‘A perfect season’: Thief River Falls coach Whitney Restemayer, a former Bemidji Lumberjack, is first woman to coach state hockey champion in Minnesota
THIEF RIVER FALLS — Early on in the Thief River Falls girls hockey season, Whitney Restemayer had a grandfather of one of her players come up to her with a prediction.
“We are going to state and you’re going to be the first woman to win a state title,” he said. “I’m sure of it.”
Restemayer remembered. And so did that man, when he went up to her on Feb. 21 at the Xcel Energy Center said four words:
“I told you so.”
The Prowlers defeated Blake 3-1 that day to win the Class A championship, and Restemayer became the first woman in Minnesota High School League history to coach a team to a state championship.
It seems odd, but it’s true: Restemayer is the only woman to coach a team to a state hockey championship in the State of Hockey.
And she happens to hail from Bemidji.
“It’s a big deal,” the former Lumberjack said. “Even in my playing days, there weren’t a lot of female coaches.”
Restemayer graduated from Bemidji High School in 2006 and played for Matt Menne and Rick Coe during her high school days.
“We were a good team, but never made it to the state tournament,” she said. “We played at Nymore Rink and the team was family.”
After graduating from BHS, she played for Division III Augsburg College in Minneapolis, a program led by longtime coach Jill Pohtilla.
During her time at Augsburg, she got a lot of help and was close with the assistant coaches.
“The biggest thing there was the staff in general,” she said. “Coach Pohtilla was busy being the head coach of a college program, so I became closer with some of the assistant coaches.”
After her four seasons with the Auggies, she became an assistant coach at Andover High School.
But her years playing for Menne and Coe in Bemidji, as well as playing for Pohtilla and the staff at Augsburg rubbed off on her, creating the coach Thief River Falls has today.
“I took bits and pieces from every staff I played on and coached with,” she said. “It has made who I am today.”
Today, Restemayer works at Challenger Elementary in Thief River Falls while also coaching the Prowler’s girls hockey and softball teams. Restemayer was also a softball standout at BHS.
After spending many years in the city, she missed the community atmosphere that came with northern Minnesota high school sports.
“It’s a lot like Bemidji (in Thief River Falls),” she said. “I came here and I had forgot about that northern pride. It’s more tight knit up here.”
She was the assistant coach in 2014, and this season took over as head coach of the girls hockey program.
Restemayer knew she had a strong team and were on a state tournament mission all season — which showed from their 26-1-3 overall record.
“I had a state tournament mindset,” she said. “When we won the section, it was a sigh of relief.”
TRF beat New Ulm 5-1 in the quarterfinals, topped South St. Paul 4-1 in the semifinals and unseated two-time defending champions Blake 3-1 in the title game.
It was Thief River Falls’ first state championship in any sport since 1956.
“I did not anticipate winning it all,” Restemayer said. “We had a happy to be there mentality when we got there, but realized we could do it.
“After we won it was like, ‘what did we just do’. Nobody, not the players, the fans or the community, had experienced something like that. It felt just like when we made it to state.”
Restemayer also won the Class A Coach of the Year award, and during the banquet she addressed the state of female athletes in Minnesota — specifically those getting the chance to earn college scholarships.
“To a lot of Minnesota girls, the Division I thing just isn’t something they think of,” she said. “This makes it more realistic that you don’t need a man to coach you to get far. Females have come a long way in sports in general.
“I know I’m the first to win, but I enjoy knowing that I won’t be the last.”
Three of Restemayer’s players will be continuing their college careers in their coach’s hometown. Seniors Emily Bergland and Sylvia Marolt — five-year letter-winners at TRF — will play for Jim Scanlan’s Bemidji State Beavers next season, while junior Briana Jorde will join the Beavers in 2015-16.
“Those girls paved the way for Thief River Falls,” Restemayer said. “Scanlan wished us luck and told us we would represent the section well. I told him I hope our girls can make a name for BSU.
“Hopefully, they’ll be able to help them next season. I am happy I get to keep Jorde. I’m glad I don’t have to give (Scanlan) all three at once.”
Restemayer has opened the door for female coaches and players in the State of Hockey.
She became the first female coach to win a title, she is sending three girls to play at the Division I level, and she won coach of the year — all in just one year.
“It has been the perfect the season,” she said.