Cloquet-Esko-Carlton teammates Courtney (Esse) Olin and Montana (Vichorek) Hemling will be reunited Wednesday, as the teams they coach face off in the Class A State quarterfinals.
Olin's CEC Lumberjacks play Hemling's Hutchinson Tigers Wednesday at 1 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The winning team will play Friday at 11 a.m. against the winner of Warroad vs. Willmar.
Olin, 28, is the head coach for CEC and has been with the team for five years. A 2010 graduate of Cloquet High School, Olin played forward and defense for the Lumberjacks. She went on to the College of St. Scholastica, graduating in 2013.
Hemling, 29, is an assistant coach for the Hutchinson Tigers and has been with the team for three years. A 2008 graduate of Cloquet High School, Hemling played defense for the Lumberjacks.
The Pine Journal reached out to the coaches to get their thoughts on facing each other, their memories from their time as teammates and more.
What does the game of hockey mean to you?
Olin: I started playing (at) about 5 years old and grew up ... surrounded by the game of hockey, so it has been a large part of my life. I am fortunate to be able to be involved with it every day as a coach.
Hemling: I started playing at 4, but have been around the sport my entire life. It has brought almost instant friendships and bonds that will probably last a lifetime. Hockey, in addition to all sports, teaches you many life lessons such as dealing with adversity, hard work, time management, etc. Some of my best memories are from playing hockey or being around my teammates on road trips/tournaments.
What is your first memory of playing together?
Olin: Montana and I were fortunate enough to be on the same team for a few years in high school. She was an outstanding defenseman, and I can remember her ability to skate end-to-end.
Hemling: The first memory I thought of was when we made T-shirts using tape and spray paint during a summer tournament. We made them in a locker room and probably spent too much time in the small room and spent a while giggling outside before our game.
What are your favorite memories from playing in the state hockey tournament when you were a student?
Olin: One of my favorite memories was being a part of the team for the state championship game my seventh grade year. The atmosphere of that game was awesome. There is nothing like the state tournament, so all three experiences were some of the best memories of my hockey career.
Hemling: The first year we went to the state tournament was at Ridder Arena. I remember the atmosphere being amazing! The arena was filled, and the fans were right along the glass cheering. It is one of my favorite experiences despite losing in the final. I also remember being told by Coach Bart that under no circumstances were we to say anything into the camera when we were introduced. I definitely did not want to get in trouble, so I don't think I even looked into the camera when I was introduced. We also weren't supposed to move during the National Anthem, and I was terrified I would just start sliding forward. Overall, both of my experiences were amazing and very different. All these girls are lucky to get this experience because many never get the opportunity, and they’ll remember it for the rest of their lives.
What does it mean to you as a coach for your team to be playing at state this year?
Olin: I am so proud of the girls and the success that they have earned this season. Not many people get to experience a state tournament, and they are so deserving of this opportunity, in my opinion. These will be some of the best memories of their high school careers, and we are looking forward to this week.
Hemling: I’m just excited the girls are letting me be a part of this experience again. It’s been a long time since I've been back to the state tournament, and I’m really excited to get to go along for the ride.
What challenge(s) did you or your team overcome to get to this point?
Olin: The biggest challenge we faced this season was feeling a little bit of pressure after we sustained a long win streak (17 games, longest in school history). Through this, our girls continued to perform and see success. We are hoping some of that pressure felt during the season will have helped us prepare for the state tournament.
Hemling: My biggest challenge that I’m still working to overcome is transitioning from playing to coaching. It’s definitely not easy and the girls have put up with me fumbling through it.
What do you see as the biggest challenge for your team at state?
Olin: I think the biggest challenge will simply be the high caliber scale and quality of the teams we will face. We know we will see very skilled teams, so we will need to execute and play very strong, disciplined hockey to compete.
Hemling: This is the first time a lot of girls have been to the state tournament, not just on our team. They all need to remember to just go play their game and have fun. Remember your roles, play as a team and enjoy the experience.
How does it feel to coach against one of your former teammates?
Olin: I am looking forward to seeing Montana on Wednesday. It’s been a while since I have seen her, and it should be fun coaching against her.
Hemling: It makes it a little extra exciting! Not that every game isn't exciting, but it’s different when you play your old high school and have known the coaches for a long time — it brings out a little extra competitiveness. It should be a great time and I wish all of the girls good luck at state. This is an amazing opportunity and the girls need to enjoy every minute of it.