New school, new team, new start
When coaches Stacy Anderson and Corbin Schmidt were put in charge of the Woodbury-East Ridge cooperative girls hockey team, they were told it could be a difficult task to get the girls to see themselves as a cohesive unit in their first year.
But, although team unity has been an important emphasis in the early going, the bonding of the two schools has been a piece of cake.
"During the interview process, I don't know if they were trying to scare us or what, but the whole time we were thinking we were in one here and that we had our work cut out for us," Schmidt said. "Obviously the girls can play hockey, but the part we thought would be tough has actually been very positive. It's gone really, really smoothly so far."
Leading the effort, along with the coaching staff, are team captains Alexa Jacobsen of Woodbury and East Ridge's Sam Greeley and Clare Shaw.
To choose this year's captains, before the season began, the coaches distributed a questionnaire to each player in the program, which listed questions about who in the program had the best leadership qualities.
Anderson said the results were overwhelmingly in favor of Jacobsen, the team's senior captain, and assistant captains Greeley, a junior, and Shaw, a sophomore.
"That made it pretty easy for Corbin and I to decide, because it was pretty obvious who the team looked up to," Anderson said.
Anderson, who played college hockey for the University of Wisconsin-Superior, and Schmidt, who played collegiately at the University of Alaska-Anchorage along with four years of minor league hockey in the St. Louis Blues organization, know that hockey is one of the most team-oriented sports.
"Team chemistry is huge," Anderson said. "No matter how good your players are, if they don't get along, it's going to be an awful season. We're big on making sure they get along and respect each other.
Growing up in California, Anderson played on a team that gathered players from a number of areas, but she said it was nothing like Minnesota hockey, where girls play together from when they're 5-years old.
"I don't know what it feels like for them," Anderson said. "But, from a coaching staff and leadership standpoint, we're going to do the best we can to make sure it's Royal Raptors. We don't treat anyone differently depending on where they're from. This is one team."
Jacobsen, who is playing her fourth year of varsity hockey, said the transition has been easy.
"Of the girls I didn't know before this season, it's like they've been here the whole time," she said. "We get along really, really well."
Jacobsen joked that the only difficult thing has been coming up with a pre-game team cheer.
"We just kind of go with the simple 'go team' cheer," Jacobsen said. "Coach Stacy has really been emphasizing that we're one team. We're not East Ridge, we're not Woodbury, we're the Royal Raptors."
Instead of starting the season with an annual tournament in Grand Rapids, the team journeyed to Breezy Point in a charter bus two weekends ago for a series of scrimmages. But, perhaps more important than the games themselves, was the time the team spent together off the ice.
"It was just a time for the girls to get to know each other away from parents and coaches," Anderson said. "We played some hockey up there too, but it was mainly a team-bonding trip. They built campfires, cooked smores and that kind of stuff. It really helped, especially with the younger kids and new kids to this program. In my eyes it was a success."
However as important to the coaching staff as team chemistry is hard work. The team has a banner in its lockerroom stating "It's hard to beat a team who never gives up." That message is constantly reiterated to the players.
"I feel like if you have girls with a lot of work ethic you can build around that, regardless of talent," Schmidt said. "If they work, they'll get talented. We 'go for a skate,' as we call it, at least once a day. That's going to help us in the long run. At the end of games, we're hoping to have a little more energy in the legs than other teams."
Jacobsen said the increased level of conditioning is just one of many things that are different this season.
"It's so much different than last year, it's like a new start," Jacobsen said. "Everything has been going great. We're doing really well, everything is running really smoothly and we're getting along really well."
Anderson said she felt the program hasn't been successful in the past, but that the team was also never treated like a successful program, which never allowed the team members to believe, to have hope and to feel confident in their abilities.
"Corbin and I are going to treat the girls like professionals," Anderson said. "Everything we do for them and with them is like they've always been one of the most successful programs. We treat them like that and, in return, they treat us like that -- they work hard, they listen, they respect us.
"Those girls work so hard and they're finally getting shown appreciation for it. The girls don't care how much we know until they know how much we care. They know we care about them. In return, when we have something to say, good or bad, they'll listen."
Jacobsen said the girls team has been constantly compared to the Woodbury boys program, which has won section and conference championships the past two seasons.
"Knowing a lot of the guys on the boys team, we've wanted what they've had," Jacobsen said. "We just want to gain more respect from the Woodbury community -- we haven't really had that in the past. We're a new team -- we're different. We're working harder, we're more focused and our competitiveness is a lot greater.
"Coach Stacy cares about us and wants us to have everything we need to be successful. We finally have someone that really, genuinely cares about us and wants us to do well."