Sometimes they’re Cardinals. Sometimes they’re Panthers.
It depends on the week.
The girls’ hockey cooperative of Spring Lake Park/Coon Rapids, in its first season together, doesn’t have a set mascot. Instead, they trade off representing their schools.
The transition into a new co-op has been strange, coach Sandy Nelson said, but the players haven’t had any problems in the locker room. They also won their first three games.
“I can’t believe how good it’s gone in terms of attitudes, being teammates and being mature about it,” Nelson said.
Said Spring Lake Park senior Taylor Turnquist: “The transition has been really smooth.”
Their co-op formed in August with 22 players from Spring Lake Park and 12 from Coon Rapids. Spring Lake Park was previously in a co-op with St. Anthony, which has one now with Irondale. Coon Rapids was its own program and went to the state tournament three times, the latest in 2011.
“Last year we had a really good group,” Coon Rapids senior Alyssa Hansen said. “We just lost a ton of seniors. Just to lose that I think was kind of tough.”
Each team graduated 12 players last season, leaving them needing some help.
“It was a lack of numbers,” Nelson said. “It would’ve just been very hard to sustain a JV and varsity team.”
The biggest challenge of the transition has been logistics and sharing ice rinks, according to Nelson. They’ve played half of their home games at Fogerty Arena, Spring Lake Park’s home ice sheet, and the other half at Coon Rapids Ice Center.
They’ll typically swap venues for games and practices week by week. Meeting spots for away-game travel depends on where they’re practicing, to cut down on equipment shuffling. Noticeable in the transition are things like lugging equipment around and the administrative task of combining two teams and schedules.
“The biggest adjustment hasn’t been grouping two groups of girls together,” Nelson said. “Because they’ve done so well at that. It’s just giving up some of your home ice.”
They’ve tried to keep the school traditions for both the Cardinals and Panthers. For home games, they’ll keep things like lineup announcements and school songs traditional for the home school.
“It’s kind of cool that we can be a part of their traditions,” Turnquist said.
They’ll take the ice as Panthers at Fogerty, for example.
“Just the fact that they were two distinct programs, we kept everything,” Nelson said of the traditions. “I think that was the biggest key to making this transition much more smoothly.”
Though the coaches and athletic directors had a bit of a “rocky road” with the logistics at first, the players were really excited, Nelson said. Hansen said she was “super excited” because it meant a reunion with Gabby Luoma, her best friend and youth hockey teammate.
“We found out together,” Hansen said. “We were screaming in the car.”
For this season, Nelson has high expectations as the players try to work practice by practice to make sure they’re a competitive team in each game. They’ve scored five goals in their first three games, and came from behind twice to win.
“I usually don’t like to throw out ‘we want to go to state’ or ‘we want to be a top sections team,’ because I feel like saying that doesn’t work on the process of getting there,” Nelson said. “Since we’re new, we don’t really know what to expect, so we just expect to keep getting better every day.”