Jack Freeman is coming back home as new head coach of the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors girls' hockey team. Activities director Charlie Campbell announced Friday that Freeman, a 2007 Brainerd High School graduate, will take over the Warriors' program after spending the past seven seasons coaching girls and boys hockey at River Lakes (Cold Spring area).
The 30-year-old Freeman replaces Jim Ernster, who resigned as coach in March after guiding B/LF to its best finish in program history last season when the Warriors reached the Class 2-A state championship game and finished 25-5-1 overall.
"I was cheering for (the Warrior girls) at state," Freeman said. "(Brainerd) has always been home to me and I've identified with the Warriors. I emailed Jim (Ernster) a week after state to congratulate him on the amazing season. And then a week later I saw in the newspaper that he was stepping down. He really did a nice job with the girls' program (compiling a 158-101-1 record over 11 seasons)."
Freeman has also done an admirable job of coaching the River Lakes hockey program, according to Campbell.
"Rocori loved Jack, and they're devastated to see him go," he said. "That shows the impact that he had in his years with River Lakes. Seven schools make up the (River Lakes) hockey cooperative, and Jack was able to manage a program with all of those schools. He also helped River Lakes be competitive in communities where hockey isn't the main winter sport (like Cold Spring, Paynesville and New London-Spicer). Those are big basketball and wrestling communities, but Jack was able to carve out some high-quality hockey seasons."
Freeman, who played two seasons of varsity hockey with the Warriors, earned his degree at the University of St. John's in Collegeville. He was a student teacher in the Rocori school district and became a full-time elementary teacher at Rocori, and eventually coached middle school football and golf. With the girls' hockey program, Freeman was an assistant coach for a season before becoming head girls' coach for three years. He then switched to coaching with the River Lakes boys' hockey team and served as an assistant for one year and head coach the past two seasons.
Last year, River Lakes finished 14-13 overall after losing to St. Cloud Cathedral in the Section 6A playoffs.
"I want to thank the Rocori community for putting their faith in me, even when I didn't have coaching experience," Freeman said. "I will forever be grateful."
Freeman will also be teaching at Baxter Elementary School, where he attended grade school.
"It really has been a trip down memory lane," he said. "My wife, Kayelee (Gill), is from Brainerd and will also be teaching at Baxter Elementary."
Freeman's understanding of the influence that he has as a coach in unparalleled, according to Campbell.
"His passion (for coaching) has been evident throughout the (hiring) process," he said. "We're excited to have Jack on board, and bring him back home. He will be a tremendous asset as a coach and teacher."