When most people talk about the great northern or outstate hockey hotbeds of Minnesota, here are some of the names you’re likely to hear: Warroad, Moorhead, Hermantown, Duluth East, Grand Rapids, the list goes on.
Alexandria should be a part of that conversation.
The Alexandria girls’ program has made 14 MSHSL State Tournament appearances, including a Class A championship in 2008. After moving up to Class 2A beginning with the 2019-20 season, they would again make it to State in 2020-21.
The boys’ program is fresh off its own State Tournament appearance this past spring. The Cardinals have made six appearances dating back to 1992, including a trip to the 2018 State Championship game.
It begs the question: What’s Alexandria’s secret?
Keeping the Numbers
AAHA’s mission statement says it all: The Alexandria Area Hockey Association is committed to providing a quality environment for youth hockey players to learn and enjoy the sport of hockey.
It’s a simple message and an even simpler goal. Ryan Severson, director of hockey for AAHA, says that mission lays out the importance of retention in the association. The more kids you have coming back, the better chance you have at success in the long run.
The past three seasons in boys and girls 8U alone, Alexandria has not only introduced more than 40 new players each year, but retained 91 percent of all players.
“I don’t think we do anything crazy out of the ordinary or special,” explained Severson. “We do talk to our coaches a lot about fun. Making sure the game of hockey is fun. We follow the USA Hockey ADM guidelines, and we have multiple teams on the ice at all times. We’re making sure that we’re doing station-based practices and keeping kids moving. Especially at that young age, we’re focused on the two main rules: let’s work hard, and have fun.
“We want them to come off the ice with sweaty heads and big smiles. If they’re coming off the ice with sweaty heads and smiles, we’re doing our job as coaches.”
Since it was first sanctioned as a Minnesota State High School League varsity sport in 1994, Alexandria girls’ hockey has seen a constant stream of success, tallying 14 State Tournament appearances and one State Championship in 2008.
That success begins, as always, at the youth level. In Alexandria, the girls’ and boys’ programs are treated the same. Beginning clinics are separated by gender, but ice time and opportunity do not differ between boys and girls.
“It’s definitely been a successful initiative for us and having them separated and really treating the girls’ program the same as we treat the boys,” said Severson. “We give the girls every single opportunity that we give the boys. We make sure the ice time is equal. We make sure access to the ice is equal, so they’re getting similar practice times and it’s not like the girls are stuck with all the early mornings or late nights.
“It’s just a commitment that we’ve made that we want to have a successful girls’ program, and we commit to providing them with every resource possible.”
Severson credits Andy Shriver of the Positive Coaching Alliance and varsity girls’ coach Molly Arola for pushing the girls’ growth initiative among a number of board members who support their mission.
All for One
An association is nothing without a strong community backing and a commitment to growing the game from all levels.
In Alexandria, the high school programs interact regularly with youth players.
“Part of the requirements for girls to letter is they basically have to adopt a youth girls’ team,” Severson added. “On a monthly basis they go to so many games or practice, just to be involved and help coach or be a fan in the stands. Our youth could all see that, and it gives them these role models to look up to and want to be some day.
“We are all in it together. It’s great to see and be a part of.”