In Coon Rapids, earning your wings means something
Just four short years ago the Coon Rapids boys high school hockey team had a winless season.
It was Head Coach Aaron Frach’s second season as head coach of the fledgling high school program and they were in the throes of a 30-game losing streak. A year earlier in his first year as head coach they had gone 2-24 and lost in the section quarterfinals 7-0 to Blaine. During the following Covid-19-shortened season they went 0-16 to lost in the section playoffs to Maple Grove by 20 goals.
But with patience and perseverance, and buoyed by a belief in the tradition that was Coon Rapids Hockey, in just his fifth season, Frach has his Coon Rapids program off to a 7-4-0 start and more importantly back on the radar as a contending team in Section 5AA.
Frach knew in order for things to change…things had to change.
“Our staff was committed to changing the program’s culture,” said Frach, a native of Delano where he played high school hockey for the Tigers. “We wanted to grow a program that our players and alumni could look back on their experiences at Coon Rapids and be proud of and cherish.”
Frach earned his coaching stripes starting in Coon Rapids as the Peewee A coach. He moved on to Mounds View where he coached the Bantam AA program from 2015-18 and then coached one season as Elk River’s Bantam AA coach before being hired to head the high school team at Coon Rapids.
His first order of business was to recruit alumni to join the coaching staff. The staff today consists of Seth Johnson, Jake Kouri, and Connor Wise, all former Coon Rapids players.
“We wanted to get our alumni more involved and having them be a part of the coaching staff has been amazing for the growth and cultural shift for the program,” said Frach.
“Culture” and “Chemistry” are words used often in and around hockey programs. Perhaps they are overused, but they are important. One could argue that the culture with the Minnesota Wild had soured and a coaching change made all the difference. While time will tell if that was indeed the case, culture does start at the very top. With Frach, he wanted to instill a sense of pride in wearing the Coon Rapids jersey.
“After our winless season we started to rebrand the program,” he said.
They brought back the wing logo that was worn in the at 1990s and early 2000s, the heyday era of Coon Rapids hockey and the last time the team played in a section final.
“We started to use the phrase, ‘earn your wings,’ as a point of pride and something to achieve at the high school level” Frach said.
Players embraced the new culture and the team rebounded with a 10-win season in 2021-22. Last year they finished 12-13-1 and this year have a solid group of senior leaders and are off to a 7-2 start. In all, there are 14 seniors on this year’s squad.
“This senior group has been committed to staying together and are focused on having success,” said Frach. “They play with a chip on their shoulder, are extremely competitive, and tenaciously gritty.”
The leader is Tyler Barsness, a senior forward who leads the team with 10 goals.
“Tyler has great skill and hockey IQ and is able to help his teammates with the details of their game,” said Frach. “He is a vocal leader all of our players look up to.”
With Barsness leading up front, Roan Bresnahan is the general on the blue line. The senior defenseman is having a great senior season averaging two points a game. Frach said Bresnahan’s leadership comes through his tireless work ethic.
“Roan is extremely competitive and has an incredible work ethic,” said Frach. “He is a leader that expects and demands the work out of his teammates during practice. He’s our vocal leader during games and is a great hype guy.”
Eli Bolden is the team’s caretaker.
“He’s a player that always has a smile on his face,” said Frach. “He just loves the game and his teammates. When we are facing adversity he is the guy who keeps everyone’s spirits high and helps refocus the group.”
Senior netminder Will Wagner, as with many good teams, serves as the team’s backbone.
“Will has a tremendous heart, work ethic and competitive spirit,” said Frach. “The moment is never too big for him. He lives for the big moments and is a true leader who puts the success of his teammates ahead of his own success.”
The combination of leadership and talent has led the Coon Rapids team to their best start in years. Their goal is to go deep into a very tough section and compete for a section championship. To do so they will have to compete with the likes of Rogers, Maple Grove and Centennial. Both Rogers and Maple Grove have been ranked in the Top 10 most of the season and Centennial just handed the Cardinals a lopsided loss.
“We understand Section 5AA is deep with talented teams,” said Frach, “but we know our group has the skill, speed and depth to compete with any team come February.”
They took a big step last season when they won their first section game in 20 years.
“We had the opportunity to play in a section semifinal and that created a strong hunger to go further,” said Frach. “We can see it at the rink every day. They come ready to compete. We all know what’s at stake this season.”
Win or lose, one thing this senior group can hang their helmet on is the fact that they, along with their dedicated coaching staff, helped pump lifeblood into a program on life support.
The revival is just beginning.
Those wings do mean something.
They have given flight to the hopes of the kids coming up through the Coon Rapids youth program that high school hockey in Coon Rapids is alive and well.