East Ridge high School made a long-anticipated announcement last week, filling the vacancy for its first-ever head varsity boys hockey coach with someone well-acquainted in east metro puck play -- Doug Long.
"I'm very excited -- it's a golden opportunity," he said. "There's a lot of work to be done."
Long is a former head coach of both the Stillwater boys and girls teams and served most recently as an assistant at White Bear Lake.
A 1985 graduate of Minneapolis Southwest High School, Long played goaltender for the Lakers with the first Mr. Hockey, Tom Chorske. He then competed collegiately at the College of St. Scholastica in Duluth.
Long coached the Ponies girls to a state tournament appearance in 1997 -- placing sixth -- in his only season as that squad's coach.
He was also an assistant on the St. Croix Bantam A team that went to State in 1994 before taking over as head of the boys team when current Hill-Murray coach Bill Lechner left SAHS prior to the 1997-98 season.
"Since stepping away, I've been looking to be a head coach again," he said. "It had to be the right situation though, and East Ridge was the perfect fit."
The new coach, who currently teaches Biology at Stillwater Area High School accepted the position on April 22, according to ERHS assistant principal Matt Kraft, after spending five seasons as an assistant coach under Tim Sager with the now-rival Bears.
"I learned a lot from coach Sager, as well as my fellow assistants Nick Nitti and Ben Butters," Long said. "There's a rich tradition at White Bear Lake and it was neat to soak that in."
Long said he is ready to get started with his new team as there is much to work on and the clock is already ticking.
"In no particular order, I've got to put a staff together, take care of our equipment needs and reach out to a whole new hockey community," he said.
The last part certainly will take the most time as the new coach goes about piecing together his new program from a blend of two existing ones in Cottage Grove and Woodbury.
"It's a very unique situation to be sure," Long said. "We'll be working to bring a sense of identity to this program.
"I want our kids to feel a sense of pride in being an East Ridge Raptor."