Girls’ hockey hopes for success with the help of a new head coach

The team is in a tough Section, but with many returning players and a new head coach, the team has high hopes.


Jessie Wille

Girls’ hockey hopes for a strong season.

Seventeen years ago, Shjon Podein was a month into his ninth NHL season that would culminate with him lifting the Stanley Cup as a member of the Colorado Avalanche. Today, his thoughts have turned to battling the likes of Edina and Blake in the ultra-competitive Section 6AA.

Last March, Podein was named the 7th girls’ varsity coach for the Red Knights. He takes over the program from Dave Herbst, who had been behind the team’s bench for 11 years.

Taking over the reins of the girls’ program is a logical step for Podein, who has spent the last several years coaching girls’ hockey in the summer, as well as the winter. “I have really enjoyed coaching girls’ hockey, and the next logical step for me was coaching at the high school level,” Podein said.

Podein, a Rochester native who now resides in St. Louis Park with his wife Sherry and their two kids, spent two seasons as the head varsity boys’ coach for St. Louis Park High School during the 2011 and 2012 seasons.

Now, he takes over a girls’ program that is four years removed from finishing runner-up in the State class “AA” tournament, losing to Hill-Murray 5-3 in the finals. Since then, the team has won just 24 games over the last three years.

The team started tryouts October 30 and, coming in as a new coach, Podein isn’t concerned with the athletes getting comfortable with his style of leading a team. “I am a very basic coach and I try to simplify the game; I want to keep an easy environment to understand and implement for the coaches and players,” Podein said.

I am a very basic coach and I try to simplify the game; I want to keep an easy environment to understand and implement for the coaches and players.

— Shjon Podein

One aspect of the team the coaches had to sort out before the season got underway was assigning captains and assistant captains for the team. After having meetings with the upperclassmen prior to the start of the season, senior Megan Truman and junior Sally Calengor were named team captains, with senior Aspen Konowalchuk and junior Maria DeCesare acting as assistant captains. “We’ll have a positive, hard-working group… other teams will know they will get our best effort every night we play,” Podein said.

The coach may be new, but there are key components to the team that will return. Senior Amanda Nylander returns as the highest returning point producer, as she finished with six goals and nine assists last year. DeCesare (10-5—15), sophomore Kensie Malone (5-7—12), and Konowalchuk (5-6—11) will bring experience to the forward group.

Seniors Truman and Maggie Sexton return on the blueline, while senior Paige Greeley, sophomore Rose Beeman and freshman Carly Greene provide the team with the most depth it has had at any position to start the season: goalie. “We’re going to play a fast and simple game. We want to make smart decisions and know what our teammate is doing before it happens,” Podein said.

A year ago, Edina was the girls’ Class “AA” state champion and Blake was the class “A” State champion. Over the summer, the Minnesota State High School League realigned competitive sections, and after Blake decided to opt up to class “AA”, both Edina and the Bears now reside in Section 6AA, along with the Red Knights, Wayzata and Cretin Derham-Hall, to name a few.

So, getting to the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul has gotten more difficult, but it is a challenge that Podein is looking forward to. “It will be very difficult, but that is the excitement of the challenge. We are in a very strong, well-coached section, and it will be fun to compete at the highest level,” Podein said.

Whether this season ends with the Red Knights playing in St. Paul in late February or not, Podein knows how he will judge if this season will be successful. “It will be all about the experience the girls have in the program. If they have a positive experience, the season will be a success,” Podein said.

Joining Podein on the bench for the varsity team will be Nick Sperides and Greg Mellang. The JV team will be coached by Katey Cowan and Molly Munson. The teams are scheduled to open the regular season on Tuesday, November 14, at Breck, but have already had scrimmages