When talking with local high school girls’ hockey coaches, the number of participants in their programs is front and center on their minds, although the scope of the problem seems to be varied.

“We’ve got to start growing the game again,” said Cretin-Derham Hall coach Tony Scheid, noting the number of teams now cutting junior varsity programs.

Scheid said the reasons for the decline in participation at several schools are varied. The start of the pandemic in 2020 left its mark on many parents who might not have wanted their youngsters participating anymore. The high cost of ice time and equipment is also a concern.

girls hockey
CDH’s Stella Hadac and Lily Anderson battle for the puck as Stillwater’s Addison Finn closes in behind in the first period of their Suburban East Conference clash on November 15 at the Highland Ice Arena. The Ponies defeated the Raiders 6-0. Photo by Brad Stauffer

The numbers crunch has shown itself in other forms, too, as more schools are forming co-op teams in order to build stronger squads. Not only are teams from the same school districts merging, such as Irondale and Mounds View, but so are schools farther apart, such as Roseville and Mahtomedi.

Locally, the Minnehaha United co-op team dissolved after last season, and any Redhawk players have now been absorbed by Blake.  Saint Paul Academy, which also used to be with Minnehaha United, is now part of the Metro-South Phoenix, a Burnsville co-op that includes DeLaSalle, Saint Agnes, Faribault and Bethlehem Academy.

Scheid said the same sales pitch that brought about the rise of girls’ hockey as a varsity prep sport three decades ago can be employed again—that playing hockey is fun.

Saint Paul Riveters coach Allie Duellman agreed. “The numbers issue is a concern,” she said. “We lost six JV games at the start of the season” when their opponents couldn’t attract enough players to put a team on the ice. She replaced those games with other competition.

 

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“We’ve got to start growing the game again,” said Cretin-Derham Hall coach Tony Scheid, noting the number of teams now cutting junior varsity programs.

Duellman said the Riveters, a co-op team of players from Two Rivers, Highland, Central and Como, has been doing all right numbers-wise with 35 players between its varsity and JV teams. But she added that the growth of co-ops does demonstrate a numbers deficiency.

“Tartan and North Saint Paul are now a co-op and there’s no JV team,” Duellman noted. “But I think our future is bright. Our co-op seems to be working.”

New Visitation coach Tom Anitzberger said numbers are not a problem for his squad, adding that chances are very good the Blazers will add a JV program as soon as next year. 

Here’s how the shrinking list of local girls’ teams looks this season:

Cretin-Derham Hall

League: Suburban East
Previous record: 17-8-2
Coach: Tony Scheid

Key players: senior forward Lily Anderson, senior forward Meredith Anfang, sophomore forward Abby Broz, sophomore defender McKinley Haycraft.

Outlook: The Raiders have some good skaters and are quick, fast and skilled on both offense and defense. CDH opened the season with two losses, but coach Scheid likes what his team brings to the table. “We’re going to have a really good team,” he said. “Our first goal is to win our conference, but beyond that our goal is to get to the state tournament.”

Saint Paul Riveters

League: Metro East
Previous record: 14-12-1
Coach: Allie Duellman

Key players: junior forward Ella Johnson, senior defender Josie Daly, junior defender Lilly Leitner, junior forward Kate Reubish, junior forward Evie Daly.

Outlook: The Riveters have a good junior class that they hope will offset a hard hit from graduation. The defense should be particularly strong. Duellman noted that making the section finals is not out of reach. The team started out the season with a win at home over Rock Ridge and a loss away at Osseo/Park Center. “We’re looking forward to seeing who’s going to step up this year,” Duellman said.

Visitation

League: Independent
Previous record: 12-13-1
Coach: Tom Anitzberger

Key players: sophomore forward Gracia Munoz,  freshman forward/defender Abigail Hemauer, freshman forward Kate Lee, junior forward Kate Killian.

Outlook: Anitzberger has some skilled players who can skate and shoot, but the new coach said it may take some time for them to play cohesively as a unit. The Blazers started out 1-2. “We want to make sure that we click come sections,” he said.

— Bill Wagner

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