By Brett Zallek
The St. Ben’s hockey team has a new look this season both on the ice and on the bench.
The team is looking to fill spots of the eight players who graduated, who are replaced by nine incoming first-years, but they also are playing under an interim head coach and a new assistant coach this season.
As the season begins, Head Coach Jennifer Kranz is away on maternity leave, and assistant Shaun Meinke has stepped in as interim head coach. Kranz
expects to return to the bench when the team comes back from a trip to Europe over Christmas Break.
Meinke said the transition in head coaches has not been problematic.
“It’s not too different,” Meinke said. “We had lots of meetings with [Kranz] ahead of time and came up with a plan of attack on how we wanted to play as a team this year.
“We have a young team that’s full of potential, and it takes a little bit for everyone to come together and work as a team, but we’re headed in the right direction and we’re happy with our progress thus far.”
In addition, St. Ben’s hired Sam LaShomb to join the staff as an assistant coach, who comes to the team with a significant resume.
A graduate of South St. Paul High School, LaShomb led the Packers to a runner-up finish in the Minnesota State Tournament Class 1A game in 2012 and was named All-State three times. She won a silver medal on the international stage with the United States at the 2012 U18 World Championship and went on to play four years for the University of North Dakota (UND), where she led the team’s defensemen in points in her freshman season. She finished her playing career with 37 points (12 goals, 25 assists) in 144 games played for the Fighting Hawks.
After graduating from UND in 2016, LaShomb said she knew she was not ready to move on from hockey.
“I knew after I was done playing that there were a lot of very influential coaches that I had along the way that helped me get to where I was with the success I had, and I wanted to be able to give that opportunity to others,” LaShomb said. “I wanted to give back to the game and give back to females and to female hockey especially.”
The CSB players are excited to have LaShomb.
“From a player aspect, I think having somebody younger and more relatable is nice,” senior captain Brigette Miller said.
Fellow senior captain Kaitlyn Miller added: “[LaShomb] is the defensive coach, and she brought a lot of fresh new ideas and a lot of new techniques and has really brought a new level of play to the D-side for sure.”
An improvement in the defensive zone is something the Bennies will be looking for in 2017-18.
Last season, St. Ben’s had the second-highest goals-allowed average (GAA) in the MIAC at 3.26 and the worst penalty kill percentage in the conference, successfully killing only 64.1 percent of opponents’ power plays. St. Olaf, who was ninth out of 10 teams, killed off 77.2 percent.
“We are aware of the [PK percentage] and everything, and special teams is a focus of ours early on in the season,” Meinke said.
After a 4-18-3 (MIAC 1-14-3) record last year, the Bennies are anxious to improve this season.
“We’re excited for a little bit of a changeup and to get off on a different start [this year],” K. Miller said.
That different start will have to wait at least one more week. The Bennies opened the season with 0-6 and 1-3 losses to UW-Eau Claire and Concordia University (Wis.), respectively. After the Alumnae Game on Nov. 4, they open MIAC play on Nov. 9 when they host Hamline.