RFHS head hockey coach asked to step down

By Joe Peine
Posted 4/3/24

The River Falls High School’s hockey program that made it to the Frozen Four in the state tournament this year for the second time in history will be looking for a new head coach after Cam …

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RFHS head hockey coach asked to step down


The River Falls High School’s hockey program that made it to the Frozen Four in the state tournament this year for the second time in history will be looking for a new head coach after Cam Wilken was asked to step down last week, to the chagrin and confusion of many.

In just three seasons, Wilken rebuilt a program which has historically not been very competitive and led them to a berth in the state tournament last month. This was the team’s first trip to state since 1997 and only the second time in the long history of the program that they’ve gotten there. There are a lot of questions about why this is happening, but few answers at this time.

What is known is that an unsigned letter, ostensibly from parent(s) who did not wish to be identified, was dropped off anonymously at the high school for Athletic Director David Crail. Crail then met with other members of the staff behind closed doors and a decision was made to ask Wilken to resign, which he did on Friday.

In response to this, the other members of the coaching staff have turned in their resignations as well, including Brian Amundson who will remain with the team so the players have some sort of guidance through the coming months until replacements are chosen.

“As you have probably seen in articles and news stories in Minnesota, a few parents can dictate an administration into making a great coach resign. It is now happening here in River Falls,” Amundson said. “I am not sure where to go from here, but we’re talking about a young coach who has taken a broken hockey program and turned it into a respected and winning program in three short years only to be thanked by being asked to resign.” 

In this case, Amundson postures that because it was anonymous, there is no way of checking if anything written was true.

In addition to having the support of other coaches at River Falls High School, coaches of other programs in the conference have written letters in support of Coach Wilken including New Richmond’s head coach, John Larson.

“From my understanding, an anonymous letter was sent voicing concerns. This seems to be the

pattern in River Falls. As mentioned, people get upset, want a new coach, and the cycle continues,” Larson said. “From many outside hockey perspectives, jumping in to be a head coach in River Falls is a challenging one. I think anybody who takes this job in the future needs to be warned of this pattern. I am hoping that this doesn’t carry over into other sports within River Falls as well. To me it’s interesting that nobody would sign their name. In this case, I wouldn’t put much merit into an anonymous letter.”

Matt Ellis, the head coach of the Menomonie Mustangs, says the River Falls hockey team has become a better program under Wilken’s helm.

“He has been able to bring a positive attitude and culture to the program, which has grown every year into a respectable and formidable appointment. Playing River Falls in the past was tough. A lot of dirty players and defiance towards the coaching staff. I believe that Cam has been able to change the culture since he has been there,” Ellis said. “I don't believe parents should dictate how the coach runs the program. As long as he keeps the kids safe and is able to teach the boys how to play the sport and to be good young men, then he is doing his job. I believe that he is a good coach and should stay with the program.”

Somerset’s Head Coach Dan Gilkerson says that he is very disappointed to hear that Wilken has been asked to resign.

“I personally have been a part of the coaching staff at Somerset for the past 21 seasons and Cam is the seventh Head Coach that River Falls has had during that time. From what I have witnessed, I do not believe that River Falls HS should be looking for an eighth coach. They should stick with Cam,” Gilkerson said. 

Coach Gilkerson says he saw things under the previous coaching regimes that have been far and away better under Wilken’s stewardship.

“Players were very disrespectful to the game of hockey, their own coaches, officials and the opposing team’s players and coaches. It was quite frankly embarrassing,” Gilkerson said. “As a young coach, Cam has done an exemplary job in changing the culture with this program and growing with it. The change from year 1 until now is very noticeable. River Falls High School should be proud of what their boys’ hockey program has become. They now have respect in the hockey community, and I am not even talking about wins and losses.”

Somerset’s coach says he believes the school needs to stand up to the parents who wrote the anonymous letter.

“It is the coach’s job to decide who plays and in which situations and what the curriculum is. Not everyone is going to like it, and this is true for every hockey team in the state,” Gilkerson said. “This should not even be a conversation with parents. Who is going to want this job if the school doesn't support their head coach? I support Cam and believe he should 100% without a doubt be reinstated as head coach of the River Falls High School team.”

David Crail, the athletic director for River Falls High School, was tight lipped when commenting.

“Coach Wilken has resigned from his position of Head Boys Hockey coach for the district. We thank him for his efforts and leadership in guiding our program for the past three years,” Crail said. “Out of respect for the fact that this is a personnel matter, I have no further comment at this time.” 

No one else close to this story wished to be interviewed on the events that transpired, and the packet is not being released to anyone not specifically named in the letter. Even then, Amundson says that although he is not personally named, the other coaches that are mentioned in it are having a difficult time getting a copy as well.

What is known right now for sure is that River Falls High School will be looking for an entire staff of coaches to take the helm before next season including what will be their third head coach in the past five years.

As for the rest of the program that went to state last year, the certainty stops there. Unfortunately, it’s the kids on a team who were hoping to vie for a state title again next year that are caught in the middle.

Cam Wilken, head coach, resignation, River Falls High School, boys hockey, River Falls