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Girls High School Hockey Preview: Hoff, Hilltoppers hope to reach new heights

Former Proctor/Hermantown star, a recent college grad, is one of four new women’s head coaches in the area.

Women hockey coaches work with team
Head coach Callie Hoff instructs her players in a drill during Duluth Marshall's girls hockey practice at Mars Lakeview Arena on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2022, in Duluth.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune
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DULUTH — Callie Hoff was fresh out of college, graduating in May after a stellar five-year women’s hockey career at Wisconsin-River Falls, so the 2017 Hermantown High School graduate didn’t get too excited when first hearing that Duluth Marshall had an opening for its girls hockey head-coaching position in early September.

“I wasn’t sure of my plans,” Hoff said. “I just graduated college, so I wasn’t really thinking about being a head coach. I kind of took it lightly at first, but then the more I learned, the more I started getting serious about the opportunity.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Assistant coach Shawna Davidson, left, talks with head coach Callie Hoff during Duluth Marshall's girls hockey practice.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Less than a month later, Hoff was leading the Hilltoppers, replacing Amanda Boulier, who resigned after two seasons. Hoff is one of four new female girls hockey head coaches in the area.

“I always wanted to coach, but it just came quickly,” Hoff said. “I talked to some people in the community and was encouraged to do it. I heard nothing but great things about this program, and I haven’t been disappointed. It’s been nothing but great so far.”

The feeling appears mutual.

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“She pushes us really hard, but is just super sweet and cares a lot about us,” Hilltoppers senior captain Meredith Boettcher said. “You can tell. She is always asking us questions and asking for feedback. She just wants what’s best for us.”

Duluth Marshall’s Hoff among four new girls hockey coaches in the area.

With River Falls, Hoff was named the American Hockey Coaches Association Laura Hurd Player of the Year last March, given to the top women’s hockey player in NCAA Division III.

Hoff led the nation with 67 points on 26 goals and 41 assists, breaking the Falcons’ single-season record, and exited as River Falls’ all-time leading scorer.

“It was awesome,” she said.

Women hockey coaches work with team
Head coach Callie Hoff interacts with her players during Duluth Marshall's girls hockey practice.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

With that kind of skill, and given her age, only 23, it’s no wonder Hoff loves jumping into drills, and the Hilltoppers often find themselves flat-skated, watching in awe.

“Oh yeah, she’s always hopping into our drills, and we appreciate it because there are times we’re sucking air, we’re so tired,” Boettcher said. "She’s great, and she’s fun to watch, too. She usually scores when she demonstrates.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Assistant coach Shawna Davidson works with one of her players.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Not long after getting the job, Hoff enlisted Shawna Davidison, former Minnesota Duluth women’s hockey assistant, to come on board as associate head coach.

It’s been a sort of match made in Hilltopper heaven.

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Davidson knows a lot of the players from her involvement in the Duluth feeder program, the Duluth Icebreakers. She coached some of them. She even coached Hoff.

“I have a very good mentor in Shawna,” Hoff said. “I’ve already learned a lot from her, and hopefully the girls learn a lot from both of us.”

Boettcher agreed.

“Honestly, it’s been wonderful,” Boettcher said. “Callie and Shawna, they really balance each other out. Callie, she’s younger, she can relate to us more, and she just played as an All-American at River Falls, so that’s great to have her. And then Shawna, with all of her experience … they just make a great pair.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Callie Hoff, second from left, watches her players during practice at Mars Lakeview Arena.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

And it wasn’t like they were handed the keys to a ’78 Pinto here.

The Hilltoppers are coming off back-to-back appearances in the Section 7A title game and went 17-8 last season.

“Amanda did a great job with the girls and with the team,” Hoff said. “I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just excited to see where this team goes. It’s a new team from what they had last year and we have less players. I’m going to do the best I can and they’re going to do the best they can, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Head coach Callie Hoff explains a play.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The only team standing in the Hilltoppers’ way the past two seasons has been Hoff’s old team, the Proctor/Hermantown Mirage.

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While Duluth Marshall can’t match their depth, the Hilltoppers have plenty of talent.

Duluth Marshall has two very strong lines centered by junior Ilsa Lindaman (34-21—55) and senior Danica Mark (9-11—20), but can’t afford any injuries.

The Hilltoppers will not field a junior varsity for the first time since they reemerged as a Minnesota State High School League program in 2014-15.

“We have a very small team of 17 players — 15 skaters and two goalies,” Hoff said. “Let’s just say these girls will get lots of playing time. They’re ready and excited for it. It’ll be a good test for them.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Head coach Callie Hoff works with a player during practice.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

The defense is very young but has talent with the likes of freshman Sarah Stauber. Boettcher (13-21—34) has played along the blue line, and can certainly help there if needed, but the plan to start the season, at least, is to keep her up front.

With junior goalie Chloe Clark and sophomore Ray Anderson, the Hilltoppers are solid in net.

“We’re all just trying to learn together,” Hoff said. “I’m trying to learn how they play and they’re trying to learn how I coach, and the systems that I’ve brought in. I don’t think there are any growing pains right now. It’ll be a learning experience one way or another.”

Women hockey coaches work with team
Assistant coach Shawna Davidson, left, talks with head coach Callie Hoff.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Hoff is getting thrown into the proverbial fire to start the season as the Hilltoppers opened Friday, Nov. 11, against defending state champion Warroad, followed by Breck, Edina and Holy Angels.

That’ll be a test, but there isn’t a test Hoff hasn’t passed.

“Oh, man, I can’t even tell you. Her future’s so bright,” Boettcher said. “This was the perfect opportunity for her to get her feet on the ground and start coaching. It’s special when you’re just starting your coaching career and you get to be the head varsity coach. I think we’re going to help her learn just as much as she helps us. She’s going to be an amazing coach. I hope she stays at Marshall as long as she can, but I think she’s capable of really high levels.”

Best of the rest

The Duluth Northern Stars, the Cloquet-Esko-Carlton Lumberjacks and Rock Ridge Wolverines also have new coaches.

The Duluth Northern Stars are coached by Ali Randall, 28.

head and shoulder image of woman
Ali Randall
Duluth News Tribune

Randall began playing for the Minnetonka (Minn.) Youth Hockey Association and was a member of the 2012 Minnetonka High School Class AA state championship team. She was teammates with former Minnesota Duluth standout and Olympic gold medalist Sidney Morin.

Randall moved to Duluth after college and became heavily involved with the Duluth Icebreakers, coaching four seasons with the U-12A team. The Icebreakers finished third at the state tournament in 2019. She also served as the Icebreakers’ recruitment and development director and was an intern coach for the USA National Development camp.

“I couldn't be more grateful for the coaching staff and student-athletes that have made this transition so smooth,” Randall said. “There's a lot of positivity and excitement at the rink these days. I have a good feeling the stars will align this year.”

The Cloquet/Esko/Carlton Lumberjacks are coached by Kennedy (Firkus) Houge, 26.

woman with glasses and brown hair in ponytail
Kennedy Houge.
Clint Austin / Duluth News Tribune

Houge grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota, but went to Hill-Murray High School, where she was a five-year varsity letter winner in hockey and softball. She played in four girls hockey state tournaments, winning back-to-back state championships her junior and senior years.

Following high school, she played four years as a defenseman at St. Scholastica and in 2020 was named to the Saints’ All-Decade Team.

Houge’s grandfather, Steve Houge, is the goaltender and defense coach at St. Paul Johnson High School, having coached within the program for 24 years. He also actively coaches in the Minnesota High Performance Programs and Minnesota Goaltending Camps. He was named to the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2021 (a class that included Two Harbors’ Steve Wasko) and received the John Mariucci Award for 2022. Her younger brothers play high school hockey at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.

The Rock Ridge Wolverines are coached by Patricia “Paddy” (Sautter) Elsmore, 43.

head and shoulder image of woman
Paddy Elsmore
Duluth News Tribune

Elsmore, who grew up in Switzerland, is a former national championship goaltender for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. She lives in Esko and makes the commute to Eveleth and Virginia for practice and games. She is married to Steve Elsmore, an All-American hockey player with Wisconsin-Superior in the 1990s.

Elsmore’s last few coaching stints were with Cloquet/Esko/Carlton as an assistant, four years at St. Scholastica, a head coach/assistant at Duluth Marshall and at Roseau (Minn.) High School for four years before that.

“We are looking forward to an exciting season with a lot of young players eager to learn,” Elsmore said.

Jon Nowacki joined the News Tribune in August 1998 as a sports reporter. He grew up in Stephen, Minnesota, in the northwest corner of the state, where he was actively involved in school and sports and was a proud member of the Tigers’ 1992 state championship nine-man football team.

After graduating in 1993, Nowacki majored in print journalism at the University of St. Thomas in St. Paul, serving as editor of the college paper, “The Aquin,” and graduating with honors in December 1997. He worked with the Associated Press during the “tobacco trial” of 1998, leading to the industry’s historic $206 billion settlement, before moving to Duluth.

Nowacki started as a prep reporter for the News Tribune before moving onto the college ranks, with an emphasis on Minnesota Duluth football, including coverage of the Bulldogs’ NCAA Division II championships in 2008 and 2010.

Nowacki continues to focus on college sports while filling in as a backup on preps, especially at tournament time. He covers the Duluth Huskies baseball team and auto racing in the summer. When time allows, he also writes an offbeat and lighthearted food column entitled “The Taco Stand,” a reference to the “Taco Jon” nickname given to him by his older brother when he was a teenager that stuck with him through college. He has a teenage daughter, Emma.

Nowacki can be reached at jnowacki@duluthnews.com or (218) 380-7027. Follow him on Twitter @TacoJon1.
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