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Hoops hired as Raptors girls hockey coach

East Ridge High School announced the hiring of Tony Hoops as its first girls hockey coach on Monday, May 3.

Yes, ERHS activities director Trent Hanson was thinking that too.

"'Tony Hockey' may have been more appropriate, I guess," he said.

However, Hoops is a serious hiring and the new coach is earnest in his desire to make the Raptors a bellwether program in the seasons to come.

"I believe whole-heartedly in East Ridge's approach to the student-athlete and the development of the student as a whole," said the 50-year-old Hoops. "The opportunity to be a part of this and to be the first girls hockey coach in school history -- getting the program off on the right foot and putting it on the map -- is a tremendous opportunity that I look to make the most of."

If the name Hoops sounds familiar to local hockey fans, it's because he was standing behind the opposing bench for the first game in East Ridge boys hockey history as the Raptors hosted St. Francis in the first game in team history on state-wide television last December.

Hoops coached St. Francis, a team that became known to many a Minnesota hockey fan because of the efforts of Joey Benik, who broke the state scoring record in Hoops' first season at the helm.

"That was really something to be a part of," Hoops said.

However, the new ERHS coach did more than just watch slack-jawedly as the Benik brothers -- Andy Benik was also the St. Francis goaltender. The former Marine and graduate of Robbinsdale Armstrong High School also helped guide Fighting Saints to a 36-16-2 record after serving as an assistant coach for the Bethel University women's hockey team for two seasons during which the Royals earned a best-ever record and a top-10 Division III national ranking in 2005.

"I'm leaving a good situation in St. Francis for the opportunity to come to a better one," he said.

Hoops, a teacher for the past 18 years and currently teaching reading and special education at St. Francis Middle School, moved with his family -- including wife Dawn and children Tony and Jenna -- to Woodbury from Savage three years ago.

The twin children are now second-graders at Liberty Ridge Elementary and Hoops said the chance to be home earlier was also a factor in him pursuing the East Ridge position.

"Now, I get to end my day where I live," he said.

Hanson noted that while a teaching position for Hoops has yet to be secured, there is mutual interest between East Ridge and the coach.

"We're doing our homework into the possibility," Hanson said. "Not only is he a first-class hockey coach, but he is also a big believer in developing his players as students, which makes him a great fit for East Ridge."

For Hoops, the undetermined status of a faculty role in the district did not deter him from accepting the position when it was offered.

"This is an exciting place to be and I didn't even have to wait when the position was offered," he said. "I think I'm in the right place at the right time."

The new coach even relished the chance to step into an area that hasn't exactly been known for its girls hockey successes at the high school level since the sport came into being in the mid-1990's.

"What's past is past," he said. "I like the opportunity and the challenge. We're going to create a culture that fosters a positive attitude and a respect for what we represent in the community. We'll work hard, train hard and have fun doing it.

"If the past is like what it was, it'll make for a better future."

East Ridge has scheduled a "meet-and-greet" session with Hoops for Wednesday, May 12, beginning at 6:30 p.m.