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Regime change in Burnsville

By AARON PAITICH, Special to the Star Tribune, 11/30/12, 12:11AM CST


A new coach has inspired harder work and a fast start as the Blaze tries to regain state tourney form.

Burnsville High School hockey player Briita Nelson skated with the puck at practice

Shortly after he was hired in late April to replace longtime Burnsville girls' hockey coach Bruce Anderson, Garnet Asmundson called a team meeting.

This wasn't business as usual.

"Right away he laid down the law," senior defenseman Alexa Pearson said. "We were going to be a lot more disciplined, and he's going to have a harder work ethic in us. He expected a lot out of us even at the beginning."

It didn't take long for the new regime, which included all new assistants, to make an impression. It was a wake-up call for the girls and a program on the rocks.

"It kind of took me by surprise, just because it's not something we're used to," Pearson said. "But it's a lot better."

Asmundson was an assistant coach at Rosemount during the Irish's state tournament berth two seasons ago.

He previously served as Hamline University's head coach for seven years and led the Simley High School program before that. He's compiled 18 years of coaching experience with girls' and women's hockey.

"And I'm 18 years older than when I started," Asmundson said. "I think that helps a little bit, too."

So far, so good. The girls have embraced the change, and they have started the season 3-1-1. That's a huge turnaround from last year, when the team started 0-6-1.

After playing in the 2010 Class 2A state tournament, Burnsville has experienced back-to-back losing seasons. There needed to be a change, and now this staff has assumed full responsibility.

"It's up to myself to get this team back to where it had been not too long ago," Asmundson said.

And this team, buoyed by its promising start, is showing signs of becoming a winning program. Players have adjusted well to the new hierarchy and style of play. Most importantly, the girls are playing as one.

"There's a lot more respect for the coaches and our teammates," Pearson said. "We've been working a lot harder. We have all these systems this year that have been working a lot better. The overall chemistry is much better."

Asmundson is confident in constantly rolling out three forward lines and six defensemen every night.

Three talented juniors -- Paige Skaja, Briita Nelson and Lindsey Coleman -- are on the Blaze's top line and have been racking up the bulk of the team's points. Skaja leads the team with six goals.

"They're a handful for opponents to compete against," Asmundson said.

Goalie Lauren Bench, a 5-9 freshman, has two shutouts and a .938 save percentage in the first five games.

It's all about limiting mistakes for Burnsville this season. If the team can stay away from sloppy hockey and consistently make good decisions, players believe this team has potential.

The focus is on execution, not errors.

That's not going to be easy in a strong South Suburban Conference. But that competition will give them plenty of good tests to measure their progress before trying to reach their main goal, which is winning the section title.

"There's a lot of growth that's taking place in the three weeks I've had them," Asmundson said. "And there's a lot more growth that needs to take place to get to the ultimate prize for everybody, which is to make it to St. Paul."