Young program just keeps reloadingJon Holmes was a freshman in high school when Farmington played its first season of Minnesota State High School League girls hockey in 1995. He was a sophomore the last time the program had a losing season.
By: Matt Steichen, The Farmington Independent
Jon Holmes was a freshman in high school when Farmington played its first season of Minnesota State High School League girls hockey in 1995. He was a sophomore the last time the program had a losing season.
Farmington has become one of the top prep girls hockey programs in the state since then, winning Missota Conference championships in 1999, 2001, 2002 and 2003 and qualifying for the state tournament in 2002, 2003 and 2007 under longtime head coach Keith Revels. The Tigers, after amassing a 218-85-10 record in 12 years under Revels, didn’t skip a beat when Holmes took over as head coach of the team in the fall of 2007. They went 19-9-2 and won their first game at the Class AA State Tournament at Xcel Energy Center before finishing fourth in the eight-team field.
Despite losing a solid group of seniors from that team, the Tigers were able to come back with a lineup comprising primarily freshmen and sophomores and post a solid 16-9-2 campaign that ended with a dramatic 4-3 loss to eventual section champion Lakeville South in late February. Only two seniors — Brittany Braatz and Laura Dahl — are gone from that squad and 13 letter-winners return, meaning Farmington will once again — as it has most years since the late ’90s — feature a young-yet-experienced lineup that has realistic goals of challenging for championships in both the Missota Conference and Section 1AA.
“It says a lot not only for hockey at Farmington, but for the youth programs that do a nice job of promoting the girls and getting them out to skate,” Holmes said of the program’s ability to reload with talent. “The numbers down at U12, U10, U8 are always pretty good and you always have a consistent group coming up. We’re a strong hockey community and hopefully we can continue to be that way.”
Just four of the Tigers’ 13 returning letterwinners are juniors or seniors, but all four will play key roles. Lone senior Angie Schull will anchor the defense and juniors Hannah Alexander, Krystal Baumann and Emily Severson were the team’s top three goal-scorers a year ago. Among the rest of the returners there are five sophomores, three freshmen and an eighth-grader.
“Our outlook is promising,” Holmes said. “Everyone that’s returning was in a starting role or playing some important role for us last year. We’re still young and the next two years should be building years, but they should be competitive building years.”
The scoring ability of Baumann and Alexander is one of the reasons Holmes is confident his team will stay in the mix. Each scored 25 goals last year, helping the Tigers finish second in the conference with an average of 3.4 goals per game. Holmes expects the tandem to be even more successful this year as they will play on the same line more often.
“(Baumann and Alexander) learned how to work together last year. They’ve always been fantastic friends, but they’ve never gotten to play on the same line together,” Holmes said. “Last year they started to more at the end of the year and they had a lot of points their last four or five games together. Coming into this year there are high expectations for them to lead the team points-wise and a good supporting cast will do their job too.”
Other forwards that will see plenty of ice time include Severson (11 goals, 8 assists), freshman Haleigh Zwart (5 goals, 7 assists), sophomore Sydney Schoenecker, sophomore Grace Gavin (3 goals, 8 assists), eighth-grader Haley Doll and sophomore Adrienne Jolicoeur. Freshmen Ally Midboe and Kaylene Seurer could also see time at the forward spots.
On the defensive end, Holmes is expecting Schull (3 goals, 10 assists) to be backed by the young, dependable trio of sophomore Betsy Anderson (2 goals, 5 assists), sophomore Molly Friedlund and freshman Rachel Peroutky (7 goals, 9 assists). Eighth-grader Bri Donnelly is among several young players who could see time on defense for the Tigers.
The defense will be playing in front of goaltender Jessica Erchul, who will take over between the pipes full-time after splitting time with Braatz the last two years. Erchul, now a sophomore, emerged into the state spotlight as an eighth-grader with a 1-0 shutout victory over heavily-favored Eagan in the opening round of the state tournament. She ended up going 7-4-1 last year with 242 saves in 12 games.
“This is Erchul’s spot. She’s going to fill this role wonderfully,” Holmes said. “She’s grown up a lot, matured a lot this year even over last summer. She’ll step up and it’ll be her spot all year long to impress.”
Erchul was in the net for last year’s section loss to Lakeville South. The road through Section 1AA and back to the state tournament will likely travel through Lakeville North and South, as well as Rochester Mayo, as all three teams return talented young players, according to Holmes.
“South is young again and North has a group of girls that did really well in the U12 arena coming in, and Mayo has a lot coming back, as well,” he said. “Section 1 is going to be tougher than it has been in recent years, so it is anyone’s game right now. I’d say we have as good of a shot as anyone else.”
The Tigers open the regular season on Tuesday with a 7:15 p.m. home game against Winona at Schmitz-Maki Arena. The team is home again Thursday night against Missota Conference rival Prior Lake.