ST. CLOUD, Minn. — Tony Holcomb has coached boys and girls hockey at several levels throughout the years. Now, he's getting a chance to do something he has not done before — be a head varsity coach.
Holcomb, who recently was hired to be a special education teacher at South Junior High School in St. Cloud, has accepted the St. Cloud Icebreakers girls hockey head coaching position.
"I've always wanted to be a girls head coach and I've been coaching hockey for more than 20 years," he said. "I've been an assistant coach for the Owatonna boys and girls hockey programs."
This past season, Holcomb helped coach a 12-and-under girls hockey team with his daughter, Alyssa, a former Owatonna High School and University of Wisconsin-La Crosse club team player.
"I've coached a lot of youth hockey and, looking for a new teaching job, teaching special education, I saw St. Cloud had an opening," said Holcomb, a St. Cloud State University graduate. "I was up there this summer because my son (Alec) played in the Northwoods League for Waterloo and they were playing at St. Cloud against the St. Cloud Rox.
"With the (Municipal Athletic Complex), the hockey facility is right next door, it reminded me how much I enjoy St. Cloud."
Then Mark Chamernick resigned as the Icebreakers head coach and St. Cloud Cathedral softball head coach. With Alec finishing up his degree at North Dakota State University, this seemed like the right time to try to get a head coaching position.
"I haven't coached in high school for probably 10 years and I've been coaching a lot of youth programs," he said. "My daughter is 25, my son is 22 and I have another daughter who is 16 and I've been watching them. This is the time to get back into high school coaching."
Unique interviewing process
The Icebreakers are a co-op team made up of players from St. Cloud Apollo, St. Cloud Tech and St. Cloud Cathedral. Typically when a person is a finalist for a head coaching position, they would go and interview in person with their potential bosses. Because of the stay at home orders, Holcomb's interview was done in an online zoom meeting.
"You look at the computer screen and I got to see all the people I'm talking with and they got to see me and it's an interview like that and it went very well," he said. "But you don't get to see people in their surroundings and all together.
"I talked to all three athletic directors and they all seem like good guys, but they all come at it from a little different direction and they were all together."
Emmett Keenan, Cathedral's activities director, said that the zoom job interview was a new experience for him as well.
"When you do it via zoom meeting, a couple things: you get to see everyone's face at the same time and you can see reactions," Keenan said. "But it's a little tougher getting to know somebody that way.
"On the other hand, I think we got a very good sense of every candidate and spent quite a bit of time with each candidate online. There's some nuances, but not a whole lot different from the face-to-face interview."
Holcomb has taught and coached at Owatonna High School, Bloomington Jefferson High School and the last two years at Cannon Valley Special Education Cooperative in Faribault.
"I think what struck us is that he's an educator," Keenan said of Holcomb, who has also coached high school baseball and junior high football. "He's been a teacher, he's been coaching in an educational setting for many years and has coached multiple sports in that setting.
"You get a sense when talking to him that he was going to have a high level of respect for educational athletics and the things that we are trying to accomplish with sports at the high school level."
Replacing a longtime coach
The Icebreakers were 15-11 last season and lost to third-seeded Alexandria in the quarterfinals of the Section 8AA playoffs. St. Cloud loses nine players to graduation from that team, including three players (forward Gabbie Rud, Cornell; goalie Ashlea Arvidson, St. Scholastica; and defenseman Jordann Swingle, Wisconsin-Superior) who plan to play college hockey in the fall.
"I really believe that running 3-4 lines is important and running a system that you can run more players and keep them involved," said Holcomb, who played football, hockey and baseball at Faribault High School. "Finding a role for every player is important.
"That being said, with running 3-4 lines, you've got to play with high energy. I want the girls to go after it, quick shifts, next line and we're going to mix lines up until we find lines that work."
Holcomb replaces Chamernick, who was in his second stint as the team's head coach. Chamernick was the Icebreakers coach from 2005-15 and the team was 130-113-5 and won Central Lakes Conference titles in 2010 and 2014. He returned to the program in 2018 and St. Cloud went 26-26 in those two seasons.
Chamernick had also coached football and softball for Cathedral.
"When he gave us his letter of resignation and had it on there that he'd been at Cathedral for 18 years, I had to check and see if he could count right because it didn't seem like that long," Keenan said. "Not only was he a great colleague, but a great friend. I'm happy for him and I think it's great move for him professionally.
"But it's going to be weird not to see him in the hallway every day not to see him at the rink, the softball diamond or the football field. Warroad does not have any idea how lucky they are. He'll be a great addition to their community, their school and be a great administrator."