HIBBING — When Pat Rendle was teaching in Hibbing, the boys hockey job opened up, so he threw his name into the hat.
Rendle didn’t get that job, but the consolation prize wasn’t that bad — the Bluejacket girls hockey program.
Hibbing was in its second year of existence, having lost in the section finals to Blaine during that inaugural 1995-96 season.
Rendle wasn’t sure what kind of team he was taking over, but his biggest issue was that he had no experience coaching females.
Thanks to Amber Fryklund and Beth Wolff, Rendle learned quickly that it was going to be no different than coaching the boys, other than the style of play.
It turned out to be a good fit as Hibbing won the state title in its second year as a program, beating Eagan 6-3 in the finals at the St. Paul Coliseum.
There were two things Rendle was concerned about heading into that season.
“I didn’t know how to approach it, and I didn’t know the talent level,” Rendle said. “I had watched a little bit of it, and I saw some of the play, but I didn’t know how good we were going to be.”
Rendle’s questions were put to rest when Fryklund and Wolff walked into his room one day and laid it on the line.
“Amber said, ‘Do you have any questions,’” Rendle said. “She said, ‘Coach us like we’re hockey players and athletes, and not girl hockey players.’ That kind of freaked me out, but it was the best coaching job that I had.
“It was so unique and fun. That crew was tight.”
Fryklund, who was more outgoing than Wolff, said she remembers that conversation distinctly.
“We didn’t want him to treat us like girls,” Fryklund said. “We wanted him to treat us like hockey players and not be afraid to coach us. It was an exciting time. We wanted to play, and we didn’t care who coached us.
“Many of us had played with the boys, and we didn’t know what our future held. It was a great opportunity. We were so excited to have a team and play.”
That’s how Wolff-Hyduke remembers it.
“He had never coached girls before, so it was his first go-around with the girls,” Wolff-Hyduke said. “We had to set the bar straight right from the beginning. For all sports, we want to be taken seriously.
“We wanted to be treated like everybody else.”
Jane Norman was the coach that first season, but this time, the Bluejackets would be playing for someone who served in the Marines.
Rendle spent four years in that branch of the military at Camp David when Ronald Reagan was in office. He was an honorably discharged E-5.
His style of coaching was going to be different than Norman’s.
“Jane did a great job with us, so we were well conditioned when Pat came in,” Fryklund said. “The difference, we learned how to play more system hockey. He brought a lot of structure into it, and he was a good motivator.
“We trusted him and believed in what he was doing. He respected us as hockey players, but he had that tough-guy look to him. We were a little scared of him at first, but he wasn’t scary at all.
“He knew the game of hockey. He got after us when he needed to, but he was respectful. He had high expecttions.”
Wolff-Hyduke agreed with Fryklund on that point.
“He always came off as a tough guy, but as you got to know him, he and all of the coaches were kind of goofy,” Wolff-Hyduke said. “He was my favorite because of all those aspects.
“He was hard on you, but he knew what we needed, especially with a new program. He was good at taking it seriously.”
Hibbing goalie Natalie Lamme liked the way Rendle ran the ship.
“He was the type of coach that didn’t have to ask, you just wanted to jump as high as you could,” Lamme said. “You wanted his respect, and he never took advantage of that. You wanted to play for him. He was a great coach and good motivator.
“He understood that the captains created the culture, and he steered the ship. You rely on the captains and seniors to mold and make that winning culture. That was a key to our success. He allowed the seniors to own it. It was a right of passage for everyone. That’s what makes for a good team.”
Rendle, to his credit, wasn’t afraid to empower his players to take ownership of the team.
“I would rely on my captains to educate me on what would happen,” Rendle said. “They had been together for a long time, and I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t want to come in as an outsider and change everything up.
“When I think back on that year, I started to realize that they were hockey players. They had expectations. I let them be individuals. They did some cool things. I got some good advice, and I was smart enough to listen.”
Rendle said Fryklund and Wolff-Hyduke had the respect of everyone on that team.
“They always listened to them,” Rendle said. “That was an example of when you have great leaders. That was a big part of it.”
There were lighter moments as well.
“On road trips, we’d play pranks on each other — the players, coaches, cheerleaders,” Fryklund said. “We worked hard, but had fun. That came from the coaching staff, too. It was a great environment to be in.”
One practical joke backfired on the girls.
“Krista (Simonson) put clear tape on the bottom of Richie (Bryant’s) skates,” Wolff-Hyduke said. “Someone may have told him, so he took it off, but he didn’t tell anyone. He came out on the ice and fell.
“He acted like he broke his shoulder and left the ice. He came back just fine. The joke was on us.”
The biggest practical joke was played just before the Roseville game in the quarterfinals at state.
In the hotel just prior to the game, Lamme was called down to the lobby by Fryklund.
“She said there was a gift for me,” Lamme remembered. “It was a black rose with a card that said, ‘Enjoy the suntan.’ I didn’t really get it, but they said Roseville sent it to me. I was livid.
“They explained it to me, and it pumped me up to no end. I was walking around with that flower thinking, ‘I can’t believe they did this.’” I carried that flower with me all throughout the rink before the game. It must have worked.”
After the Bluejackets won, in the handshake line, Lamme mentioned the rose to the Curtain sisters, Rhonda and Renae.
“I had a healthy relationship with them, so I asked them if they wanted their rose back,” Lamme said. “They had no idea what I was talking about. Years later, we talked about that, and they said, ‘We were wondering what you were talking about? What did that mean?’”
With that said, when it was time to take the game seriously, this team shifted into another gear.
“They cared about each other,” Rendle said. “They got in their roles and accepted them. When you have that many talented kids in Hibbing, that’s rare. We liked them, and they liked us.
“They were funny, but serious about playing hockey. They had a ton of fun.”
At state, the Bluejackets would beat the Raiders, ending their 51-game winning streak.
With the score tied 3-3, with under 20 seconds to play and faceoff coming up in Hibbing’s defensive zone, Rendle called timeout.
When she got to the bench, Fryklund was caught off guard with what Rendle had to say.
“I assumed he’d say, ‘Get this game into overtime,’ ” Fryklund said. “He said, ‘Let’s win this thing.’ I lost the faceoff, but Beth was in perfect position, and we went down and scored. The last 15 seconds of that game were surreal.”
Hibbing would beat Blaine in the semifinals, then in the finals against Eagan, the Bluejackets beat the Natalie Darwitz-led Wildcats to claim the title.
That’s something those players will never forget.
“We had so many different personalities and skill levels,” Wolff-Hyduke said. “We needed goofy, and we needed everybody working hard. You couldn’t have asked for a better coach. What he brought to the program was amazing.”
In 1998, Hibbing advanced into the finals, but lost 1-0 to Apple Valley in overtime.
“It’s cliché to say it’s more difficult trying to do that for a second time, but it’s true,” Rendle said. “It’s not a cliché.”
The Bluejackets started 3-3 that season, and nothing was jelling.
“We weren’t playing great,” Fryklund said. ‘He (Rendle) pulled us in and said, ‘What’s going on?’ Beth and I looked at each and said, ‘We have to figure this out.’ We figured it out and moved on. Our intention all year was to get back to that state-final game.”
It may sound innocuous, but the rallying cries became, “Back-to-Back” and Attack-Attack.”
“We had to do something because the whole thing was boring,” Rendle said. “We had a meeting and the problem was we weren’t putting enough pressure on ourselves. We wanted to win the section again.
“We had to put our fingerprint on something that said we were going for it again.”
After that meeting, that’s when things turned around.
“We got this edge,” Rendle said. “We let everybody know we were making another run. I loved that team.”
The Bluejackets came close, but that didn’t sour all of the accomplishments those two teams had.
“When you look back now, to get there twice and almost win it twice, that’s amazing,” Wolf-Hyduke said. ‘The chemistry, on and off of the ice, that’s the reason why teams win.
“We were fortunate to have good people on those teams. Everyone had fun, but we took it seriously.”
It’s more special today.
“I was so young,” Lamme said. “It was my second year playing, and I was a little naive out there. Looking back, we did some great things, but you don’t realize how great until you’re old-and-gray.
“We did something special there. As an adult, I understand how special that was.”