Howie Hansen: Knapp makes transition from college men to high school girls

Jim Knapp is a classy guy. Always has been. His knowledge base and passion to make a positive difference have expanded with age and experience. The Duluth East girl's hockey coach and former Minnesota Duluth men's assistant remains one of local h...

Jim Knapp is a classy guy. Always has been. His knowledge base and passion to make a positive difference have expanded with age and experience.

The Duluth East girl's hockey coach and former Minnesota Duluth men's assistant remains one of local hockey's best ambassadors.

The former 20-year Bulldogs assistant's reasons for returning to coaching this winter, after a two year break, isn't surprising, if you know the guy: "My main goal besides coaching the team is to develop good, young female coaches. Before I committed to East, I made sure that I had a good staff."

Knapp convinced Kellie Frick and Becky Gravel -- bright, talented, young coaches -- to join him in a run with the 'Hounds.

"I knew Jim had a strong passion for developing women's ice hockey and girl's youth hockey, but I really wasn't aware of his deep commitment to developing female coaches," Frick said. "It's a real honor to learn from a mentor such as him. He leads by example, and his organizational skills and game plans are outstanding."


The East players are also very receptive to Knapp's coaching style, Frick said, "because he relates so many on-ice lessons to real life."

"Jim is always relating a quote, story or vision to everything he teaches, and the players relate so well to what he talks about," Frick said.

Knapp originally declined East Activity Director Mike Miernicki's offer to coach the Greyhounds, preferring that the new coach would be an employee of the Duluth School District. Only after nobody applied for the job -- internally or externally -- did Knapp accept.

"It was a late resignation, only three weeks before the season started, and the key was to find a certified coach," Miernicki said. "So I called Jim and said, 'Jim, I really need your help here'. And he bailed me out. He's done such a fantastic job, the kids are thrilled to have Jim Knapp as their coach. It's a rarity in hockey, but I have had no parent complaints."

"It wasn't that I didn't want to coach, it was just that I have a son playing juniors in Billings, I'm on the Hermantown School Board and serve as District 11 coaching director for USA Hockey," Knapp said.

Miernicki said Knapp is sincere in his push to encourage more females to pursue coaching.

"Jim teaches coaching and knows we don't have females applying for coaching jobs," Miernicki said. "Shannon Miller (UMD women's hockey coach) is a good role model for girls who might consider going into coaching. And to have Kellie and Becky on our coaching staff, that's just what girl's hockey needs."

Coaching prep girl's hockey is different from working with the college men, Knapp said. And he's enjoying the journey with the 'Hounds, who have raced to a 3-1-1 start with wins over Forest Lake, Rochester John Marshall and Greenway. The loss was to Minnetonka, and they tied Cloquet.


"What I like about it is the approach to the game is different, as a group," Knapp said. "The girls have a good understanding of competition, and they play hard with no regrets. Guys like to bring it home with them, but the girls leave it at the rink."

A female coach of a female team is invaluable, and the more young girls and women who get into the profession the better, Frick said.

"As much technical or elite experience a men's coach has, there's something to be said about the emotional connection that a female has to female athletes," Frick said. "Given that this is a growing sport, there aren't a lot of females with extensive experience in coaching, because they're still active players themselves. After I graduated from UMD, and not being a player who would play on an Olympic team, I couldn't see myself giving up hockey. Now a teacher myself (Woodland Junior High), I consider coaching as the highest test of teaching."

East graduated several players from last year's team, and the top players on this year's team "are still learning how to step up to be leaders," Knapp said.

"It's been a little hectic early in the season, with so many games back-to-back, but we're approaching a point in our schedule where we finally have some time to teach and work on conditioning," Knapp said.

Knapp said he has committed to coach the 'Hounds through this season. "But it doesn't mean that I won't stick around longer. I'm having a lot of fun," he said.

Between the Lines

Duluth Marshall boy's hockey coach Brendan Flaherty won't call it a rebuilding year, but with only three seniors back from last year's 18-8 team the Hilltoppers could play their best hockey late in the season.


"We did lose a lot, including Dave Moline, Kasey Yoder, Josh Peterson, Darrin Swanson, Travis Hedley and Josh Rudolph, our three-year goalie," said Flaherty, who begins his seventh season at Marshall. "But we could end up where we finished last year, when we lost in the Section 7A semis to Hermantown."

Marshall's top players include forwards Scott Paul, Nic Williams, Bryan Sederberg and transfer Matt Moschet, and defensemen Dan Moline and Brandon Johnson, a transfer from Duluth Denfeld. Goaltending is a concern in the preseason.

"We're very young, as a team, but we have some very skilled players," Flaherty said.

Marshall opens the season next Tuesday at home against Ely.

Howie Hanson writes a weekly sports column for the Budgeteer News. He may be reached at 726-1610 or by email at .

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