By Mike Griffith
Californian Staff Writer
The Bakersfield Californian
BAKERSFIELD, Calif. – Steve Rodberg says there’s not much to his hometown of Twig, Minn., located about 25 miles northwest of Duluth.
There’s a gas station and a post office (located in a private home). There used to be a bakery — the Twig Bakery — but the baked goods are no longer made in Twig. One has to travel to Duluth to get the Twig treats.
But there are two outdoor ice rinks in the tiny burg and that’s where Rodberg, who is in his first season with the Condors, honed his skills as a youth.
“My parents used to bring me down there right after school and I’d stay until they kicked me off the ice,” Rodberg said.
It was on those frigid outdoor rinks where Rodberg, 27, grew to love the game. And despite some bumps in the road, Rodberg said he’s once again enjoying the game.
“It was a great decision (to come to Bakersfield),” Rodberg said. “I’m having fun again playing hockey.”
Two years ago Rodberg wasn’t having fun. By the time the 2003-04 season with the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Komets in the United Hockey League had ended (with a loss in the championship round), Rodberg was drained.
Rodberg (a 6-foot-4, 210-pound defenseman) had played two-plus years in the UHL and said no mas.
“I was sick and tired of riding the bus,” Rodberg said. “Traveling all over the midwest and the United Hockey League, the traveling is a lot worse than here,” Rodberg said. “A coach at (the University of Minnesota-Duluth) once told me, if you ever feel like you’re cheating the game, to get out. I never necessarily felt like I was cheating the game in the United league but my heart wasn’t in it.”
So Rodberg headed back home and to the University of Wisconsin-Superior (just across the bridge from Duluth) to continue his education.
“I was pretty much thinking if I didn’t go back then I probably wouldn’t go back,” Rodberg said of his return to school. “I had a full year left to get my degree in sociology. I didn’t get it but I only need four more classes.”
Close enough that Rodberg will work toward finishing that degree this summer.
While Rodberg was concentrating on his studies and serving as a student assistant coach for the Yellowjackets, two of his fellow teammates who were now in Bakersfield — Sean Venedam (Fort Wayne) and Josh Liebenow (University of Wisconsin-Superior) — were trying to lure him back into the pro game.
“They kept calling me last year and told me I had to come and play in Bakersfield,” Rodberg said. “But I was pretty content.”
The pressure on Rodberg didn’t end with the hockey season and before summer was done Rodberg was sold on Bakersfield.
“I knew every team Vinney has played on has been successful because he’s a great leader,” Rodberg said of how Venedam swayed him to return to the pro game. “I knew there was going to be a great group of guys and a good chance to win the championship so I decided to give it another shot.”
Condors coach Marty Raymond said it was one of the easiest “selling” jobs he’s done as all he did was put the finishing touches on what Venedam and Liebenow had started.
“We made the phone call (to Rodberg), he called Vinney, called me back and said he wanted to play in Bakersfield,” Raymond said. “It was that easy. It’s one of the cases where you recruit through your players.”
Rodberg missed the first 13 games of the season due to a knee injury suffered in a preseason game. He made an immediate impact in his first game with a pair of assists and has amassed 25 points in 29 games.
“He’s been what I expected,” Raymond said of Rodberg. “He’s very smart, has good hands and a good shot. He’s very offensive minded and not bad defensively. Our power play has been better and is still improving since he’s been back.”
The improved power play has played a large role in Bakersfield’s 17-7-1-3 record since Rodberg’s return.
“It’s not just getting the shot on net, but making the right decisions,” Raymond said of Rodberg’s value to the power play. “He utilizes the ice surface. (Alex) Kim and Roddy are really good at that. They don’t waste energy. They give you a perfect pass for a one-timer and you can’t defend that.”
But even though Rodberg is happy to be playing hockey once more, the Condors may not be able to defend against his desire to join the work world.
“I don’t know, it’s up in the air,” he said on the possibility of returning next year. “I have a tough time because I did pay for my own schooling and have lots of loans. It’s kind of tough to get ahead or even stay even playing hockey. We don’t make a lot of money.
“I love the sport and love to play. It’s the best job in the world but there will come a time I’m going to have to move on.”