Brookings Rangers sign hockey director for 7 years
Team wants to make success a tradition.
Brookings Rangers hockey director Justin Kirchhevel signed
a new contract
with the program
for the next seven years.
By Josh Linehan
The Brookings Register
BROOKINGS — The Brookings Rangers have a goal, and it goes beyond spreading the game of hockey, past winning games — above winning state championships, even. The Rangers want to do all of those things, don’t misunderstand. But they want all of those things — and more — as a matter of tradition.
And tradition doesn’t graduate.
That driving philosophy is what Justin Kirchhevel brought home to Brookings with him to
become the hockey director five years ago. And that’s the idea he remains focused on, and why he signed a new 7-year contract to remain hockey director for the Rangers.
“When I came back from Fargo, it was with the goal of getting Brookings to this point, and now we’re looking at sustaining it and building it out,” Kirchhevel said in an interview with The Register.
Hockey remains an independent sport in South Dakota, supported by parent-run organizations.
Hockey directors are rare in the state. But you cannot argue with the results.
“It takes some of the emotional factor out. And it allows us to keep the same structure from
year to year and from team to team, and I think you can see that in the kids. And the coaches.
We’re on the same page, and we know the way we want to play hockey,” he said.
“The players are going to have the same language, the same context from level to level, and
that allows us, too, to retain coaches, to develop players.”
Kirchhevel coached the boys varsity team to the last three straight state titles, but has taken a step back from the bench this season to focus on overseeing the program as a whole. Brookings hasn't missed a beat. The boys varsity team is unbeaten and heading toward the top overall seed at the state tournament.
In fact, across six boys age groups this season — Varsity, Junior Varsity, Bantam A, Bantam B, Pee Wee A and Pee Wee B — the Rangers are a sparkling 60-7.
That kind of success and a plan to make it sustainable is why Brookings Ice Skating Association Board President John Kahle wanted to lock Kirchhevel up through the spring of 2031.
“I have spent 13 years on the BISA board, and we used to have board meetings that went five, six hours. Now we can get done in 90 minutes. It’s just been really, really good for BISA. You can lose a lot of drama when you can have one hockey director making the hockey decisions.”
The impact goes well beyond the board room. On the ice, the Rangers at all levels play fast, are tough to score on and are disciplined, taking far and away the fewest penalties in the league year after year.
“Honestly, it was an easy choice to make to sign Justin on long-term. You have someone who was part of past success here, who came back because he wants the program to be successful, and who will certainly get offers elsewhere, but wants to be here, most places don’t have that,” Kahle said.
Kahle also mentioned Brookings’ success since Kirchhevel’s return, including the boys state
titles, a girls state title last season, numerous league and state titles up and down the ranks and two appearances at nationals, with a runner-up finish last season.
All that success has stacked up with Kirchhevel at the helm — but also with nearly all coaching positions staffed by former Rangers players.
“When you look at all that and then add the structure, the discipline, the success off the ice, the health of the whole organization, and now the kids going off, having success at the next level. We’re lucky to have that in Brookings.”
In his time as director, Kirchhevel has seen the organization take big strides forward, including the implementation of the yearly Hot Hockey Nights fundraiser, the establishment of the performance center at Larson Ice Arena and the establishment of an endowment for the program.
That has allowed the program to keep registration costs low — likely the lowest in the state — which in turns keeps the Rangers' numbers at the youngest levels high. Success begets success.
Kirchhevel said the Rangers are planning a late season “Try Hockey For Free” opportunity for
local kids, set to be promoted at the Varsity State Tournament in Brookings.
It's all part of the plan to bring kids into the Rangers fold — to make playing hockey the thing to do in Brookings — and then keep them there when their hockey careers are over.
“We have had a ton of success and now we really are trying to continue the traditions. Continue the tradition,” Kahle said.
“It allows us to grow the culture, too. To bring back players to be coaches, all the coaches we have who are former players, we benefit from that so much. It allows us to be one
organization,” he said.
“I want kids to love it like we loved it. I want them to be able to move on if they want to, and I want kids to continue to come back. There’s so much pride in being a Brookings Ranger. I have a passion for that. I want to see it succeed just like all the former players want to see it succeed. I want them all to be able to do it like we did it.”