Hitting a Disney princess ball with a plastic stick in the basement is hockey for 2-year-old Anna, watched by parents Johnny Pohl and Krissy (Wendell) Pohl.
Nestled on a couch inside the Woodbury home they bought about a year ago, Minnesota's hockey glam couple, whose 2007 wedding drew attention in People magazine, look every bit the part of typical parents after taking their careers to envied heights.
Krissy Pohl, a celebrated two-time Olympian when she was known as Krissy Wendell, and John Pohl, an eight-year veteran of minor league and NHL hockey, now spend Christmas at home. Their focus is not the next trip to Canada or Europe, but three young daughters who fill the room with playful life.
Christmastime used to be bittersweet, "time to leave my family again," Krissy said. "For about six years, on Dec. 26 I would have to leave for training camp [with the Olympic team]."
These days hockey creates a different sort of family bond: The Pohls are in their second season coaching girls' hockey at Cretin-Derham Hall.
John, who teaches business education at the St. Paul private school, is the head coach. Krissy is a part-time volunteer assistant who attends each game and one or two practices per week. Her full-time job is raising three daughters under the age of 5.
During those practices, daughters Emily, Anna and Lucy hang out in the arena with doting high school students while mom and dad teach their considerable hockey smarts to their girls on the ice.
"I think it's done a lot for us as people to be able to try and help these young girls," John said. "Both Krissy and I had amazing high school hockey experiences, and we're trying to provide that for our girls whether they want to go on and play Division I or just be part of the team."
Coaching hockey, Krissy said, "kind of fulfills that competitive side of us," but it also provides an escape. On game nights, John and Krissy go to the rink while the girls go to their grandparents or babysitters.
"We have 25 dates," John said.
Hardware hidden at home
A Christmas tree decorates the living room. As for a lack of additional domestic touches, Krissy admitted that years of temporary residences have her out of practice. But the couple is adamant there will be no shrine to past hockey glories.
A picture of John and Gophers teammate Jordan Leopold with the 2002 NCAA trophy and a framed block M commemorating the victory hang in the foyer along with the Pohls' framed college diplomas.
The remaining swag is hidden from view or in storage elsewhere. Krissy's Olympic silver and bronze medals are in the bedroom. Her 2005 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award, given to the top women's player in college hockey, is at her mother's house. John's 1998 Mr. Hockey trophy from his senior year at Red Wing High School is in his mother's basement.
"We don't want our kids thinking they have to win or be the best," Krissy said. "And it's our family home, not Mommy's and Daddy's."
"It's way more about ..." John said, pausing to collect his thoughts before Krissy added, "... the life experiences you have gained."
Family affair at practice
The Pohls make it a family affair when Krissy and the girls attend Cretin-Derham Hall practices at Charles M. Schultz-Highland Arena in St. Paul. John arrives first and gets things started with the team. Krissy arrives a little later and hands off the girls to be watched by the hockey student managers. Older girls Emily, 4 1/2, and Anna, 2 1/2, are big enough that they can look out a window and see their parents on the rink. Nine-month-old Lucy will have to wait a few seasons.
"His family comes first," said Terry Skrypek, longtime Hill-Murray and University of St. Thomas hockey coach. Skrypek attended Cretin and played hockey with John's father, Jim, before joining John's staff as an assistant. "He loves his girls and wants them around. People ask if he wants to coach the Cretin boys someday, but he seems to be happy right where he is."
John blows the whistle, draws up the drills and keeps everyone on task. Krissy, content with deferring the tough decisions to her husband in practices and games, offers advice to players and wears a perpetual smile on her face on the ice on behind the bench.
"They make it fun," Krissy said. "Sometimes I feel like I'm yelling at my kids all day. Then I can show up and the players are smiling and having a good time. It's a good hour-long break for me."
The feeling is mutual among players, several of whom count Krissy as an idol from her playing days and got her autograph as kids. They learned of John's professional hockey exploits through YouTube, most notably from a clip in which he gets the worst of a fight.
Senior forward Catie Russell, who previously worked with the couple at one of Krissy's offseason hockey camps, said players benefit from the coaches' complementary styles.
"He's definitely more energetic, and he's not afraid to say what he's thinking," Russell said. "On the bench during games he sometimes gets a little riled up and Krissy's got to calm him down."
Said senior defenseman Hannah Forliti: "It's fun to see them interact doing something they both love. It's really fun to be a part of it with them."
Players aren't just learning how to gameplan power plays and forechecks. They are teaching young parents what the future holds.
"There will be a day where all three of our girls will be in high school at the same time," John said. "In a way, every day at practice is a little bit of a snapshot of what our life is going to be like someday."
Parents off the ice
John grew up with three younger brothers, and Krissy has an older brother and younger sister. But it's different when you run the household.
After practice one afternoon last week, Krissy, Emily and Lucy got home first and mom prepared a dinner consisting of shredded barbecue chicken sandwiches and Tater Tots. John and Anna arrived home after a quick run through Target. As dad fed Lucy, Emily asked him to read the book "The Littlest Elf." Above, a princess balloon was caught in the ceiling fan.
"With three kids, we do in one day what we used to do in a week with laundry and baths and dishes," John said. "I think Krissy and I have been out to two movies in five years."
If the Pohls, who are unlikely to have more children, got a nickel every time someone asked whether their girls would become hockey players, "It would be like we won the lottery," Krissy said. John and Krissy want them to follow their passions and are not concerned whether or not hockey makes the list.
Emily skates but doesn't like holding a stick. She prefers dancing and singing. Anna's idea of hockey is batting a Disney princess ball around the downstairs playroom with a plastic hockey stick.
"I just want them to be involved with something," John said. "I kind of hope they play some sort of team sport because you learn to work with others to accomplish a goal."
That philosophy is a big reason the couple coaches together. When approached about the Cretin-Derham Hall job, John refused to accept without Krissy's help.
"Hockey coaching is the only thing we're qualified to do," Krissy joked.
John added, "And we can do it together."
David La Vaque • 612-673-7574