Tom Osiecki has coached long enough to have plenty of encounters with former players and acquaintances over the years.
But none of those meetings have been quite like the matchup Osiecki will experience this weekend.
A longtime prep hockey coach in Minnesota, Osiecki will make his collegiate coaching debut Friday when he brings the St. Olaf women’s hockey team into its first ever contest. And he’ll be facing one of his former players when Jason Lesteberg also makes his collegiate coaching debut for the first-year program at Wisconsin-Stevens Point.
“Jason is a close member of our family,” Osiecki said. “To see him like a colleague for the first time is really neat.”
Lesteberg played three years of prep hockey at Burnsville (Minn.) High School from 1987-90 for Osiecki, who led Burnsville to two state titles and two runner-up finishes from 1983-87. In fact, Osiecki’s son, Mark, was a former National Hockey League player and standout at Wisconsin, and currently coaches the Green Bay Gamblers of the United States Hockey League.
“It will be exciting for me because he is somebody that I’ve taken a lot of my coaching philosophies from after playing for him,” Lesteberg said. “He is somebody that everyone idolized and who caused a lot of players to get that urge to go into coaching.”
But the story between the two goes far beyond their days on the ice in Burnsville.
Lesteberg has taken several family trips with the Osiecki family and has been best friends with Osiecki’s son, Matt, since age 10. Osiecki and Lesteberg’s father, Dennis, also coached their sons’ 13-year old Babe Ruth baseball team to a state title. Osiecki was even Lesteberg’s first football coach when he was 11.
“These situations are not that unusual in coaching,” Osiecki said. “I’ve faced former players several times in my career, so this is not a first, but Jason is really close to my son Matt and our family so this will be extra special.”
And it’s not like the pair decided to open their coaching careers this way. The season-opening matchup was scheduled before Osiecki was even hired at St. Olaf.
“It’s really ironic the way it all worked out,” Osiecki said. “It will be very exciting for me, it’s something I’m really looking forward to.”
Osiecki says he knew Lesteberg has what it takes to be a coach since his playing days in Burnsville.
“He loved the game and got into it thoroughly, studying the game,” Osiecki said. “He was always well beyond people in the depth of the game.”
And on the other hand, Lesteberg credits his former coach as a major influence on his young career.
“After all the impact he’s had on my hockey career, I guess it’s only fitting to begin my coaching career against him,” Lesteberg said. “It’s very exciting and will always be a great memory.”