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Pohl’s Pioneers

John and Krissy Pohl coach daughter, Hill-Murray girls’ hockey to 12-0 record.

Hill-Murray freshman Emily Pohl skates past Andover's Avery Kasick to go for a puck on the end boards at Andover Ice Arena on Dec. 22, 2023. (MHM Photo / Heather Rule)

Hill-Murray girls’ hockey freshman forward Emily Pohl took the puck into the offensive zone, then skated around elite Andover defenseman Mackenzie Jones. Pohl still carried the puck with her as she was falling to the ice. She eventually got a shot off, and the puck trickled over the goal line for a 1-0 first-period lead over Andover.

Emily’s mom, and Hill-Murray co-head coach Krissy Pohl, didn’t see the puck go in.

“I was already shaking my head when she tried to pull it,” Krissy said. “Because I said, ‘oh, you can’t turn it over there, you’ve got to get it deep.’

“I wanted her to shoot.”

Emily said she wasn’t “really sure what happened” on the play, but of course, she was happy that the puck ended up going over the goal line for her 14th goal of the season, tied for the team lead with senior Chloe Boreen.

Pohl’s goal was all the offense the Pioneers needed to keep their undefeated, 12-0 record, although her teammate Sophie Olson added a goal early in the second period to give the top-ranked Pioneers a 2-0 road victory over No. 3-ranked Andover on Dec. 22.

Emily also played with the varsity team last season, scoring nine goals and 28 points in 28 games as an eighth-grader. This season, she’s scored a goal in 10 of the first 12 games, registering a point in all but one game, a 2-1 victory over Edina on Nov. 30.

Pohl is one of the talented pieces that’s turned in a few impressive wins on a tough schedule so far. The Pioneers knocked off one of the best in Class 2A in Minnetonka with a 5-3 victory on Dec. 9 at Pagel Ice Arena. Pohl tied that game 1-1, the first of her two goals on the night, only 16 seconds after the Skippers grabbed a lead.

Hill-Murray is scoring 5.25 goals per game this season while allowing only 0.75 goals per game. Senior goaltender Grace Zhan (10-0-0) leads the state with a .963 save percentage and a pair of shutouts. Zhan earned the victory over Andover, coming up with plenty of key saves early, on multiple breakaways, on multiple rebound attempts and during the final couple of minutes when Andover pulled its goaltender for the extra skater.

Hill-Murray goaltender Grace Zhan watches a rolling puck to her left as Andover and Hill-Murray players chase after it. (MHM Photo / Heather Rule)

The last time Andover was shut out? Jan. 29, 2020, also at the hands of Hill-Murray on the Andover Community Center ice.

“(Grace) is awesome,” Emily said. “We’re really, really lucky.”

Zhan is even-keeled and humble, Krissy said, and a backbone of their team.

Last season, Hill-Murray fell short in its section final to eventual Class 2A champion Gentry Academy. Following head coach Shawn Reid stepping down after last season, Natalie Darwitz was tapped to be the next coach for the Pioneers. But with the new Professional Women’s Hockey League starting up this season, Darwitz took a job as Team Minnesota’s general manager.

Krissy, 2000 Ms. Hockey winner from Park Center (then Krissy Wendell) and her husband, Hill-Murray athletic director and 1998 Mr. Hockey from Red Wing, John Pohl, stepped in as the girl’s hockey coaches this season, not that being behind the bench was an unfamiliar place for them. They’ve coached their daughter Emily for years, though their plan wasn’t to coach her in high school, Krissy said. They wanted her to “hear different voices,” but this coach-player dynamic at Hill-Murray is a unique circumstance, Krissy added.

They talked to Emily before accepting the coaching position, and she took some time to think about it. Krissy said she and John are harder on Emily than they are on most of the other players, but Emily has also been receptive to that.

“It’s a push-pull,” Krissy said. “I’m giving her her space.

“We’re still figuring it out. She’s a good kid. She’s a pretty mature kid, and we’re pretty proud of her for that.”

Despite the extensive and successful hockey resumes from her parents, Emily is already paving her own way on the ice. Emily said she doesn’t feel pressure because of her parents’ accomplishments. Rather, they’re “very supportive, and they want me to have fun,” Emily said.

“I like to try to be strong and physical but also do the little things,” Emily said. “Get my pucks out of the D zone and try to be there for my teammates on the bench.”

She prides herself on being a good teammate, which also helps keep the pressure off, Emily said. She has her teammates’ backs, and she knows they have hers.

“It’s always good to have a good team around you, and I am blessed to have that,” Emily said.

Though the hockey apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, Krissy said Emily is her own person who’s also a leader for her two younger sisters, seventh-grader Anna and sixth-grader Lucy.

“I do think she knows her own identity, and she knows who she is,” Krissy said. “It’s fun to see her kind of evolve.”

Mom and dad are coaching all three girls on their various hockey teams. They all also play tennis and golf, but the girls are also “all very different,” Krissy said. So, there’s potential for the trio of sisters to skate in the Hill-Murray ranks in a couple of years.

“That’s a long way away,” Krissy said. “We’ll see where we’re at. … That would be really special if it happened.”

Heather's love for watching hockey started when the Minnesota Wild came to town in 2000. Before that, she caught a few Minnesota Moose games as a youngster, and more recently she's kept up with the Austin Bruins and Fargo Force. She's a writer, freelance journalist and blogger who previously worked as a news reporter in Austin and Fergus Falls, Minn. She enjoys watching sports and closely follows the Wild, Minnesota Twins, IndyCar Series, tennis and prep sports. Heather keeps up her sports blog Thoughts from the Stands. You can follow her on Twitter/X @hlrule or Instagram @hlrule.

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