Former players ready to lead the next generation of Panthers behind the bench

Rarely does a former player have the chance to return to an alma mater to coach, not to mention most of the assistants.

New Spring Lake Park/St. Anthony girls’ hockey coach Sandy Nelson returned to Fogerty Arena last month for the first time behind the bench along with Andrew Spaniel (class of 2005), Bailey Ranum (2007) and Kyle Roenning (who grew up in Spring Lake Park, but graduated from Hill Murray) and has steered the Panthers to a 5-2-1 record before a Dec. 10 game against Cambridge.

Sandy Nelson, right, has guided Spring Lake Park  to a 5-2-1 start in her first year as head coach. Nelson is part of an all-Spring Lake Park alumna coaching staff. Photo by Bill Jones
Sandy Nelson, right, has guided Spring Lake Park to a 5-2-1 start in her first year as head coach. Nelson is part of an all-Spring Lake Park alumna coaching staff.
Photo by Bill Jones

After graduating from Spring Lake Park in 2007, Nelson played four seasons at Ohio State University, collecting seven points (one goal, six assists) in 116 career games. She played just 11 times as a senior in 2010-11.

“It is unusual to have so many [alumni] together when I think of it because we are so young and inexperienced, but we’re excited to have the opportunity and we all have a great hockey background,” Nelson said.

The coaches get along well on and off the ice and bring something different to the coaching realm. “Three of us played defense and [Roenning] was a skilled forward,” Nelson said.

Current Panthers boys’ hockey coach Tom Benson was sad to see Tom Kuelenkamp leave the program, but he believes Nelson will excel in her new role.

Nelson was a student at several hockey camps run by Benson. “She came to those camps all the way up and she’s the perfect fit for that program with a lot of experience to draw from,” Benson said. “It’s not easy to be a coach right now, especially at that age but she has good support from her assistants.”

Everyone around the program has been supportive to help get everyone up to speed as quickly as possible, including parents, fellow coaches and administrators.

Spring Lake Park Activities Director Matt St. Martin was excited about the chance to bring familiar faces back, starting with Nelson. “I know I am very excited by the opportunity presented with her,” he said. “Anytime you can bring an alumni back home, it shows a commitment [to remain in the position].”

Spring Lake Park's Hannah Schultz, left, carries the puck against  Benilde-St. Margaret's Heather Mostrom. Photo by Bill Jones
Spring Lake Park’s Hannah Schultz, left, carries the puck against Benilde-St. Margaret’s Heather Mostrom. Photo by Bill Jones

To answer the question if they are ready to take on a varsity-level program, St. Martin said, “Some people are wondering if they are ready and Butch Moenning [athletic director for District 833, Woodbury] took a chance on me and it is much easier to say yes because of where they came from.”

Moenning gave St. Martin his first coaching job with the Woodbury boys’ soccer team.

In addition to St. Martin and Benson, Nelson has leaned on Jim Kotes, a new coaches mentor and coach at Champlin Park along with state coaches association president Tim Morris, who has a daughter in the Spring Lake Park program. Morris is an assistant coach at Blaine.

The Bengals share ice time at Fogerty Arena and Nelson believes a nice rivalry might begin between the two programs next season.

Blaine ended the Panthers season in the first round of the Section 5AA tournament last February by a 4-1 score.

Spring Lake Park will make the move to the Northwest Suburban Conference for the 2014-15 season after the North Suburban Conference dissolves at the end of the season.

So far this season, Spring Lake Park won three games in a row, a first since the 2010-11 season where it won three games at a holiday tournament in Austin.

It did so with nine different players collecting at least two points. Senior Kim Patterson leads the team with eight points (five goals) followed by Maddy Kelly and Maggie Ronning, each with seven points. Kelly has six assists and Ronning’s three goals trails only Patterson for the scoring lead. Taylor Turnquist, Miranda DeBoer and Caitlin Monson have two goals each.

Jason Olson is at