Girls Hockey: Veteran roster, veteran coaching staff should be a boon for first-year head coach

The Brainerd/Little Falls Flyers will start their season Thursday, Nov. 11 on the road at Buffalo.


It might not be the easiest job to step into as a new head coach, but the pieces are there for a breakout inaugural season for Tate Rusk.

The new head coach for the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors surrounded himself with talented assistants as well as a roster full of returning talent.

His first move was bringing back former Warrior girls hockey coach Jim Ernster as his defensive assistant. He then retained the talents of Alex Hirsch to handle the offense. Finally, he persuaded former Little Falls Flyers boys head hockey coach Tony Couture to come out of retirement and coach his goalies.

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“Jim and I kept a good relationship after he left and I just had a good idea that he was still interested in coaching,” Rusk said. “I contacted him if he would be interested in helping me out and he talked it over with his family and got back to me within three hours. He’s all in. He’s been a great help. Alex is the mom of this hockey team. I’m not sure if she would love me saying that, but she is the person inside that locker room and out. She’s a forward guru. I’m just so fortunate to have these guys in the locker room with me.”


Rusk, Tate.jpg
Rusk, Tate

Couture will handle a stable of talent in net as juniors Breya Sawyer and Emily Johnson both return for their third varsity seasons. Sawyer finished 10-4-1 with a .938 save percentage and a 1.23 goals-against average.

Johnson finished 3-1-0 with a 0.72 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage.

Should an injury occur, freshman Ericah Folden is coming off a successful varsity tennis season and could be ready to go on the ice.

“Having Tony Couture as your goalie coach takes a lot of stress off your back with his experience,” Rusk said. “I have a lot of confidence in our goalie coach as well as all three goalies.

“It’s nice having Emily and Breya knowing that they both have had some experience. Tony is liking what he is seeing. I’m liking what I’m seeing from all three. We went to Minneapolis over the weekend and all three got some varsity reps. I would say all three are looking pretty good. Breya and Emily both had a great Saturday.”

Breya Sawyer


Ernster was the head coach when the Warriors went on their state final run in the 2018-19 season. This year, he’ll handle the defense, which is led by junior Lucy Peterson and seniors Riah Stroot and Reagan Aus.

“The girls have a pretty good idea of where they stand in the section. We handed out goal sheets the other night and I think we’ll be pretty happy with the responses we get from the girls.”

— Tate Rusk

“Riah and Reagan will offer that senior leadership and we’re excited about some young girls,” Rusk said. “It will take some time for them to understand the game. For Jim to take over the defense is another stress release.

“Lucy is only a junior and that’s the first thing Jim said when he got back. I had to double-check my old roster that I had because she’s been around forever. She’s been on the varsity since eighth grade. She was playing in the state tournament as a forward and that just goes to show that she can play it all. She’s a great veteran and also has some of the best hockey vision I’ve seen on the girls’ side. It’s great to see the number 11 next to her name in the program and not 12.”

Peterson finished with a goal and six assists last year. Stroot added two goals and three assists and Aus tallied two assists.

Sophomores Abby Woog, Julia Wheeler and freshman Aubree Caauwe will look to fill out the defensive rotation.

“When I look back at our defense, I feel pretty comfortable right now,” Rusk said. “Depthwise we’re going to need our younger girls to jump on board and really adapt and get ready for some fast learning. But those three girls do a good job of on-the-fly thinking. I feel pretty confident in our back end, but there is always room for improvement.”


Brainerd will not be light on scoring. Junior Macy Peterson was tied for the team lead with 20 points coming off nine goals and 11 assists.

“The Mace Dog. That’s what the girls call her,” Rusk said. “She played all 19 games and she was in a lot of the action last year. If someone would ask me who the first girl on the ice is every day I would sell the farm and say, Macy. She beats me to some meetings, which is kind of funny.”

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Senior Brynne Folden was third on last year’s team with six goals to go with five assists.

“Brynne has been extremely great for us,” Rusk said. “I was fortunate to see her as a young coach early in her career. I could tell this girl has got it all. She was a good skater. She understands the game and there is a reason we named her our captain this year. I’ve heard nothing but great things from (Warrior tennis coach Lisa Salo) about her dedication and leadership.”

Brynne Folden.

Folden’s 11 points were tied by junior Molley Polhlkamp and sophomore Peyton LeMieur.

“Mo Po, (Molly Pohlkamp) is another girl who just makes you sometimes put your hand up to your mouth because she’ll score an unbelievable goal at practice and it’s just the way she finishes around the net,” Rusk said. “Last Saturday, she did a tremendous job of finding the soft ice in front of the net and finishing. She’s very professional at a young age. She has good habits. You’ll see her on the stat sheet a lot.


“Peyton is a girl that immediately brings a smile to my face. She is asking questions and she knows that and sometimes I need to tell Peyton to go play hockey. That’s just who she is and I respect the heck out of that. She’s prepared and wants to know what she needs to do to get the job done.”

Molly Hagelie finished with five goals and five assists. Senior Avery LeMieur collected four goals and two assists.

“Molly is a great forward for our program,” Rusk said. “I heard a lot of buzz around her being an impact player and that’s what she’s been doing in our program. She’s a multiple-sport athlete. Her and the LeMieur girls go to a lot of soccer camps and it’s funny because I’ve been there too as a multi-sport athlete, but now as a coach, you do understand a little bit of the nervousness about the girls going to play soccer on the weekend. You just have to go, ‘Oh, have fun and please be careful.’ At the same time, you respect the heck out of these athletes playing multiple sports. I’m a big fan of that.”

Kendra Couture has not hit the ice yet as she’s still swimming for the Flyers girls swimming and diving team, but she’ll figure into the mix upon her return.

Playing the utility role early in the season will be junior Josie Kappes. She tallied four goals and two assists.

“She played in all 19 games last year,” Rush said. “If I could multiply her by 20, I would love it. When the coaching staff has any doubt, we just ask can we put Kappes there? She’s just a junior right now, but it’s phenomenal what she brings to the table as far as her professionalism and her work ethic. I tell anybody who will ask me about her, they’ll ask ‘who is that little 22’ and I just say ‘she’s not little and she runs on diesel.”

Last season, the Warriors fell to Alexandria 2-1 in three overtimes in the section semifinals. Prior to last year, BLF played in four straight section finals.

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Among section opponents, BLF will face Alexandria, Moorhead, Roseau, Sartell/Sauk Rapids and the St. Cloud Crush twice during the regular season. Bemidji and Buffalo are on the Warrior schedule once.


“We would love to have that game back from last year, but Alex has a great program and goes to show you what kind of section this is when a three seed goes to state,” Rusk said. “That’s nothing on Alex because they’re a great hockey team. The same with Roseau. I would put us in that mix again. We’re going to be competing every day. Win or lose, my thing I preach to the girls is that we’ll be the hardest working team on the ice.

“The girls have a pretty good idea of where they stand in the section. We handed out goal sheets the other night and I think we’ll be pretty happy with the responses we get from the girls.”

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or Follow on Twitter at

2021-2022 Girls Hockey

Head coach: Tate Rusk (first year)
2019-20 record: 6-2-1 CLC, 13-5-1 overall
Captains: Brynne Folden, Josie Kappes

Assistant coaches: Jim Ernster, Tony Couture, Alex Hirsch, Reno Fussy, Jed Rusk


Warrior roster

Seniors: Riah Stroot (defense), Reagan Aus (defense), Brynne Folden (forward), Avery LeMieur (forward)

Juniors: Breya Sawyer (goalie), Emily Johnson (goalie), Lucy Peterson (defense), Macy Peterson (forward), Molly Pohlkamp (forward), Molly Hagelie (forward), Kendra Couture (defense), Josie Kappes (defense, forward), Sam Galbadores (forward), Sienna Swanberg (forward)

Sophomores: Abby Woog (defense), Julia Wheeler (defense), Peyton LeMieur (forward), Mercedes Engstrom (defense), Olivia Miller (forward), Brenna Schultz (forward), Ashlyn Stroot (forward), Brooke Adamek (forward), Hannah Neuwirth (forward)

Freshmen: Ericah Folden (goalie), Aubree Caauwe (defense), Kristina Baillif (forward), Brianna Finnegan (forward), Brynne Thoma (forward)

Warrior schedule

Thursday, Nov. 11: at Buffalo 7 p.m.

Nov. 16: Moorhead 6 p.m.

Nov. 19: Rogers 7:15 p.m.

Nov. 20: at Minnetonka 2 p.m.

Nov. 23: Sartell/Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 2 River Lakes 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 3: at Duluth Northern Stars 7 p.m.

Dec. 4: at Duluth Marshall 3 p.m.

Dec. 7: St. Cloud Crush 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 10: Wayzata 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 14: at Grand Rapids/Greenway 7 p.m.

Dec. 16: at Sartell/Sauk Rapids 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 18: Roseau 4 p.m.

Dec. 21: Bemidji 7:15 p.m.

Dec. 23: Willmar 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 7: Elk River/Zimmerman 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 11: at Alexandria 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 13: at River Lakes 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 15: At Warroad 3 p.m.

Jan. 18: At Willmar 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 20: at St. Cloud Crush 7:15 p.m.

Jan. 22: at Roseau 4 p.m.

Jan. 25: at Moorhead 6 p.m.

Jan. 31: Alexandria 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 8: Fergus Falls 7:15 p.m.

Feb. 12: Section 8-2A Quarterfinal

Feb. 15: Section 8-2A Semifinal

Feb. 18: Section 8-2A Final

“The girls have a pretty good idea of where they stand in the section. We handed out goal sheets the other night and I think we’ll be pretty happy with the responses we get from the girls.”

— Tate Rusk

Covering the Brainerd lakes area sports scene for the past 23 years.
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