When Jeff Mahoney was attending the University of Minnesota-Morris, one of his work study duties was to clear the outdoor hockey rink.
"That's pretty much my hockey background," laughed the Morris/Benson Area girls hockey coach. "We clean-ed the rink with a big two-handled shovel. The oth-er guys made fun of me because I couldn't skate and it took me twice as long out there with my boots on. So after everyone went home, I'd put skates on and try to teach myself how to skate."
You'd never know he didn't grow up with hockey in his veins by the success his team is having. The Storm finished the regular season 18-4 after a 17-0 whipping of Redwood Valley Tuesday night and is expecting a No. 2 or No. 3 seed in the upcoming section playoffs.
Mahoney was a wrestler for Morris High School, graduating in 1981, and then went on to wrestle at UMM. Looking for coaches in the youth hockey program in Morris, Mahoney agreed to help out.
"I went to some clinics and read a lot," he explained. "I was learning myself while I was trying to teach the kids."
Mahoney moved up the ranks and eventually landed the head coaching job five years ago at Morris/Benson Area.
The Storm have outscored their opponents 139-52 this season and are currently on an 11-game winning streak, including six shutouts in that streak by sophomore goaltender Brooke Falk, who has manned MBA nets all season and has a 2.25 goals-against-average.
"I think our defense more than anything has been the strength of the team," said Mahoney. "They really all play well together and know what each other's role is. And we have a very good goalie."
The MBA offense has also been explosive, scoring seven-or-more goals nine times this season.
Dani Schultz, a sophomore, is the first-line center and is the state's second-leading scorer behind New Ulm's Korinne O'Connor. Schultz has 42 goals and 33 assists for 75 points. She has 150 points in her career.
"She is truly an amazing player," said Mahoney. "Her motor just goes and goes and goes. She never stops playing hard, no matter what the score is."
But Schultz proved that padding her stats wasn't something that revved up her engine. In one game this season, she displayed one of the most unselfish acts Mahoney has ever seen.
"The other team had pulled their goalie and Dani was going in on the empty net," said Mahoney. "But instead of shooting it, she passed it back to Morgan DeHann, a little seventh-grader who hadn't scored all season."
But DeHaan missed the net and the puck bounced off the boards and back out in front, where a defenseman was now in front of the net. Schultz appeared to have put the puck in the net.
"I know Dani hit it in the net, but she claims she whiffed on the shot and it hit the defenseman and went in the net," said Mahoney. "And by rule, Morgan was credited with the goal because she was the last one to touch the puck for us. Dani knew the rule so I'm sure she wanted (DeHaan) to get the goal so she said she whiffed on it."
DeHaan scored her second goal of the season Tuesday night against Redwood Valley.
Schultz's usual linemates on the first line are also sophomores, Sam Falk and Kelly Mahoney. Falk has 22 goals and 34 assists and Mahoney has 8 goals and 11 assists. Sara Rajewsky, the center for the second line, is the team's third-leading scorer with 30 goals and 15 assists and is also a sophomore.
"We're pretty young, but the girls play with a lot of maturity," said Mahoney. "And the five seniors we do have play important roles for us."
The wings on the second line are seniors, Emily Rajewsky and Abby Knutson. MBA plays three defensemen, senior Dani Staples, junior Brooke Anderson and sophomore Monica Lindblad. Anderson is the fourth-leading scorer with 9 goals and 14 assists. The other seniors, Sara Beyer, in her first year out for hockey, and Katia Vantries, are mainstays on the third line.
"We've tried to live by a motto we put up this season 'Getting together is a beginning, keeping it together is a start and coming together is a success' and it's worked for us so far," said Mahoney. "We really are coming together as a team."
Mahoney is trying to pick up some scrimmages against some strong teams to gear up for the playoffs that begin Feb. 14.
"It's going to be a good section," he said. "Fergus Falls will likely be the top seed and then either Alexandria or us will be the two and three seeds."
And to think it all started with a pair of boots and a two-handled shovel.