All-American Girls hockey tournament features second generation players. Early Friday morning the parking lot at the National Sports Center in Blaine will begin to fill. Sleepy youth hockey players will spill out of minivans and SUV’s and lug oversize bags, stuffed with hockey equipment, into the Schwan Super Rink complex. It’s a routine Jennifer Williams knows by heart.
“The memories just fly through my head,” says Williams, an assistant coach for the girls U10 team from Rosemount. “It all blends together but certain things stick out to me and it’s kind of sad to think about because I want to go back and relive those memories.”
Williams will be living vicariously through Annabelle when her daughter hits the ice as a second-generation participant in the 26th annual All-American Girls Hockey Tournament, November 16-18 at the NSC’s Super Rink.
“When we were here there were maybe a few other teams if that and we were lucky enough to get to play and it was a great experience,” Williams says. “Now we have three teams of U10 girls in Rosemount and they think nothing of it.”
Williams, who grew-up as Jenny Swanson, didn’t even start out playing hockey. Her sport was ringette, a game with the same objectives as hockey, but with many exceptions, including the fact the sticks didn’t have blades and instead of a puck there was, of course, a large ring.
"When we played ringette we had to drive out to Bloomington to have practices at like 5 in the morning because the boys had the ice in Rosemount,” says Jenna Boutain. “I don’t know why, but I just feel like we got a different level of respect when we started playing hockey.”
Boutain and Williams were reunited when their daughters, Eva and Annabelle, earned spots on the Rosemount U10 Girls A team. Both women agree they were fortunate to be in the right place at the right time in the 1990’s, and that the growth of the girls’ hockey has been amazing.
“The older I get, I realize Jenny and I reuniting after all those years, how cool is this? Like, I never could have imagined that it would be like this,” says Boutain.
Really, how could they? While they are certain that they skated together in the All-American, neither is quite certain of the year, though they both believe it was 1995. The one thing they can agree on is that they were lucky to come along at precisely the right time for girls’ hockey in Minnesota.
“I was on the absolute turning point for girls’ and women’s hockey,” says Williams. “My first year playing varsity hockey was as an eighth grader and it was the first season of varsity hockey in Rosemount. Then, my first season up at St. Cloud State was the first year of transition into Division-1 hockey and I was able to play D-1 all four years.”
Boutain transferred from Rosemount to Apple Valley where she was part of a state championship team as a senior in 1998. From there, Jenna played one year of varsity hockey at MSU Mankato and another year at Bemidji State before hanging-up her skates competitively.
“If we hadn’t done that we wouldn’t be where we are today,” says Boutain. “It’s so competitive, the teams are so deep, even five years ago you would see maybe two solid lines but now you’re seeing three solid lines and two solid goalies, and it hasn’t always been like that.”
This year’s tournament will host 64 teams that will take over the Super Rink’s eight sheets, skating from morning until night over a period of three days. Something that a little more than 25-years ago would have been almost unimaginable to most Minnesotans.
“It’s a different path now,” says Williams, who serves as an assistant coach. “You just get on the ice and you teach what you know, and you try to build their experiences and their love for the game of hockey.”
This year’s All-American Girls Tournament includes teams from four states and Canada. It’s a tradition that pre-dates girls high school and women’s collegiate hockey in Minnesota, and for a couple of local moms, it’s an event that only gets better with every shift.
“They were able to create a history there”, says Williams. “A place where players wanted to go, they wanted to come back and be a part of this because it’s something that’s been around, and it’s something for these girls to know that it was there early on.”
And if Eva and Annabelle need any extra motivation, they need look no further than a couple of former ringette players who were there for the start of it all.
“I would just say that you can do anything,” says Boutain. “And in the last twenty years I think we’ve all learned that’s true.”
The Super Rink was constructed in two stages with a total cost of $21 million, with funding of just $1 million from State of Minnesota grants. The remainder of the funding comes from the partner organizations. Revenue from ice rentals covers the annual construction bond obligation. The Super Rink was a combined project of the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission (MASC), The Herb Brooks Foundation, National Sports Center, Bethel University, and eleven local hockey organizations, which are Arden Hills, Blaine, Centerville, Circle Pines, Forest Lake Coon Rapids, Centennial, Lino Lakes, Mounds View, New Brighton, and Shoreview. Ramsey County and Anoka County also helped in funding. The Super Rink since its construction has not received any additional funding; it is completely self-sufficient through private ice rentals and in-house programs. The original four sheets opened in 1998 and four additional sheets were added in 2006.
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