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Girls hockey finds new head coach

A month after its head coach resigned to take a new position, the Alexandria girls’ hockey team has hired a new coach with previous experience in the program.

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Earlier this month, Blair Hovel was selected as the newest Cardinals’ head coach. Last year, the team played in the Class A state hockey tournament, and Hovel made it clear this season their main objective is a return to the Xcel Energy Center.

Blair Hovel, Alex girls hockey coach“We have a great group of girls,” Hovel said. “As long as we keep pushing towards our goals, we’ll be successful.”

Hovel has previous experience with the program as an assistant coach under Mitch Loch from 2004 to 2011. As a junior high math teacher in the Holdingford school district for the past six years, Hovel was also the head coach of the River Lakes girls’ hockey team last season.

He decided to apply for the coaching position after receiving calls from people in the Alexandria area about the opening. Hovel currently lives in Alexandria with his family, and he hopes to eventually find a teaching job in the district. Hovel graduated from Jefferson High School in 1996 and played primarily two seasons of varsity hockey at the school.

“When an opportunity arises, you’ve got to jump on it and not go through life with a bunch of ‘what ifs,’” Hovel said about his mindset when applying for the job.

He will be taking over as the head coach of a team that lost six seniors after its state tournament run.

“I know our numbers are a little low,” Hovel said. “We have about 23 girls, four being seniors, six being juniors.”

But the Cardinals are not lacking in experience. They expect to have enough returning players to be strong on both offense and defense.

“We’ve got two really solid lines, and the third line should be able to hold their own,” Hovel said. “Our defense is really strong and we have two great goalies that we will be able to put in the net and rely on.”

Two important players who graduated from last year were captains Shanee Herd and Shelby Iverson. Iverson was one of the top scorers from last season and Herd was a cornerstone defender for the Cardinals.

Without seeing the team in action, Hovel pointed to defenders Taylor Ellingson, Melissa Drown, McKenzie Revering, Lauren Niska and forward Rachel Drew as potential impact players this season.

“It’s going to be a season where we are going to have to rely on the whole team,” Hovel said. “I know last year they had Shelby and Shanee that really could step it up and take control of a game.”

In the few games Hovel saw from last season, he noticed the Cardinals were using a more conservative style of play. He hopes to coach a more aggressive attack in the offensive zone.

“They were not as aggressive as what I would like,” Hovel said. “I would like to have that aggressive style, especially if we focus on that high forward on the offensive zone so our defense can pinch and be a big impact on the offensive zone.”

Experienced goaltenders Bailey Serum and Amy Jost can give the Cardinals safety in net when aggressive play does lead to some rushes into the defensive zone.

“We have the goaltending we can rely on and they can make some key saves for us when we can be more aggressive,” Hovel said.

Besides making another run to the state tournament, Hovel said a Central Lakes Conference title is also a goal of his. He mentioned River Lakes, St. Cloud and Sartell as other teams that will be competitive in the conference this season.

“Competing in the CLC will be tough, but I think we can definitely handle it,” Hovel said.

Hovel said Brittin Boike and Mark Niska are ready to go as assistant coaches this season. They are also looking at former University of North Dakota player Ashley Secord-Holmes as another potential assistant coach.

The Cardinals’ season begins tonight, Friday, against Albert Lea at the Runestone Community Center.

Blaze Fugina

Blaze Fugina is the sports editor of the Woodbury and South Washington County Bulletin newspapers. Previously, Blaze worked as a sports editor for the Pierce County Herald and a sports reporter for the Alexandria Echo Press. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-River Falls in May of 2011. You can follow Blaze on Twitter at @BlazeFugina.

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