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Tuesday, February 27, 2024
HomeCommunityNorth Shore Girls Hockey Celebrates Senior Surge

North Shore Girls Hockey Celebrates Senior Surge

When I went to look for a North Shore Storm Girls Hockey high school senior or two to interview before their Senior Night game, I hit the jackpot. Out of the eight players graduating this year, I found four of them at the arena early. I interrupted them from watching the JV game. Introducing myself, I asked if any of them would be willing to talk with me for a few minutes. In true team fashion, they all gath­ered, ready to talk as a unit. Two more members of the group were summoned via text. The other two were on the ice. (JV is short; a couple players and varsity players rotate to fill in.)

Most of these girls from Two Harbors, Silver Bay, and Grand Marais have been skating as a unit since they were 10 and 11 years old. There was a disappointing break during COVID and also a year where the girls were shifted around as they entered 7th grade. Katie Carpen­ter and Brooke Velcheff went to play JV for the Silver Bay Mariners while the rest played for Two Harbors. The following year they were back again, with Katie and Brooke able to show the others the ropes for the JV team. All of them were overjoyed to be able to be reunited.

To have eight players graduate together is a record for the North Shore Storm girls hockey team. A lot of this is due to their loyalty to each other and the game. Before they were on the same team, they were playing on co-ed teams. Katie was often on a team with her brother, Ju­nior Jacob Carpenter.

“When Katie started playing with these girls, that’s when she fell in love with hock­ey,” said Katie’s mom, Leah Carpenter. Liv­ing in Grand Marais at that time, Katie wanted to move closer to her teammates. “Most teams will lose people along the way. Not everybody in 7th grade is going to play as a senior. That’s why this group has persevered. Because they want to be together.”

They described themselves as sisters. Lily Benvie mentioned, “We all know how to push each other’s buttons. In a good way.” Lily will graduate with her AA and major in pre-med and minor in biology to become an anes­thesiologist.

They are having a hard time believing that they are seniors and reflecting on some favorite memories. The one they came out of the gate with? Beating the Cloquet Lumberjacks for the first time in North Shore Storm girls hockey history. Brooke brought up Secret Santa and there was mention of a pogo stick that made everybody laugh. Brooke will be going to St. Mary’s College to play softball.

Though the day was meant to put a spotlight on the seniors, the girls wanted to share it with their parents. The massive amount of sup­port and time hockey parents put in to allow their kids to play is undeniably extensive. Out­side of all the logistics involved in getting kids to practice and play games, parents are responsible for much of the fundraising and staffing of games. The girls described them as “the back­bone” of the team. “This is as much their night as it is ours,” Katie said.

The Storm’s seniors also spoke of the support they’ve gotten through the years with great coaching staff, with a special call out to their current assistant coach, Steve Graden. “He’s our person,” said Kinsey Komarek.

Coach Graden has been coaching for 27 years. He’s been coaching this group of seniors since they were in 6th and 7th grade. “I’ve fol­lowed them through,” Coach Graden said. He was their 12U coach, moved up to coach them through junior varsity, and then stayed on for their senior year.

“I definitely wanted to see them finish out. I think they all have great futures in front of them. They’re hard-working, dedicated young ladies and I couldn’t be more proud of them,” said Coach Graden.

As for the captains of the team—Harper Powell, Kinsey Komarek, and Katie Carpen­ter—Coach Graden said, ‘I couldn’t ask for three better leaders on the team. They’ve been awesome.’

He has appreciated being a coach for youth athletes, finding it rewarding to win their re­spect and watch them grow into young adults. “The game has made them all grow up. That ex­perience is just going to make them better peo­ple. The things that they’ve learned in hockey will help them in their adult years, committing to a team and following it through,” he said. “There’s lots of ups and downs in all the years they put into hockey and for them to stick it out, there’s something to be said about that.”

There’s a lot to be said about it. It’s clear within minutes of talking to the seniors that they enjoy each other. “We all get along,” they said. It’s obvious, as well, that they have a blast together, especially when you look at the pic­tures posted online taken by Harper Powell’s dad, Rich Powell. As a former photojournalist, Rich takes some amazing pictures of these girls scoring goals, making saves and kicking butt, but also plenty of silly pictures like when the girls are making faces together on the bench.

“They are very supportive of each other. It’s through endeavors like hockey or anything where kids are learning to work within a struc­ture and learning that hard work pays off,” Rich said. “The lessons they learn are hopeful­ ones they stick with.”

Rich took the opportunity to “dad brag” while I talked with him, and he has every right to. Harper was 65 saves away from 2000 when he checked in. With a few games left of the regular season, the milestone is within reach.

Harper, who has committed to Hamline Uni­versity to play hockey, expressed thanks to her coaches and added her goalie trainer, Derek Peterson, to the list. The Two Harbors Youth Hockey Association has hired Coach Peterson to provide goalie instruction on Fridays. Harp­er has attended multiple camps coached by Derek over the years. Rich called Coach Pe­terson both “instrumental” and “invaluable” to Harper’s development. Harper herself said, “I would not be the goalie I am without his sup­port.”

Her dad, like the seniors, is having a hard time believing that this is the last season of their high school careers. “They’re a great group,” he said. “It’s hard to even think that Harper’s almost done and I won’t be able to be part of that family as much as I am right now. It’s certainly been a blessing for us.”

Another blessing the girls made sure to express is the support they’ve gotten from the community. “We want to thank the community and ev­erything they do for us,” Lily said, mentioning the turnout at the Pour the Shore fund ­raising event held last fall at the Moose Lodge in Two Harbors.

They took time to thank each other, too, for sticking through it all, being there for each other, and being each other’s champions. They said they have plans to stay con­nected after graduation and it’s easy to believe that they will follow through. After all, they’re the first to have played as an all-girl team from 10U on.

These days, all-girl teams are becoming more prevalent. The influx of girls interested in hock­ey can guarantee a bright future for women’s hockey as a whole. “It actually kind of makes me a little emotional,” admitted Lily, who has mentored younger players. “I think it’s the coolest thing ever.”

“I think it’s a special thing that we’re right at the epicenter of girls hockey,” Harper said, speak­ing of the recent formation of the Professional Women’s Hockey League. “It’s on the up and up. I think it’s really cool to play in its early stages.”

There is a ninth senior on the team gradu­ating this year. Anne Groeneveld has been a tremendous help to the team as their manager. She assists with the equipment, records stats, and much more. “She is a huge help taking care of things behind the scenes,” said Coach Gra­den. “There are a lot of moving parts that go into a team, especially when traveling.”

Many moving parts abound, indeed. From the parents who become hockey moms and dads, to the coaches that are there to help develop their players in more ways than just on the ice, to the fans who come for the action and line up at the concession stands, to the community that comes to the games and donates funds and volunteers time to help in any way they can, to the players themselves who stick together and work and play to be the best they can be for themselves and for each other. Somehow, the moving parts have been built into a well-oiled machine. It’s a game, but it’s also a way of life and the North Shore Storm Girls Hockey se­niors have counted themselves blessed to have been a part of it.

Congratulations to the seniors and best of luck in your future endeavors!

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