a couple that have become Olympians like (Jim) Johannson and (Eric) Strobel. Others have played Division I hockey, and others that went on to play at the junior level. All I want is to get every kid to his maximum potential.”
What does Grosso get in return for coaching these kids for endless hours every winter?
“All the kids are ages 15 though 18, so being around them gives me energy. They make me feel young, and keep me in my teenage years,” Grosso explained.
While his players are his fountain of youth, the question still looms on when Grosso plans to hang up the whistle.
“My wife always asks me when I’m going to retire, and I tell her that I can’t because I have some really good kids coming up next year,” joked Grosso.
He added, “I say that every year.”