Earlier this winter, Mira Jalosuo and Greg Zanon were coaches in the Stillwater youth ranks on opposite sides of a split ice practice session. Months later, they became varsity head coaches at the high school level.
Jalosuo, a Finland-born defender who played college hockey at Minnesota, and Zanon, a Canada-born defenseman who played professional hockey for the Wild, are eager to co-author a new ice age in Stillwater.
“When he got the job, I called to congratulate him,” said Jalosuo, named in April to lead the girls' program. “I know both of us want to support each other and make Stillwater hockey one community.”
“We’re fighting for the same purpose,” Zanon said.
Both coaches seek to make their respective programs thrive. The Stillwater girls’ program won state titles in 2007 and 2009. The boys broke through and reached state tournaments in 2014 and 2016.
Both rookie head coaches plan to put their teams in the state tournament mix. And they have a similar philosophy on how best to get the job done.
“My roots as a Finnish hockey player taught me to be gritty,” said Jalosuo, 30, who won two NCAA titles at Minnesota and a bronze medal with Finland at the 2018 Olympics. “That means being willing to block shots, backchecking and outworking other teams.”
Zanon, 38, who embodied that style in 493 NHL games played from 2005-13, said, “We want to be a skating team that’s hard-nosed. We want teams to hate having to play us.”
Zanon, his wife and three children live in Lake Elmo. While some of the Stillwater hockey parents unsuccessfully lobbied for Zanon’s services, middle daughter Alayna nudged her father to get back on the ice. Helping out with the 10-year-olds led to an after-practice meeting with Matt Doman, boys’ varsity coach. That led to Zanon volunteering to help the varsity for part of the 2017-18 season, which turned into an assistant role last winter.
“This was an opportunity to get back into the team atmosphere of hockey,” Zanon said. “I don’t know that it was so much wanting to coach. But high school is a good age. You can give them as much as they can absorb and you see them blossom. And when does a job at an elite program like Stillwater going to open up?”
Jalosuo knew Eric St. Martin, director of girls’ hockey within the Stillwater Area Hockey Association, and got involved with skills training and coaching. Last season, her U12A team posted a 42-6-2 record.
Coaching the varsity means Jalosuo gets to simplify her hockey life. Last winter, while coaching in the youth ranks, she also served as assistant coach at both Wayzata, a top-10 high school program, and Hamline University, which reached the NCAA Division III championship game.
“I was all over the place,” she said with a laugh.
Restoring Stillwater’s place among the state’s elite ignites Jalosuo’s competitive instincts.
“I like the pressure to be successful in order to keep your job,” she said. “I was the same way as a player. I like the challenge.”