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Hockey: Academy growing and running smoother

Lakes Hockey Academy enjoying an improved second season.

Mitch Mclean Hockey Camp
A player in the Lakes Hockey Academy shoots the puck at the goal Wednesday, July 20, 2022, at the Essentia Health Sports Center.
Steve Kohls / Brained Dispatch
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BRAINERD — One could argue it’s already paid off.

After the first summer of the Lakes Hockey Academy at the Essentia Health Sports Center in Brainerd, the Brainerd/Little Falls Warriors girls hockey team surprised a few by advancing to the Class 2A State Tournament under first-year head coach Tate Rusk.

While the girls' hockey program was already on strong footing, the extra offseason work provided by former Brainerd Warrior standouts Mitch McLain, Cole Smith and Joey Frazer likely helped. At least that was the thoughts of three returning players in Molly Pohlkamp, Lucy Peterson and Peyton LeMieur

“I think it will be a really good boost again this year because we know how far we can make it,” LeMieur said after running through an hour workout Tuesday. “I think we can make it farther, too.”

LeMieur enjoys the revolving door of new coaches and professional players complementing the regular coaches.

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“They definitely brought in new people and that’s been good,” Peterson agreed. “It’s been new people each week so that’s been kind of fun. Their experience really helps. They’ve all gone pro and we’re learning things that maybe wouldn’t be taught to high school players.”

Pohlkamp said she’s noticed a big difference in how this year has run compared to last year, which was the first season for the Academy.

“It’s kind of a routine, but sometimes on Mondays we’ll do different things,” she said. “If one of the guys is missing like Mitch, who runs the whole show, or Joey Frazer, then we’ll mix it up. Honestly, this program runs really smoothly. This year they’ve gotten a lot better.

“They’re just a step above high school because they have so much more experience than high school. We’re learning all the things that helped them and just from their experience and working on the right things to become more confident. This is definitely going to help me in the future because they know what it takes to get there.”

The addition of Minnesota Wild’s Mason Shaw to the coaching team for a few weeks helped and the coaching staff has enjoyed a revolving door of different voices coming through.

“This is awesome,” Shaw said. “I come from Alberta so I come a long way from home to come here. Me and Mitch are really good friends. I played a couple of years with him in Iowa so I’m glad I can come out here and give back to the game of hockey where ever it’s at. It’s meant a lot to me at this point in my life so I just want to come out here and help. The kids are extremely excited every time they come out on the ice and we also learn a lot from them as coaches and players as well.”

Shaw said the enthusiasm of the players wears off on him. He said being a professional athlete the sport can turn into a job. Hanging out with younger players reminds him why he fell in love with the sports long ago.

That’s McLain’s motivation for starting the academy. That and to give back to the Brainerd hockey programs. By adding new faces to the coaching staff he feels the players will benefit from hearing different voices, points of view and different backgrounds.

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“I think it’s huge for them to get new voices or get other players’ different experiences for sure,” Mclain said. “That way they don’t start tuning us out for the majority of the summer. You do this long enough, I think your voice starts to lose a little volume. Getting others in there, fresh faces, guys with some stories on how they made it, I think it’s fresh and inspiring.”

McLain said this year has run more smoothly, but said each year comes with challenges. He said the focus remains on getting the players better prepared for hockey and having fun with the sport. And looking at last year’s success and progress the Academy just might be working.

JEREMY MILLSOP may be reached at 218-855-5856 or jeremy.millsop@brainerddispatch.com. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jeremymillsop.

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