Anoka's McKenna Parent (5) and Katie Johnson(10) move up ice in a recent game against Rogers.
As Anoka hockey player Katie Johnson understands it, "Kill the Bear" T-shirts are being printed and should be available soon.
The phrase, which coach Pete Hayes used during the Tornadoes' season-opening 3-1 victory against defending Class 2A state champion Minnetonka, now stands as a mantra.
Locked and loaded with several key veterans from a team that fell one game short of last year's state tournament, the Tornadoes are targeting the top programs in hopes of joining them.
The challenge, Johnson said, is maintaining a season-long focus. To that end, "Kill the Bear" T-shirts will help remind players of the thrill of the kill comes from the hard work of the hunt.
"We're not that team that can just walk in, play and win," Johnson said. "We're good but not good enough. But we can come in, work hard every day and play to the level we did against Minnetonka."
Anoka counters a lack of household names with experience and depth. Johnson, who scored a team-best 21 goals last season, returns along with Emilie Brigham (20 goals, 27 assists) and the Parent sisters, McKenna (6-13) and Blair (19-10). An experienced defensive corps, led by Amanda Kimmerle, is backed up by goaltender Katie McLain.
A 3-0 start this season shows Anoka is once again a team on the rise. In their past three seasons, the Tornadoes' victory totals climbed from six to 14 to 19. They enjoyed some quality victories along the way, perhaps none more significant than the ones against Mounds View and Centennial in the Section 5 playoffs last year.
Those victories, coupled with a loss to Coon Rapids in the Section 5 championship game, gave Anoka its deepest postseason run since last qualifying for the Class 2A state tournament in 2005.
"The past few years we hadn't gotten out of the first round," Hayes said. "This group got to see how the crowds build and the excitement builds."
Starting this season against Minnetonka meant similar intensity right out of the gate. Despite key losses to graduation, the Skippers were something to behold.
"The first couple shifts were kind of a wake-up call," McKenna Parent said. "They passed so well. It was like, 'Wow, we need to step it up.'"
Said Johnson, "I was honestly thinking, 'What did we get ourselves into?'"
The mindset changed as the Tornadoes found themselves matching the Skippers' level of play. Trailing 1-0 after the first period, Anoka scored twice in the second period and added a goal in the third period to thrill the home crowd.
"We kept the pace up and they ended up slowing down," Johnson said.
The good vibes faded a bit three days later at Rogers. The Tornadoes' 5-1 victory lacked the urgency of their previous performance.
"It was just hard for everybody, including myself, to get up for that game," Parent said.
No one is perfect. But as a captain, Parent is trying to set a good example.
"We've been trying to get the message across that it's not just going to be a free ride just because we have a good team and just because we beat Minnetonka," Parent said. "It doesn't mean we're going to automatically go to the state tournament. It's going to be a lot of work and we're going to have to put in the work every practice, every game."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574