Girls Hockey: Defending section champion Warriors can't take any foe lightly

When the puck drops for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors opener at Cloquet Tuesday, Nov. 13, every opponent will be aiming to beat BLF. That's what happens when you're the defending Section 8-2A champion Warriors, who have played in two-straigh...

Brainerd/Little Falls Warrior Cheyenne Abear skates with the puck during practice at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch
Brainerd/Little Falls Warrior Cheyenne Abear skates with the puck during practice at Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd. Kelly Humphrey / Brainerd Dispatch


When the puck drops for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors opener at Cloquet Tuesday, Nov. 13, every opponent will be aiming to beat BLF.

That's what happens when you're the defending Section 8-2A champion Warriors, who have played in two-straight section finals and return 15 players from a squad that was the first Brainerd team-girls or boys-to advance to the Minnesota State High School League tournament. After capturing Central Lakes Conference and section titles in 2017-18, the Warriors finished 23-7. At state, they lost to top-seeded Edina 4-0 in the quarterfinals and 4-3 in overtime to Andover in the consolation semifinals.

But that was then. This is now. "This has been my philosophy all along-If you look too far forward, then you're going to trip over whatever's right in front of you," Warriors coach Jim Ernster said. "(The week of Oct. 28-Nov. 3) we started focusing on having a good Monday practice, then having a good Tuesday practice, making sure day in and day out we challenge these girls each day. Then everything else will take care of itself. If we don't leave the rink knowing that we've challenged them at the level they need to be challenged at, that's when problems start to develop.

"Last year doesn't help us this year. We need to certainly do what helped put our girls in that position, but there are no guarantees. To start with, they need to make sure they're listening to voices in that locker room, blocking out any and all distractions and come to the rink ready to work. If they can do those three things, we will give ourselves a chance to compete each game."


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Brainerd Warriors

  • Head coach: Jim Ernster 10th season (2002-03 through 2006-07, 2014-2019)
  • Career record: 133-96 (.581)
  • 2017-18 record: 9-1 CLC, 23-7 overall, CLC champion, Section 8-2A champion
  • Captains: Olivia King, Ella Kalusche
  • Assistant coaches: Toby Kvalevog, Sandy Smith, Carl Sneep, Alex Citrowske, Tate Rusk

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Even with so many veteran players, Ernster said the Warriors need to cultivate depth. Returning players aren't guaranteed roster spots and newcomers will have an opportunity to compete for a position.

"One thing we know is we're going to have injuries and illness," Ernster said. "You're always going to be looking for depth with your forward group and your defensive group. Those players, maybe just a month from now, you will notice consistent play out of whoever that will be in practice and in games. That starts to push someone who's in front of them.

"You can't necessarily predict if it's going to be a defenseman that stands out or a forward that stands out, but we want to recognize players who are consistent and make sure we find a place for them to play."

Following is a position-by-position look at the Warriors:




Senior Olivia King returns for her fifth varsity season. As a junior, she split time with the graduated Nicole Schulz.

King finished last season with a 12-4-0 record, 1.875 goals-against average and 0.913 save percentage. She will be backed up by eighth-grader Breya Sawyer.

"Olivia right now is the clear No. 1," Ernster said. "Breya has done a nice job. She came up last year as a seventh-grader and put in a lot of time listening to (goalie coach) Toby Kvalevog. Toby does a great job of adapting to his players. He doesn't try and impose a goaltending style. He looks at the athlete, builds on their instincts and their skill set.

"Breya has done a nice job continuing to grow into the position. There's not a harder position to play by far especially when you're that young. She has shown a lot of maturity. We have a lot of confidence in her ability to get better. We know we will be fine there on down the line."



All-conference players Gabbie Smith and Cheyenne Abear return.


Smith, a junior entering her fourth varsity season, led the team in scoring with 15 goals and 39 points. Abear, a 2-time all-conference selection, led the team in goals (20) and was second in scoring with 34 points.

Senior Abby Pohlkamp contributed 13 goals and 22 points, Ella Kalusche 10 and 18, Olivia Wiskow 8 and 18, Lindsay Booth 5 and 19, Josie Kramer 2 and 9 and Shaylee Stroot 0 and 2.

"Certainly our offensive aspect is something other teams are going to have to be able to adjust to," Ernster said. "For us, it's just about depth. We want to feel confident in playing three lines. If we can sprinkle in a fourth line from time to time, that's a bonus. Depth makes you that much more dangerous because you wear teams down.

"But there's a lot of teams that still go two lines. Over the course of 51 minutes, we have the advantage. Once we get past the halfway mark of any game, we're confident in our ability to wear teams down. That's going to create offensive chances. The amount of pressure that our forwards put on the defense leads to turnovers. Then you're going back the other way.

"They used to say about the Edmonton Oilers in the 1980s the best defense is a good offense."



Sophie Robinson, a 2-time all-conference defender, returns for her junior season. She tied Pohlkamp for third on the team in scoring with 10 goals and 22 points.

Others back on the blue line include Emma Booth (5 goals, 10 points), Emma Smith (2-5), Marre Welinske (1-6), Jenna Nieman (3-9) and Taylor Larson (1-7).

"All of those girls played a significant amount for us," Ernster said. "Obviously we have reason to be confident having all six back. That gives you an opportunity to build upon what you did last year so we're not spending a lot of time introducing new stuff as much as we are reinforcing previous stuff. And you can add more complicated stuff.

"(Assistant coach) Carl (Sneep) has some different ideas about some things he wants to do to take this group to the next level. You have that opportunity when you have that many girls coming back."


Warriors schedule

Tuesday, Nov 13, at Cloquet 7:30 p.m.

Friday, Nov 16, at Alexandria 7:15 p.m.

Monday, Nov 19, at St. Cloud Icebreakers 7:15 p.m.

Saturday, Nov 24, at Minnetonka 2 p.m.

Tuesday, Nov 27, at River Lakes 7:15 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec 4, Moorhead 5 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec 11, at Sartell/SRR 7:15 p.m.

Friday, Dec 14, at Roseau 6 p.m.

Saturday, Dec 15, at Warroad 2 p.m.

Tuesday, Dec 18, North Wright County 7:15 p.m.

Thursday, Dec 20, vs Alexandria at Little Falls 7:15 p.m.

Friday, Dec 21, Bemidji 5:30 p.m.

Wed-Fri, Dec 26-28, at Edina Tournament

Friday, Jan 4, at Grand Rapids 7 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan 8, vs. St. Cloud Icebreakers at Little Falls 7:15 p.m.

Friday, Jan 11, at Thief River Falls 7:30 p.m.

Thursday, Jan 17, Sartell/SRR 7:15 p.m.

Friday, Jan 18, Roseau 4 p.m.

Tuesday, Jan 22, at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Friday, Jan 25, Eden Prairie 7:15 p.m.

Saturday, Jan 26, Buffalo 3 p.m.

Monday, Jan 28, at Willmar 7:15 p.m.

Thursday, Jan 31, at Moorhead 7:30 p.m.

Section 8-2A

Feb. 7, play-in game

Feb 9, quarterfinals

Feb 12, semifinals

Feb 15, championship


Warriors roster:

Seniors: Olivia King, Ella Kalusche, Cheyenne Abear, Chantrelle Thayer, Marre Welinski, Olivia Wiskow, Abby Pohlkamp

Juniors: Sophie Robinson, Gabbie Smith, Lindsey Booth, Shaylee Stroot, Jenna Nieman, Emma Smith, Georgi Aus, Josie Kramer

Sophomores: Taylor Larson, Emma Booth

Freshmen: Avery LeMieur, Riah Stroot, Reagan Aus, Brynne Folden

Eighth-graders: Breya Sawyer, Macy Peterson, Lucy Peterson

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