Girls’ High School Hockey Preview: Hoff and Hilltoppers Hope to Reach New Heights – Duluth News Tribune

Duluth — Callie Huff was fresh out of college, graduating in May after five years of a women’s hockey career at Wisconsin River Falls, so the 2017 Hermantown High School graduate wasn’t excited when he first heard that Duluth Marshall had an opening for her position as girls’ hockey coaches in the early 2000s. September.

“I wasn’t sure of my plans,” Hoff said. “I had just graduated from college, so I wasn’t really thinking about being a head coach. I took it very seriously at first, but then as I learned more, I started getting more serious about the opportunity.”

Women's hockey coaches work with the team

Assistant coach Shauna Davidson, left, chats with head coach Callie Huff during Duluth Marshall girls’ hockey practice.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

Less than a month later, Huff was leading the Hilltoppers, replacing Amanda Poulier, who had resigned after two seasons. Huff is one of four new female hockey coaches in the region.

“I’ve always wanted to coach, but it came quickly,” said Huff. “I have talked to some people in the community and have been encouraged to do so. I have heard nothing but great things about this program, and I have not been disappointed. It has been nothing but great so far.”

The feeling seems mutual.

“She pushes us so hard, but she’s so amazing and takes such great care of us,” said Hilltoppers captain Meredith Butcher. “You can tell. She’s always asking us questions and asking for feedback. She just wants what’s best for us.”

With River Falls, Huff was named American Hockey Coaches Association’s Laura Hurd Hockey Player of the Year last March and awarded to the NCAA’s Division III Women’s Hockey Player of the Year.

Huff led the nation with 67 points on 26 goals and 41 assists, breaking the Falcons’ single-season record, and finished as the leading scorer in River Falls history.

“It was great,” she said.

Women's hockey coaches work with the team

Head coach Callie Huff interacts with her players during Duluth Marshall girls’ hockey practice.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

With that kind of skill, and given her age, only 23, it’s no wonder Huff loves jumping in workouts, and Hilltoppers often find themselves skaters, watching in awe.

“Oh, yeah, she’s always moving around in our workouts, and we appreciate that because there are times when we’re just sucking air, and we’re really tired,” Boettcher said. “She’s great, and it’s fun to watch too. She usually scores when she’s pretending.”

Women's hockey coaches work with the team

Assistant coach Shauna Davidson works with one of her players.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

Shortly after getting the job, Huff hired Shauna Davidson, a former Minnesota-Duluth women’s hockey assistant, to serve as associate head coach.

It was a kind of match made in Hilltopper heaven.

Davidson knows a lot of the guys from her co-star on Duluth Feeder, the Duluth Icebreakers. I trained some of them. So she trained Huff.

“I have a very good teacher in Shauna,” said Huff. “I really learned a lot from her, and I hope the girls can learn a lot from us.”

Butcher agreed.

“Honestly, it was great,” Butcher said. “Kali and Shauna, they really balance each other out. Kaley, who’s younger, she can relate to more with us, and she just played All-American in River Falls, so it’s great to have her with us. And then Shauna, with all her experience…they made a pair.” Cool.”

Women's hockey coaches work with the team

Kali Huff, second from left, watches her players practice at Mars Lakeview Arena.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

And it wasn’t like they got the keys to a 78 Pinto here.

The Hilltoppers are coming off back-to-back appearances in the Division 7A title game and went 17-8 last season.

“Amanda did an amazing job with the girls and with the team,” said Huff. “I don’t feel any pressure. I’m just excited to see where this team goes. It’s a newer team than it was last year and we’ve got fewer players. I’ll do the best they can and they’ll do the best they can, and that’s all you can ask for.”

Women's hockey coaches work with the team

Head coach Callie Huff explains a play.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

The only team that has stood in the way of the Hilltoppers over the past two seasons has been Hoff’s old team, Proctor/Hermantown Mirage.

While Duluth Marshall can’t match their depth, the Hilltoppers have plenty of talent.

Duluth Marshall has two very strong streaks middle junior Elsa Lindemann (34-21-55) and senior Danica Mark (9-11-20), but he can’t handle any hits.

The Hilltoppers will not be participating in an up-and-coming college for the first time since their re-emergence as a Minnesota High School Association program in 2014-15.

“We have a very small team of 17 players – 15 skaters and two guards,” said Huff. “Let’s just say these girls are going to get a lot of playtime. They’re ready and excited about it. It’s going to be a good test for them.”

Hockey coaches work with the team

Head coach Callie Huff works with a player during practice.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

The defense is very young but has talent with the likes of freshman Sarah Stober. Boettcher (13-21-34) has played along the blue line, and can certainly help out if needed, but the plan to start the season, at least, is to keep them on top.

With junior goaltender Chloe Clark and sophomore Ray Anderson, the Hilltoppers are solid in the net.

“We’re all trying to learn together,” Hoff said. “I’m trying to learn how they play and they’re trying to learn how I train, the systems I’ve put in. I don’t think there’s any hassle growing up right now. It’s going to be a learning experience one way or the other.”

Hockey coaches work with the team

Assistant coach Shauna Davidson, left, talks with head coach Callie Huff.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

Huff is thrown into the proverbial fire to start the season as the Hilltoppers open Friday, November 11, against the defending champions Warroad, followed by Breck, Edina, and the Holy Angels.

This will be a test, but there is no test that Hof did not pass.

“Oh, man, I can’t even tell you. Her future is so bright,” Boettcher said. “This was the perfect opportunity for her to put her feet on the ground and start training. It’s special when you’re just starting your coaching career and you’re going to be a head coach for universities. I think we will help her learn as much as she helps us. She will be a great coach. I hope she stays at Marshall as long as possible, but I think she’s capable of really high levels.”

New coaches are also in the Duluth Northern Stars, Clockett-esque Carlton Lumberjacks and Rock Ridge Wolverines.

North Duluth Stars Coached by Ali Randall, 28.

Head and shoulder image of a woman

Ali Randall
Duluth News Tribune

Randall began playing for the Minnetonka (MN) Youth Hockey Association and was a member of the 2012 Minnetonka High School Class AA State Championship team. She was a teammate of former Minnesota Duluth and Olympic gold medalist Sidney Morin.

Randall transferred to Duluth after college and became heavily involved with the Duluth Icebreakers, coaching four seasons with the U-12A team. The Icebreakers placed 3rd in the state championship in 2019. She also served as the Icebreakers Director of Recruitment and Development and was a USA National Development Camp Trainee Coach.

“I couldn’t be more grateful to the coaching staff and student-athlete who made this transition so smooth,” said Randall. “There is so much positivity and excitement on the rink these days. I have a good feeling the stars will align this year.”

The Cloquet / Esko / Carlton Lumberjacks Coached by Kennedy (Firkus) Hogg, 26.

Woman with glasses and brown hair in a ponytail

Kennedy Hogg.
Clint Austin/Duluth News-Tribune

Hough grew up in Woodbury, Minnesota, but went to Murray Hill High School, where she was a five-year varsity letter winner in hockey and softball. She played in four state girls’ hockey championships, winning back-to-back state championships in her junior and senior years.

After high school, she played four years as a defenseman for St. Scholastica and in 2020 was named to the Saints All-Decade Team.

Hogg’s grandfather, Steve Hogg, is the goaltender and defense coach at St. Paul Johnson High School, having coached within the program for 24 years. He also actively coaches at Minnesota High Performance programs and Minnesota Goaltending Camps. He was named to the Minnesota Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2021 (a class that included the Two Harbors of Steve Wasko) and received the 2022 John Mariucci Award. Her younger siblings play high school hockey at Cretin-Derham Hall in St. Paul.

The Rock Ridge Wolverines Coached by Patricia “Buddy” (Sutter) Elsmore, 43.

Head and shoulder image of a woman

Paddy Sable
Duluth News Tribune

Elsmore, who grew up in Switzerland, is a former national championship goaltender for the Minnesota Duluth Bulldogs. Lives in Escow and commutes to Eveleth, Virginia for training and games. She is married to Steve Elsmore, an American hockey player with Wisconsin Superior in the 1990s.

Elmore’s last apprenticeships were with Cloquet/Esko/Carlton as an assistant, and four years at St. Louis. Scholastica, head/assistant coach at Duluth Marshall and at Roseau (Minn.) High School for four years prior to that.

“We are looking forward to an exciting season with lots of young players eager to learn,” said Elsmore.

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