Five sets of sisters helping grow Coon Rapids hockey

Siblings growing up on high school teams aren’t anything new, but Coon Rapids girls’ hockey has more than one or two sets on the bench this season.

Four families have two sisters and a fifth family dresses three Cardinals in the high school program – Hannula (Jane and Heidi), Stalboerger (Allie and Nicole), Buckley (Tori and Morgan), Hackett (Megan and Lily) and DelCastillo (Britni, Brandi and Bryna).

The Stalboergers and Hacketts are the only siblings regularly playing on the same lines right now.

The siblings on the Coon Rapids girls’ hockey team pose for a picture next to each other during a recent practice at Coon Rapids Ice Center. Those pictured are, from left: Heidi and Jane Hannula; Allie and Nicole Stalboerger; Tori and Morgan Buckley; Megan and Lily Hackett; Britni, Brandi and Bryna DelCastillo. Photo by Jason Olson

The siblings on the Coon Rapids girls’ hockey team pose for a picture next to each other during a recent practice at Coon Rapids Ice Center. Those pictured are, from left: Heidi and Jane Hannula; Allie and Nicole Stalboerger; Tori and Morgan Buckley; Megan and Lily Hackett; Britni, Brandi and Bryna DelCastillo. Photo by Jason Olson

The Hannulas team-up when the team needs an extra offensive spark.

Several of the siblings said they enjoy the chance to talk about the squad with their sibling. Others said being on the same team has given them a chance to get closer to an older sibling, like the Buckleys, DelCastillos and Hacketts. Both families have a senior and freshman on the squad.

The Buckleys – Tori who is a senior captain and Morgan a freshman – are playing on the same team for the first time as are Britni (junior), Brandi (freshman) and Bryna (eighth grade) DelCastillo. The DelCastillos have more sisters moving through the Coon Rapids youth hockey ranks from mites (Brylei and Bradi) through varsity.

Britni said the highlight of being on the same team with two other sisters is the time she’s been able to spend with them. “It’s nice to be able to be around and talk to them more often,” she said.

After moving to the area from Alexandria, Britni said she’s past the apprehension of joining a new team. “I was really scared that first day but the team is really nice,” she said.
A teammate shouted out, “Plus we’re awesome. We welcome you.”

It’s that camaraderie that has helped the team learn a lot about the game, despite a 2-11-0 pre-winter break record.

Besides the cost of buying double or triple equipment and paying that much more in fees, the siblings seem to enjoy the opportunity to be on a varsity team with a sister.

According to third-year Cardinals head coach Jessica Christopherson, the best part of having so many siblings on the team is it creates a unique bond with relatively new players on the varsity team.

“They’re all close. The whole team is close, but this group of sisters make up a third of our team,” said Christopherson, who did not have a chance to play with her younger sister, who played for one year after Christopherson graduated.

“That dynamic has been a huge factor for the girls in how they maintain relationships and how they treat each other in general,” she said.

“More than any other group I’ve coached, they understand how to compete at the rink, but let it go when they walk out the door.”

That level of competition for ice time on the varsity squad is taken to another level when family members compete for the same spot on the bench.

All but four on the varsity roster have played at least one period with the JV squad this season.

Christopherson said that playing time is earned as skill and effort are rewarded. “When one sibling is doing well and another is struggling, that is hard for them,” she said. “They’re still kids and hockey is an emotional game. I’ve been so impressed though with how well they’ve handled it.”

Each player might be disappointed with their level of play, but the coach hasn’t seen it become an issue between siblings or other teammates.

Christopherson said the goal is to find three lines of skaters most prepared to give the best effort. “With that being said, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with how well some of them have played together,” she said.

Moving the Stalboergers and Hacketts to the same line was a natural move for the coaches. “It just so happened that they do play well together, they seem more relaxed and aren’t over thinking the systems like they were before,” Christopherson said.

The Hannula sisters tag-team on a line once in a while. “If we’re looking for a spark up front, then we move Heidi [Hannula] up to forward,” Christopherson said,

Some of the changes are made without much adjustment period because they know their line mates, she said.

“Overall, they respect the team first and understand the movement between lines and playing time are going to fluctuate,” Christopherson said. “If they aren’t happy with where they’re at, they know they have to pick it up.”

That competition, especially during practice, goes to another level among some of the sisters, especially Jane and Heidi Hannula.

This is the second year the two have been part of the Cardinals’ varsity team. Jane, a senior captain, is one of the leading scorers for the club, while sophomore Heidi is a defenseman who prides herself in shutting down scorers.

“We have a lot of memories,” Heidi said, reminiscing about one-on-one drills during practice and scoring goals together over the last one and a half seasons. While they normally play different positions, they’ve shared ice time on the Cardinals power play.

Practices are another story.

“I love to go against her [in practice],” Heidi said. “I just want to make sure she doesn’t beat me [at on one-on-one drills]. She doesn’t get around me, I make sure of that. She tries to beat me with [moves]. If I get beat, that’s me trying to bull her over as a last resort.”

Diplomatically, Christopherson said, “They definitely battle. They really get after each other some times, but we haven’t had to break anybody up, although we’ve definitely had to talk to some of them about intensity and how they handle certain situations.”

Ratcheting up the intensity during practice has its benefits during games. “It’s a plus for us in pressure situations because I think all of these girls take constructive criticism fairly well from their sister(s),” Christopherson said. “They might not like it, but they respect it because they know they want them to be successful.”

Having so many family members participate in the program from mites to varsity has benefits that extend beyond the Cardinals rink.

“This is a great thing for our program,” Christopherson said. “Each sister is very different from the other in so many ways and when these 11 split up after practice and hang out with their friends or do their own thing, that group of 11 multiplies quickly [to get the word out about the program]. Couple that with the fact that many also have younger sisters in the youth program.”

Having those older players to look up to with established connections to the top team goes far in building a strong program, according to Christopherson. “We have great families who are very involved and we are really excited about the foundation that is being built right now,” Christopherson said.

That strong foundation might not propel this year’s squad to another state tournament appearance in February, but winning more games in the second half of the season is a reality for this team.

Coon Rapids began play in the ABRA Invitational at Braemar Ice Rink in Edina Dec. 26 in a field with four ranked teams including No. 3 Edina, No. 11 Lakeville South, No. 13 Hopkins and No. 18 Stillwater.

Jason Olson is at jason.olson@ecm-inc.com

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