Welcome to the River Falls/Blackhawk Youth Hockey Girls Program!
On Behalf of the Girls communication committee, we would like to welcome all the girl players and parents to the 2020-2021 hockey season. In an effort to continue to keep good communication within the Blackcats program we have a communication committee that was established in 2019 and is made up of 3 representatives from each association. Members of the committee are Jody Christensen, Neil Accola, Gina Rens, Aaron Van Ranst, Mike DeLong, and Bobbi Stanley. The committee has been meeting regularly over the last 18-months in an effort to put together informational pieces so our members are more informed. Our goal is to send out periodic e-mails throughout the season as information and updates are needed. This e-mail will talk about the history of the program, team levels for 2020-21 season, and important season information and key season dates.
Program Management: We have a Girls Coaching Committee of several individuals (Current Girls ACE Coordinator/ HS Head Coach Matt Cranston, HS Assistant Coach Jon Zevenbergen, long time coach/ girls coordinator/ BHA Board Member Mike DeLong, Longtime coach/UWRF Alumni Jodi Volgren) that have been with the program for many years; some from its inception, making decisions on the future of the program. Longtime RF youth and new youth girls coach Russ Swanson will be joining this veteran group of coaches and mentors. All members are hockey people that have played and been developed through various youth hockey programs.
We follow USA Hockey ADM Models very closely and are fortunate to have many highly qualified hockey people involved in our program. We are now getting girls who developed through our program as coaches – part of our long-term planning. We would love to have many of our past players raising their own families in our program and coaching with the long-term knowledge of our systems. All decisions on the program are discussed and worked out between this management team before any implementation. We have the ultimate goal of building strong players for our high school program. We are not as concerned about winning at the youth levels, but when you run the program well, wins do come. We are currently the largest girl’s hockey association in terms of player numbers in the state of Wisconsin. In terms of the Co-Ops in the State of Wisconsin, we are also one of the smallest in terms of population demographics. We are doing a lot of things right in both Associations to bring in solid numbers for the girls’ program. With this growth, we are experiencing new opportunities and challenges.
General Development Philosophy: First and foremost, we want to provide a fun, safe, and healthy environment for players to develop. We want to develop all players at all skill levels and allow all girls to have a place to play in an environment where they can be successful in their own development. For many years, we had all skill levels on the same team, as we only had one team at each level. Now with our numbers being stronger and WAHA making changes to have multiple levels at the state program, we now have a team in each of the U12 A & B Levels. U10 teams will remain as an equal split between the because of the need for general hockey knowledge and our strong focus on skill development at this level. In 2020-2021, the plan is to have A & B Levels at all levels in Wisconsin state competition. In Minnesota, this has been the model since the beginning, we are just getting there. While there are multiple levels for State competition, there are not Wisconsin leagues to play in so we try to find like competition as best we can.
Building Skills: We believe in teaching kids to skate well and handle the puck with speed in a progressive development system. We want U10 skaters to have certain skills before they get to U12, etc. At the U12 & U14 levels, we continue to build skating & puck handling skills, but there is a lot more team strategy included in practices. We want our skaters to think and make decisions by themselves to build a high hockey IQ, which is why we do so much in small area game development. The brain is just as important as skills. We have produced many less skilled players that had a high hockey IQ and therefore knew where things were going before they happened, and because of that, still had a successful hockey career. We highly believe in puck possession and teaching kids to share the puck. Teaching kids to be comfortable holding the puck and making good decisions is paramount in everything we do. We want highly motivated and skilled players to have the ability to work with other like-minded players and those that are more recreational to have that ability as well.
Minnesota League Play: We set our teams into leagues in which we hope they can be successful. Because of the difference in ages between Wisconsin and Minnesota, that typically means our teams will play at the B Level in Minnesota at the U10 & U12 Levels. Having 2 teams at each the U10 & U12 levels can produce challenges as our top team is still a B Level Minnesota Team. As in previous years, MN District 2 will be offering a U12 B2 league where our B team will play, providing the competition that is a good fit. Minnesota level U12 A is a very highly skilled league that is not a good match for our teams. At the U14 level, we typically play in the A environment. In Minnesota, they have a U15 and not a U14 level which has been challenging to stay competitive, but our teams are doing their best. The U15 B League is growing and may be a better fit in the future. We base our decisions on the talent level we have and which levels we believe will be a good fit for our teams.
It all began in 2002-2003 with a U19 Team in River Falls under the RFYHA Presidency of Tim Fredrickson. Many girls were being developed and we had no team. Tim suggested to the Board a U19 to start the program. Most thought that having younger ages first would probably be better, but in the end, this worked out fantastic as we were allowed to have girls from all age ranges play on that team and we did not have enough players to run teams at U10, U12, and U19 Levels. At that time in Wisconsin, Girls hockey was just starting to really take off.
On the first U19 team, many girls had never played before, a couple transferred over from figure skating, a few others had been playing boys hockey. It was quite a year. There were girls aged from college freshmen to 5th grade. The team took home the first girls team hardware, from the Hayward "Fire on Ice" Tourney, when they were awarded the "Team Sportsmanship Award" after losing 3 games to Fort Francis Canada...and two others we cannot remember. Those 5th graders were then sophomores on the 2007-2008 St. Croix Valley Fusion. They finished 20-1-1 in 2007-2008, losing a heartbreaker in the Section Final vs Chippewa Falls. Some HS girls joined in to play for the U19 BlackCats after the season at the Hayward "Fire On Ice" Tourney, the place where it all began, but this time playing at the U19 Elite Level and taking home the Championship in a very tough field of teams from all over the place. What growth they made in that short time.
In 2003-2004, River Falls started a U10 Squad, U14 Squad, and also had the U19 Squad. The U10 and U14 teams played an independent schedule and had a good year playing teams from all over Wisconsin and Minnesota. The U14 eventually lost in regionals to Hudson.
The next year in 2004-2005, the girl’s hockey numbers were showing that a partnership would be very beneficial. The most likely candidate was BlackHawk youth Hockey in Baldwin, who had been playing girls hockey for several years and had players at various levels, but did not have the numbers to sustain teams at all levels (Outside of U16) and could not garner the support to build a high school team. They even had a U10 State Championship and several high ranking finishes under their belt by the time we merged. With the partnership, we were able to build a well numbered U14 team, U16 and the U19 Team once again. The U14 competed at the U14B Level in Minnesota League and the U19 played an independent schedule. The U14s took first place in the Minnesota District 8 U14B League. They won tournaments at Augsburg College, River Falls and Menomonie. The team ended up with a 32-2 record and placed 2nd in the WAHA U14 State Championship, losing 2-1 in a great game to a very good team from the Wisconsin Wild Youth Hockey group. A game still discussed by the girls involved. That year we also continued a U10 Independent Team.
In 2005-2006, we had our first year of High School Hockey, and boy it was exciting. We were again able to run a U14A team in Minnesota and added a U12B Team in Minnesota. Both teams did very well and were a force to be reckoned with. The U14 were tied for first place in the first year at the A-Level, the U12s placed in the top part of the league, and both did well in regionals. The U14s won the Regional's in a thrilling 5-4 win over a fired-up New Richmond squad and went on to place 4th in the State Tournament. The U12 team lost in the regional championship to New Richmond 2-1. New Richmond went on to win the State Championship. Many of the girls from New Richmond, River Falls, and Baldwin played together in the off-season. Again, we ran a U10 Independent in River Falls this season.
In 2006-2007, the high school team, which is not part of the Youth Hockey oAssociation, had a good year losing in the regional championship to Chippewa Falls. The U14A Team tied for first with Eagan, MN in League, and won the first State Championship in BlackCats History. The U12 team played at the A level in Minnesota, did very well, and placed 3rd in the WAHA State Tourney after losing in overtime to eventual champion Fond du Lac in overtime in the semi-final. We did bring together the U10s from Baldwin and River Falls this year, playing in regional's and making it to the State Tournament for the first time in BlackCat History.
In 2007-2008, the entire U12A team moved up to U14A and we started from scratch with a new U12 Team, most of whom have been playing on other boys teams, the U10 team etc.
In 2008-2009, the High School Varsity Girls won their first of 3 consecutive State Championships. At the youth level, we ran a U10, U12, and U14 Program for the Girls and they wore new BlackCats Uniforms for the first time in their History with replica jerseys of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks 2008-2009 Styles with Black, Vegas and a hint of Red/Orange. They definitely looked sharp this year. The U14s ended up winning the U14A District 8 league once again and Advanced to State with a Region 6 Championship. They ended up winning the U14/U16 State Tournament in March. The U12s advanced to State as well with a Region 6 Championship in addition to having a great year at the U12B Level in Minnesota District 8. They competed with and defeated several teams in the top 10 in Minnesota at that Level which is a great achievement for these kids. The U10s did a great job competing for the first time in any league as a girls team. They played at the U10B level in District 8 and had a great year. Most of them are back next year to try again. They are young and determined.
In 2009-2010, the Fusion won its 2nd of 3 Consecutive State Championships, defeating Green Bay 5-2 in the final. We again ran a U10B, U12B and U14A team. The U12 Team took 3rd in the WAHA State Tournament and won several tourneys.
In 2010-2011, The Fusion won it's 3rd consecutive WIAA State Title, a feat never before accomplished by any team in Wisconsin by defeating the powerhouse Central Wisconsin Storm in 5 overtimes 3-2. Longest game ever! We switched from District 8 to District 2 in MAHA play, running a U10B, U12B and U14A. Because District 2 was short on teams, the U14A team was forced to move to District 6 with Edina, Eden Prairie, Minnetonka and other suburban powerhouses. Stillwater and a couple others from District 2 also played in District 6. The U10 Team won it's 2nd WAHA State Tournament.
In 2011-2012 we will again run U10B, U12B and U14A, all in District 2. The Fusion lost in the Section Final 2-1 to the Hayward/Spooner Hurricanes and broke their streak of tournament appearances, but they had a very good year overall. The U12 and U14 teams qualified for the 2012 WAHA State Tournament by winning the Region 6 PlayDowns and the U14 squad took home the State Title once again.
2012-2013- U10B, U12B and U14A squads were held. The Fusion lost in the Region Championship against Hayward 3-1. They had defeated Superior 3-0 and then a strong WFLGS (Webster, Frederic, Luck etc) Blizzard squad 3-1 en route to the Sectional Final.
2013-2014- U10B, U12B and U14A squads were held. The Fusion won the Region Championship 5-0 against Superior and participated in the State Tourney, losing their first game to Onalaska in overtime 5-4. They defeated Eau Claire 3-1 and Hayward 3-0 in the Sectionals enroute to the Section Title game vs Superior.
2014-2015- U10B, U12B and U14A squads were held. The U12 team was one of the best we have ever had and have a great group moving forward. They lost to eventual State Champion Hudson by a goal in the Regional PlayDowns but did win several high level tourneys during the year. The Fusion once again lost in the Section Finals to Hayward 2-0. The defeated Chippewa Falls/Menomonie 8-0 and Eau Claire 3-1 on the way to Section Final. The Fusion has been in the Section Final every year since the team began in 2005-2006.