One month before the puck drops on high school girls hockey at Rochester Mayo and John Marshall, the new head coaches have one thing in common: for certain: neither has any idea what he's getting into.
Bart Grafstrom and Rory Vesel were announced Wednesday as the first head coaches of the varsity girls hockey programs at Mayo and JM. It's the first head coaching position for both young men.
A historic moment in Rochester sports will take place tonight at Graham Arena.
The first girls varsity hockey games will be played, starting with John Marshall taking on Owatonna at 5:30 p.m., followed by Mayo vs. Minnetonka.
Gaul, the second-year coach for the John Marshall girls hockey team, likes the way his young team has been looking in the first couple of weeks of practice. He especially likes the talent in his younger players.
While their jerseys may be red and black, the John Marshall girls hockey team is a little green this year. But they will be aided by an infusion of purple.
The Rockets are in the midst of a reconstruction period after losing nine players to graduation and gaining new head coach, Terry Meyers.
Outlook: The Rockets lost last year's premier player Jenny Conzemius to graduation. The rest of the team put in quality ice time over the summer. Meyer sees a three-way contest between the Rockets, Mayo and Owatonna for Conference championship. "We're going to give everybody a fight for the marbles," Meyers said.
Tennie McCabe and Jennie Hocum are leading the Rockets squad. As a senior, McCabe is averaging a goal a game. Hocum has recently moved from defense to forward, and is also finding the net with ease. John Marshall is sitting at .500 this season, and is positioned in the middle of the Big Nine Conference.
Outlook: Last season the Rockets were 14-10 overall, and one key player -- albeit quite key -- graduated. "Our strength is probably our defense, but we have enough scoring to keep us in most games," Meyers said. The Rockets have played one game already this season.
Outlook: Coach Meyers says the team is young, but quick, with some veterans in key places. He says the prospects look good and the team should be much-improved over last year.
John Marshall girls hockey coach Terry Meyers has really been pleased with the way his team has kept the score down this year. But he would like to see the offense bloom.
Rochester John Marshall/Century/Lourdes girls hockey coach Jim O'Brien is stepping down as the team's head coach.
This winter the Rochester John Marshall/ Century girls hockey team co-head coaches will be Jon Weiberg and Ron Gill.
Lakeville scored early and often against John Marshall/Century, which was not able to match Lakeville speed and depth.
John Marshall finishes the season 13-12-1
The Big Nine Conference ADs have made a decision to no longer accept the JM/Century co-op, which combines two Class AA- sized schools.
A Minnesota State High School League policy states that if one athlete from a school is in a co-op with another school, then all athletes from the school must be in the same co-op.
The Rockets lack experience as only five John Marshall and three Lourdes players have varsity hockey experience. The team has eight eighth-graders. A large chunk of the season will be spent learning how to play with each other, according to first-year coach Steve Russell.
Coach Russell: “We expect to improve upon last year’s record. We will be solid on defense, but we will need to find new sources of scoring in order to come out on the winning side of close games this season. We are still a relatively young team, but expectations are in place for us to improve year in and year out.
The Rockets suffered losses to section foes Farmington (2-0), Mayo (11-0 and 6-2), Owatonna (4-2 and 7-2) and Dodge County (3-1 and 4-1). They beat section opponents Century (5-0 and 5-0), Dodge County (3-1) and Winona (6-1 and 2-1). Rockets goalie Michelle Bonapace-Potvin is one of the area’s best. She has a .922 saves percentage with a 3.58 goals-against average. Marissa Bruesewitz is the team’s top scorer with 11 goals and six assists. Eleanor Lemish and Michelle Steege have eight goals apiece. Lemish is out with a broken arm suffered in the last meeting against Mayo, the team’s first-round opponent. Senior captain Clara Nellans has missed most of the season with a back injury. Coach Steve Russell: “We have had to overcome a lot of adversity this season, and the same will hold true on Friday against Mayo. The girls always get fired up to play against Mayo, and they will be playing with a nothing-to-lose mentality."
oach Russell: “There is plenty of potential for this team with all of the young talent coming aboard. Once the program begins learning how to win games, the sky is the limit. There are many experienced and talented teams in the conference and even more so in the Section. Even with so much turnover in players from last year, the program is looking to take the next step. The players put in the time in the off-season and seem to have their blinders on and focused on hockey."
Coach Russell’s thoughts: “The team shows a lot of promise this year. Many top players are returning and new players will contribute immediately, giving us more depth than we have had in the past."
Coach's comments: "I'm looking forward to a very entertaining season of hockey. We were on the wrong side of a lot of close games last season. This year we are looking to take the next step. Girls hockey continues to improve in the region, which causes every game to be challenging and exciting. I'd highly recommend taking in some high school girls hockey games this winter, you will not be disappointed."
Montrose said he's coming into a great situation at JM/Lourdes, with the Rockets making tremendous strides the past few seasons. He's also excited to continue developing the girls game here in Rochester.
Coach Montrose's thoughts: "(We) return 19 players and are capable of playing competitive hockey. We will look at our efforts early on as our measuring stick and try to continue to learn from game to game. Once we get the team approach and combine that with a lot of determination, we should be a pretty well-balanced team that will be capable of playing with most teams. We don't have the high-end players, but we do have a mix of some very skilled girls who can step up and lead the way. We are able to play our entire roster and use depth as a strength. We have a few girls who we will look to lead the way scoring and we have a good crop of defensemen who will be able to contain the opposition. Our goaltending could be one of the best in the Big Nine Conference with Erin Meyers, Brittany Arthur and Mia Bruesewitz all capable of playing great in goal. They will compete for the chance to play all winter long. ... The girls made it a goal to dedicate themselves to the program all summer long and those efforts are paying off now. They have a very positive outlook on the season and bring that excitement to practice every day. We are hoping to generate a lot of excitement for not only the JM/Lourdes fans, but for all fans of hockey in Rochester and hope to lead the way in providing some entertaining hockey for all to see."
The culture of our hockey program is changing and the girls are starting to embrace the new direction. We have a great group of girls who have put in a lot of time during the offseason to improve their game and the team is optimistic that the efforts put into the process will in turn produce some great outcomes.
JM/Lourdes also had some lean years when the programs split. The Rockets' turnaround started a few seasons ago, and new coach Bob Montrose has helped accelerate that progress. JM/Lourdes went 18-9-0 last season, and the Rockets also figure to be better in 2013-14.
...you could see the Rockets playing competitive hockey with the top teams and perhaps playing in contention for a Big Nine title at the end of the season.
Thompson has much more than just a vicious slap shot, though. She's an elite two-way defenseman, whose poke-checking and defensive zone awareness make her virtually impossible to bamboozle in one-on-one situations. Thompson also possesses the nifty playmaking skills required to create opportunities on the offensive end.
Coach Montrose's thoughts: "We are very excited for the 2014-15 season as we have a solid lineup with strength in goal, on the bluel ine and up front. Although our numbers are low, we feel we have the right mix of players to find success. We did gain a valuable year of experience and that should help some of our key players hold the puck more and make better decisions. In goal we have two of the best in Melissa Zinser and Sophia Hyke. They will push each other and give us the confidence to take more chances on the offensive side of the puck. Our defensemen are very solid and confident and will not only defend well, but get involved offensively. Tori Thompson leads the way on defense and has all of the tools to be a Division I hockey player. Brooklyn Birdseye, Katie Montrose and Emma Christensen are very solid players as well. Kate Valentine should be a leader up front again as she has performed very well in practice and usually finds a way to finish her scoring chances. ... Our girls are working hard and enjoying their time at the rink. They put in more time during the offseason and are hopeful that those efforts show this season."
Coach Montrose's thoughts: "We are very excited for the season as we have a young, but solid lineup with strength in goal, on the blue line and up front. We feel we have the right mix of players and a great team approach to find success. We did gain a valuable year of experience and that should help some of our key players hold the puck more and make better decisions. In goal, we have two of the best in the state in returners Melissa Zinser and Sophia Hyke. They, along with newcomer Clare Brunn, will push each other and give us the confidence to take more chances on the offensive side of the puck. Our defensemen are very solid and confident and will not only defend well, but get involved offensively. Katie Montrose, Brooklyn Birdseye and Emma Christensen lead the way on defense and will find support from returner Emily Bowron and newcomers including Mara Dealing and Lindsey Angst. Up front Rebecca Freiburger, an Ohio State University commit, and Renee Saltness could prove to be two of the top 10 forwards in the state. Both were top forwards last season. Sarah Montrose, Sam Jones, Brooke Hansen and incoming forwards Ashley Koehler and Ally Halverson will add some scoring punch and round out the top unit of forwards. ... Our girls are working hard and enjoying their time at the rink. They put in more time during the offseason and are hopeful that those efforts show this season. If they can maintain a positive team-first approach and with a smile on their faces you could see the Rockets playing competitive hockey with the top teams and perhaps playing for another Big Nine title and section championship at the end of the season. The Rockets have won back-to-back Big Nine Conference champions and are on a current two year undefeated streak in conference play. The home opener is on Nov. 12 against New Prague and we will have our alumni from last season back to help raise the second girls hockey conference championship banner into the rafters at the Rec. Center."
"I find it very exciting; it's almost like a new season," Freiburger said. "It creates a lot of intensity and lots of emotion, which is very fun."
Freiburger has invested her youth in becoming a top-flight hockey player, from playing with mostly boys in Rochester Youth Hockey's Termites level at age 5, to becoming the all-time leader in goals for JML.
Freiburger set the single-season mark with 41 goals last season, and now she has over 70 career goals which is also a program record.
"I played defense from (age) 10 until junior year," she explained. "A coach on my (summer) triple-A team thought I should give forward a try, and it worked out pretty well for me."
Freiburger and junior Renee Saltness, who already owns the JML records for points in a season and career, have given the Rockets one of the top offensive tandems in the state the last two seasons, according to JML head coach Bob Montrose.
Outlook: The Rockets will rely on a veteran-laden team as they look to build on back-to-back Big Nine Conference championship seasons. JM/L went 15-2-0 in conference play and 16-10-0 overall last season. They lost standout forward and second-leading scorer Rebecca Freiburger (52 points) to graduation — she now plays Division I hockey at Ohio State — but they return some strong offensive players both up front and on the blue line.
JM/L, which is 46-2-1 over the past three seasons in conference play, will be led by last year's leading scorer, senior forward Renee Saltness (31 goals, 55 points), who will play Division I hockey at Quinnipiac University. The Rockets also have two more 30-point producers back, in senior forward Sarah Montrose (31 points) and junior defenseman Katie Montrose (35). Coach Montrose said senior defenseman Brooklyn Birdseye, sophomore forward Ally Halverson and a newcomer, senior forward Jenna Gillund, will add some punch to the Rockets' lineup. Behind them, junior goalie Sophia Hyke posted impressive numbers last season (8-1-0, 1.35 GAA, .938 save pct.).
The senior forward is faster than ever, but also infinitely stronger. She credits endless weight training for that. So when she collides with someone these days, they know it. And to Montrose's chagrin, so also do the referees.
"Renee is very solid," Montrose said. "She goes after pucks. Sometimes I tell her to back down a little bit, because when (she goes flying in there) kids fall or lose their stick. And then there's a penalty."
Division I next
That kind of physicality will play much better next year, when Saltness is a freshman at Division I hockey power Quinnipiac University in Hamden, Conn. For now, though, she's left trying to proportion her on-ice passion, speed and power into something manageable for the Rockets.
The 2001 Rochester John Marshall grad is heading home in a way. Chapman was named the head coach of the JM girls hockey team on Thursday.
"I'm just excited to get going," he said on Friday. "I took the last year off and realized how much I missed it.
"I'm ready to get back to my roots. I graduated from JM, played there (under then-coach Aaron Neurer) and my parents still live five blocks from the school."
The Rockets will head into a new era next school year. The co-op between JM and Lourdes ended when the Rockets lost to Dodge County in the first round of the Section 1AA playoffs in February. Those schools will each put their own teams on the ice come October.
"I feel one of our strengths will be our leadership from top to bottom," Chapman said. "We have a group of players who are willing to go the extra mile for each other. We have a strong returning group as well as some incoming players who will make an impact on and off the ice. The girls have been working extremely hard and are excited to have our own identity."
“We are hoping one of our strengths this year is our D,” coach Josh Chapman said. “We have Lauren and Josie returning this year. They had great first high school seasons last year. Mara took a couple years off but is back and will help us out back there. Alix Gary is also a good strong D who came to us from playing U12 last year.”
Up front, the Rockets’ top line of Ally Halverson, Ashley Koehler and Greta Freed will once again be expected to provide scoring. Those three led the team in scoring a year ago, combining for 40 goals and 65 points.
“Our top line will be strong for us if they can stay healthy,” Chapman said, “and our second line – Alyssa Kang, Morgan Sammon and Kinsey Torgrimson – will be solid, as well, with all three players being returners.”
Halverson is not only the Rockets’ least penalized player, she’s their leading scorer and is likely on the ice more than anyone on the team aside from goalie Anysia Heimer.
The fourth-year varsity regular has quietly piled up points in bunches this season, and throughout her career. She has 34 goals and 51 points this season for the 5-20-0 Rockets, who face rival Rochester Mayo at 7 p.m. tonight in a first-round game of the Section One, Class AA playoffs.
“It’s crazy how fast the last four years went,” Halverson said. “It feels like just yesterday I was a freshman dressing (varsity) for the first time.”
John Marshall is gaining steam. JM won twice in its first 20 games. The Rockets’ continued hard work is paying off late, though, as they won three of their final five regular-season games. Gustavus-bound senior Ally Halverson was outstanding during that five-game stretch, scoring 10 goals and adding four assists.