Rachael Bona shared her message of determination and not taking anything for granted during the annual Coon Rapids Youth Hockey Association’s S.K.A.T.E. Banquet last week.
Fresh off a third consecutive NCAA finals appearance with the University of Minnesota’s Golden Gophers women’s hockey team, Bona, a Coon Rapids native and junior at Minnesota, said the chance to see Coon Rapids supporters aside from Ridder Arena was a treat.
“It was a really cool experience because I’ve seen a lot of the players at Gopher games and to be able to talk to them was special,” Bona said about the banquet where academics and athletics was honored at Harvest Grill at Bunker Hills. “I talked about how important school is and to not take anything for granted.”
Cardinals girls varsity hockey coach Jessica Christopherson and members of both the boys and girls varsity programs also shared thoughts.
“We all talked about wanting to trade places with the younger kids one more time; working hard; treating teammates well and always having a good attitude to be a good teammate,” Bona said.
Those are qualities that have helped Bona develop into a top-10 finalist for the Patty Kazmaier Award (top collegiate player in the nation), All-WCHA Second Team honoree, WCHA Scholar Athlete and All-Academic Team member.
The Gophers’ second leading scorer (37 assists and 58 points) this season finished with 105 career points (62 assists and 43 goals), a +92 player rating and 20 blocked shots in three seasons. She tied for the team lead with six game winning goals this season.
She nearly doubled her scoring each season starting with 15 points as a freshman and 32 points as a sophomore.
Gophers head coach Brad Frost recognized her consistent development. “[Bona] took an incredible step this year,” he said. “She is so offensively gifted with great hands and a quick release that is so accurate. [Bona]’s confidence grew this year from working on her overall game. I am very proud of her as she has become a much more complete hockey player.”
Bona said the culture around the Gophers program helped her develop a more all-around game as a result.
“[Frost] does a good job in that everyone has a role on the team and we will all be successful if everyone does their role,” Bona said. “Teams don’t need 100 people who score. They need defense and offense and that is one of the things we talked to those kids about. We emphasized the role everyone plays on a team in order to help you win.”
Bona added penalty kill duties after gaining the confidence from the coaching staff to be relied on to make a play defensively.
“She has become a much more complete hockey player. She back checks extremely well and has increased her intensity in the defensive zone,” Frost said who challenges the team to define success by more than wins and losses.
The culmination of that hard work was showcased in the NCAA semifinal win against rival Wisconsin.
Bona scored a highlight-reel goal in the second period that resembled how she moved the puck through defenses for five seasons with the Cardinals, scoring165 goals.
Bona broke into the Wisconsin zone down the left side of the rink, faked left and pulled the puck to the right to get past the Badger defenseman between the hash marks for an opening look at the goal. She faked to go top shelf on the backhand and instead went forehand top shelf to handcuff the Wisconsin netminder for the goal midway through the third period.
“That was pretty awesome,” Bona said about the goal. “I haven’t scored big goals in two years and to get one in the national semis and against Wisconsin was a doubly great feeling.”
Returning to Coon Rapids not only to say hi to Christopherson and players with the high school program, but also lacing up her skates and interacting with the younger kids is what really impresses Christopherson.
“To have a player like her be the face of our program is amazing,” said Christopherson, who grew up playing in the program she now coaches. “She’s very humble and quick to talk about things like hard work, commitment and community.”
Coon Rapids Activities Director Kelley Scott echoed Christopherson’s feelings.
“[Bona] is a selfless leader. She is a shinning example of how to give back. It’s about lifelong relationships and that’s what we are creating,” he said.
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