The Art of Coaching: Teaching Life Skills on the Ice

The puck dropped for the first time for Rochester varsity girls hockey on November 14, 1995 at Graham Arena. There were two teams in that inaugural season, and the first games played were John Marshall versus Owatonna and Mayo versus Minnetonka.

Twenty-two years later, the game of hockey has become the sport of choice for many young women in our area.  The lessons learned extend beyond stickhandling, skating and passing the puck.  Gains in confidence, leadership and teamwork contribute to success on and off the ice.


Bob Montrose, retired John Marshall Rockets girls hockey coach, says that in coaching, “It’s about surrounding players with a culture of really trying hard.” He says success on the ice is determined by essentially two things: keeping the energy level of the players up and having a skilled goalie. Keeping the energy level of the players up is about cultivating excitement for the game. This begins at the start of every practice, he says, with a fun, competitive game.  Mike McCormack has 31 years coaching experience and is in his third season as head coach of the Mayo Spartans girls hockey team.  Earlier this winter, the Spartans celebrated a win in overtime over crosstown rival the John Marshall Rockets, something that hasn’t been done in five years. “I’ve never seen a happier group of kids in my life,” he says. “For many, it was the most important hockey game in their life.”

 McCormack has spent time thinking about the unique aspects of coaching girls hockey.  He sees a significant difference from the boys teams he has coached. “In coaching boys, you get a sense of the average of the team, the ability of the team, and you coach to that.  With girls, it’s a much more individual process. You need to know their personality, their temperament, how hard to push each one. The challenge is to get to know each of them. The girls don’t care how much you know, they want to know how much you care.”

Tom Aney is in his sixth year as head coach of Century Panthers girls hockey.  He says that the core principles of his coaching philosophy is that success isn’t about the scoreboard but about the effort, attitude and support for fellow teammates.  

Aney says he has observed transformation in players, that the quieter girls, when experiencing the rigors of the game, discover they can be aggressive and strong. “The neat thing is to see them come out of their shell.”  


Maddie Leqve, senior defenseman and Panthers team captain, says playing hockey has made a difference in her life both on and off the ice. “It has helped me drastically,” she says. “(It has) taught me to be a leader and to be respectful of others.”

Playing different positions throughout Leqve’s hockey career—goalie, center and defense—has taught her to believe in herself and have more confidence.  She likes playing defense because she likes having the responsibility of helping out the goalie and assisting everyone else on her team.

What Leqve appreciates most about Coach Tom Aney is his ability to bring out the positive in people, echoed in his oft-repeated maxim, “We celebrate our progress. We don’t give up on ourselves.”

Kelsey Miller, who has been the Panthers goalie since her freshman year, also appreciates Aney’s focus on the positive, saying, “He tells us to celebrate the little things; to find the good in the bad.” Miller says the Aney’s focus on positivity and approach to setting goals have been some of her biggest take-homes from her years as a Panther.  

Throughout the season (November to March), practices are five days a week—unless there is a scheduled game—and typically combine analysis of recent game performance with 75 minutes of on-ice skills work and game-type play. Games are Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and are played at either the Rochester Recreation Center or Graham Arena. The girls hockey players learn commitment and dedication, which will certainly help them throughout life.

Holly Galbus is a Rochester freelance writer.