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Girls Hockey: Former Warriors to face off in opener

Jim Ernster and Jason Johnson were Brainerd High School classmates and teammates in Brainerd Warrior football, hockey and baseball. They still talk on a regular basis. On Thursday, they will be adversaries behind their respective benches, Ernster...

New head coach of the Brainerd Flying Warriors Jim Ernster talks to his players at the Essentia Health Sports Center this week. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls
New head coach of the Brainerd Flying Warriors Jim Ernster talks to his players at the Essentia Health Sports Center this week. Brainerd Dispatch/Steve Kohls

Jim Ernster and Jason Johnson were Brainerd High School classmates and teammates in Brainerd Warrior football, hockey and baseball.

They still talk on a regular basis. On Thursday, they will be adversaries behind their respective benches, Ernster as head coach of the Brainerd/Little Falls Flying Warriors and Johnson as head coach of the North Wright County River Hawks, when their teams open the season at Albertville.

"Coaching against a former teammate and friend always adds another fun element," Ernster said. "Jason is a very good coach, having spent time with the SCSU (St. Cloud State University) women's program, so we know they will be prepared.

"Whatever the outcome, one of us will have to listen to it for the next 12 months."

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Flying Warriors

  • Head coach: Jim Ernster sixth season (2002-03 through 2006-07)
  • Career record: 62-58-7 (.517)
  • 2013-14 record: 0-11-0 Central Lakes Conference, 2-23-0 overall
  • Captains: Maddie Ellingson and Brooke Mimmack, Heather Smart (assistant)
  • Assistant coaches: Steve Ebinger, Taylor Demuth, Whitney Joyce, Todd Dahl

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Ernster returns to the head coaching ranks after spending the last seven years as an assistant with the Warrior boys program. He was the Brainerd girls head coach for five seasons (2002-03 through 2006-07), two years before the Warriors joined forces with Little Falls. During his girls hockey tenure, the Warriors went 62-58-7 (.517).

The Flying Warriors will drop the puck after only eight practices. Official workouts began Oct. 27.

"It's a bit of a concern," Ernster said of the short practice time, "but at the same time I told the girls and the parents we're more concerned where we're at in January than where we are now. We need to put a lot of effort into preparation. Whether we play Thursday or next Tuesday we will prepare the same way.

"Honestly it's a chance to see where we're at after eight practices so it's not a bad thing either."

Ernster takes over a program that has won just eight games the last three seasons.

"The only thing we can control as coaches is to make sure we have good practice plans in place to communicate with the girls exactly what we're doing in drills or in installing the system," he said. "We have to make sure day in and day out we get better each day. All of that will put the team in position to compete and win some games."

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His first Flying Warrior team will be youthful (just three seniors) and lacks varsity experience. But some of the girls have experienced success at the youth levels and Ernster hopes that transitions to the Flying Warriors.

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

• Forward

This position appears to be a team strength as juniors Brooke Mimmack and Maddie Ellingson return. They're the leading returning scorers, Mimmack with five goals and six assists and Ellingson with a team-high eight goals with three assists.

"We will rely on those two quite a bit," Ernster said. "We're also returning Mariah Lennander and Heather Smart, and we've seen a lot of good things from younger girls like Ally Smith, Megan Tschida, Brooke Watland and Sidney Berg."

Lennander played in 25 games with five goals and nine total points. Smart played in 24 games with a goal and assist.

"Everything starts in practice. We're looking to Maddie and Brooke to be hard-workers in practice so as we install our system those girls will need to lead the way, but they've got to transition that to the games.

"They will have to be hard-workers in every game. Everyone has to learn from that and feed off that especially with such a young team."

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• Goal

Eighth-grader Olivia King, freshman Callie Barthomolaus and junior Fallon Yates are battling for playing time. Yates played 19 games and 278 minutes last season, compiling a 2-3-0 record.

"I think we're going to look for contributions from all three," Ernster said. "After a week of practice, it's pretty early to say who's going to go where. Olivia and Callie are coming to us with some pretty good youth stats under their belts. They will get as equal a shot as Fallon."

• Defense

No defensemen return from last season. Top candidates for playing time are junior Ellie Riitters, sophomores Kennedy Rusk and Mara Roberts and freshman Grace Schulte. Ernster said freshman Elaina Christiansen and Melissa Anez are in the Flying Warriors' top six so far.

"A lot of these girls were well-coached at the 14-U level," he said. "We're looking, especially early on, to rely on that experience. It's going to be a baptism by fire for them. We have a game Thursday. It's a great opportunity to learn.

"One thing we're stressing is to go out and make mistakes and learn from those mistakes. Then you'll be better as you go on throughout the season."

Warriors roster

• Seniors: Mariah Lennander (W), Heather Smart (W), Kalee Nelson (W)

• Juniors: Elizabeth Riitters (D), Brooke Mimmack (W), Maddie Ellingson (C), Fallon Yates (G), Calihan Yliniemi (C)

• Sophomores: Mara Roberts (D), Kennedy Rusk (D), Allyson Smith (C), Abigail Thelen (W), Megan Tschida (W), Brooke Watland (W), Halee Reichenbach (W), Kiera Schweitzberger (W)

• Freshmen: Callie Bartholomaus (G), Elisha Burnard (C), Cregyn Demarce (W), Logan Linhardt (C), Mekenzie Saari (W), Grace Stockard (W), Cambria Venne (W), Melissa Anez (D), Sydney Berg C, Gretchen Brau (W), Elaina Christiansen (D), Katie Orth (W), Grace Schulte (D-C)

• Eighth grade: Olivia King (G)

Warriors schedule

Nov 6, North Wright County at Albertville

Nov 14, River Lakes 7:15 p.m.

Nov 18, Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Nov 21, at Princeton 7 p.m.

Nov 22, Crookston 3 p.m.

Nov 25, River Lakes at Richmond 7:15 p.m.

Dec 2, Sartell/Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.

Dec 4, at Willmar 5:30 p.m.

Dec 12, at Thief River Falls 7:15 p.m.

Dec 16, Alexandria 5:30 p.m.

Dec 18, Moorhead 7:15 p.m.

Dec 19, at Roseau 4 p.m.

Dec 20, Bemidji 1 p.m.

Dec 29, St. Francis 7:15 p.m.

Jan 3, at Grand Rapids 7 p.m.

Jan 6, at St. Cloud Ice Breakers 7:15 p.m.

Jan 8, at Moorhead 7:30 p.m.

Jan 13, at Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Jan 15, at Sartell/Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.

Jan 16, at Bemidji 7:30 p.m.

Jan 20, Northern Lakes 7 p.m.

Jan 23, Wadena-Deer Creek 7:15 p.m.

Jan 29, at Alexandria 5:15 p.m.

Feb 3, St. Cloud Ice Breakers at Little Falls

MIKE BIALKA may be reached at mike.bialka@brainerddispatch.com or 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark .

Related Topics: GIRLS HOCKEY
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