Former Hastings girls' hockey head coach Jeff Corkish, who coached the team for 17 years and helped build the program into what it is today, will be inducted into the Minnesota Girls Hockey Coaches Association Hall of Fame at the end of the season. The ceremony will take place on Thursday, Feb. 22, at Herbies in the Park between the afternoon and evening sessions of the Minnesota State High School League girls' state hockey tournament.

Coming to Hastings

Corkish came to Hastings not long after finishing graduate school in Grand Forks, N.D., and having had a few prior coaching gigs.

"I was looking for a teaching job, had to pay the bills, so basically I found a job that had girls hockey on it too," he explained. "I never had any interest in coaching girls hockey at the time, I wasn't against it but just didn't see myself doing it, I always thought I would be a boys coach, but the teaching job came first and the girls job came with it and that's how I got down here."

However, it was not long before he was truly excited about the possibilities of the Raiders girls' program, with help from longtime-assistant Steve Benson.

"It was a lot of fun actually," Corkish said. "The first thing that got me excited was I met with Steve Benson, who was the assistant coach at the time, and we sat down at the Bierstube with a yellow pad of paper and we just started writing down ideas. Right away we found out we were on the same page of how to develop hockey plays and how to go after coaching players, even though I had limited experience coaching girls."

What he learned

Corkish took over the program for the 1999-2000 season and he said it immediately proved popular in Hastings.

"It just took off, it was exciting," he said. "It was at the time when girls were very, very excited to be playing girls hockey. It was a new opportunity and had only been around for a couple years, so they were pumped up about it and they were excited to have a young coach who was equally excited as them. The energy was a lot of fun and they were happy that somebody cared about them as hockey players and treated them like hockey players."

He also said there are several differences between girls' and boys' hockey that makes coaching the girls so rewarding.

"I learned right away how fun girls are to coach," Corkish stated. "They're so coachable, so thankful, they're fun to be around, they want to talk and share with their coaches, it's a cool bond. When I bring coaches over to the girls it doesn't take long for them to go 'oh man, this is a lot of fun, these girls are fun'. They end up realizing they lose a little bit on the competitive side, the fast pace of boys hockey, and the physicality of it all. But if they're willing to allow that to happen, they fall right into how competitive girls can be, how much they want to win too, and how fun they are to coach. There are two sides to coaching boys and girls, they both have their good and bad, but coaches really fall in love with the fact girls don't have that 'I know it all' attitude like the boys do sometimes."

Building the program

Corkish explained that right from the beginning, he, Benson and the rest of the program had high expectations of their players on and off the ice.

"We expected them to work hard, to commit and to be good leaders," he said. "We knew right away from day one we had to develop the program from the bottom, so we used our high school kids, we put that expectation in place right away to work with the youth program, to recruit, to work at practices and be good role models because that's how we knew the depth of the program would come."

"They did every bit of it and loved every bit of it," Corkish continued. "This award certainly is not my award, this award belongs to all of us. Every one of those girls who went on the ice and recruited kids for us; any of those girls who walked into an elementary gym and committed two or three hours to talk with kids; or going into the elderly centers and doing Christmas with them and talking with them, just having a good image in the community and having people talk highly of what the girls hockey team is like. Those are the experiences we had that allow us to have this award today. All of the coaches who were committed to this but aren't around anymore, who were right beside me. Parents who put in so much time, without those people none of this would ever even be here."

The most important memories, he said, were when players began to understand the meaning and value of hard work and that doing things the right way yields the best results. As for achievements on the ice, what really came to mind, he said, was the run the team made in the section playoffs that first year. There were no expectations and the Raiders were able to come out and knock off South St. Paul, 2-0, on the road, and then give Eagan and superstar Natalie Darwitz a scare going into the third period.

Corkish stepped down as head coach after the 2015-2016 season in order to watch his kids who were playing, but he still remains heavily involved with youth hockey and developing young players. When asked about whether or not he would consider returning to coaching again once his kids were done playing, he did not rule it out, as coaching college hockey has always interested him. However, he did say that he is happy with his involvement in youth programs and continues to learn how best to develop young hockey players.