Kristen Harsha recently received a surprise delivery package on her home patio.
“I wasn’t sure what it was, but it was raining that day and the package was a little wet,” she recalled.
Harsha was surprised when she opened the box with a plaque inside.
She was selected the Section 6A high school girls’ hockey coach of the year as a first-year head coach last winter with the Northern Lakes Lightning, a team composed of skaters from Pequot Lakes, Pine River-Backus and Crosby-Ironton high schools.
“I had no idea,” Harsha said of the award. “They announced all the section winners at a coaches’ meeting this fall, but they skipped over our section for some reason. I forgot about it until a week later when I received the plaque. I’m not the type of person who gets excited about awards, but it was pretty cool.”
Harsha does connect the honor with the direction of the Lightning girls’ program, which kicked off the 2013-14 season against Moose Lake-Willow River on Tuesday, Nov. 12.
“The (section coaching) award is more for what the girls did last year,” she said. “We’re going in the right direction. And our goal this year is to build off last year.”
Last season, Northern Lakes finished with a winning record (13-12) and won their division for the first time at the Schwann Cup tournament in Blaine. The Lightning’s season ended with a close 3-1 loss to Fergus Falls in the section semifinals.
Northern Lakes does lose four All-Mid-State Conference players who graduated from last year – including top goaltender Kat Jensen, defenseman Morgan Demars (a PR-B graduate) and top-scoring forwards Kaylyn Eggena and Alex Palm.
“We have a strong core group of leaders, and we have good team dynamics,” Harsha said. “Quite of few of our players attended hockey camps during the summer, and we also did some team bonding activities.”
Harsha said that bonding will help motivate the Lightning to “win close games” this season. That will be important with a challenging schedule to open the season.
“We start with a big rival in Moose Lake, which we lost a couple of close games against last year,” she said. “We have a tough schedule to start out, but we’re playing a full schedule for the first time. It’s exciting because teams want to play us.”
Overall, Harsha said her squad features players with “different” types of skills. On offense, she looks for balanced scoring from three forward lines.
“With the mix of girls on our lines, we will be able to produce a lot of goals,” said Harsha, who added that all-conference honorable mention forwards Mariah Reed and Megan Snyder are top returning scorers. “But I like the balance of all three lines.”
Harsha is optimistic about the core group of defensemen, which includes junior Hannah Zimmerman, also an all-conference honorable mention pick last season.
“We’re working on things for the power play,” she said. “And I like the heavy shots we’re taking from the blue line.”
As for goaltending, junior Madison Galligan and senior Haley Duesch return after backing up Jensen last season.
“The girls are excited that this could be our year,” said Harsha, adding that Alexandria and Fergus Falls are again section favorites.
Abby Kephart and Kelly Carlson are assistant coaches while Northern Lakes has added Joey Bergquist as goaltending coach. Bergquist is currently playing goalie for the Breezy Point North Stars’ junior team.