by Jake Schroer
SUN PRESS NEWSPAPERS
The 2012-13 season ended on a bittersweet note for the North Wright County Riverhawks and their head coach Jason Johnson.
The team finished the season 24-6 with a perfect record against section teams. The Hawks recorded three straight shutouts to win the section crown and advance to the state tournament, where they suffered two losses on the way to finishing the season at the Ridder arena rather than the Xcel Energy Center.
Johnson enters his second year as head coach of the Riverhawks. His coaching experience ranges from STMA boys hockey to the St. Cloud State womens hockey team. A repeat trip to state involves making due without the top three forwards from last year’s team (Dani Sibley, Rachel Heiber, Maddi Sjelin).
Johnson said his key players on this year’s team include senior captains Kaleigh Hamann and Emily Achterkirch, who additionally played on a state tournament team as freshmen.
“Obviously they are critical to our success,” he said. He also singled out senior goalie Alex LaMere and another senior captain, Mackenzie Johnson. Returning underclassmen include Rachel King, Marina Chapman and Greta Stanton.
Despite losing his three top scorers from last year’s team, Johnson said the goal this season is the same; win the conference, win the section, and try to win state. He said the team has a bunch of older players without a lot of experience, rather than a lot of freshmen and sophomores.
“We do have some freshmen who have stepped in and started played for us, but we expect them to kind of join those older girls and kind of follow their lead,” he said.
Johnson said there are a couple of early games on the schedule that feature teams ranked highly in the state. These games, he said, will help give his team some experience. In terms of rivalries, the Hawks consider Buffalo a big one. The Bison moved into the same section as the Hawks for this season.
“It is absolutely crazy because it doesn’t matter what the season records are for either team at that point of the season,” he said. The biggest margin of victory he can remember is a 4-0 Riverhawks win last season. Otherwise, the games are typically decided by one goal or two.
Johnson’s favorite part of coaching is the teaching aspect.
“One of the gratifying things I get out of coaching is just being able to teach and watch the growth of all of our players and student athletes.”
Johnson spotlighted King as a player to watch, mentioning that she had an excellent fall with the STMA cross country team.
“She’s a player that has a tremendous amount of tools,” he said, highlighting her physical play and her ability to play at a high level consistently.
NWC’s goal is to set itself up to play its best hockey in February when the section playoffs begin.
“Our goal as a team is to get better each and every week. At the end of the day, that scoreboard might not tell us we won a game, but are we improving? Are we making progress as a team? Are we growing as a team? Are we learning from past mistakes?”
Johnson hopes a tough schedule can help his team accomplish those goals.
Riverhawks fall to Buffalo 4-2
The Riverhawks traveled to Buffalo for the renewal of a big rivalry. The Hawks left with a 4-2 loss to the Buffalo Bison.
About two and a half minutes into the game, Lindsay Finnerty scored on an assist from Rachel King for a 1-0 Hawks lead. Not too long afterward, Buffalo evened the game on a Abby Halluska goal.
Ashley Effertz gave the Bison a 2-1 lead on a power play goal later in the period. Finnerty then scored again to tie the game at 2 (assists from King and Felicia Mix). Buffalo capped the scoring frenzy with a Madi Jewell power play goal that gave Buffalo the lead for good.
The Hawks pushed to reclaim the lead, but Rylan Bistodeau scored a power play goal to give the Bison a 4-2 lead, which would be the final score.
Buffalo outshot the Riverhawks 50-22.
Head coach Jason Johnson cited his team’s inexperience after the game.
“For our girls, it’s probably an event a lot of them haven’t been in so they get a little bit out of their element,” he said. Johnson was proud of how his team played, even though things did not go the way the girls wanted. The Hawks gave a valiant effort, he said.
The Hawks also tied St. Francis/North Branch 0-0 on Friday night. Alex LaMere made 18 saves in the scoreless tie.
The Hawks play a pair of home games tomorrow night against Roseau and Saturday against Thief River Falls.