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The Student News Site of Orono High School

The Spartan Speaks

The Student News Site of Orono High School

The Spartan Speaks

Orono Welcomes New Girls Varsity Hockey Head Coach

Frank Landis
Orono Girls’ Hockey Coaching Staff

The Orono Girls Hockey team welcomes new head coach Paul Antonenko. He has joined to kick off the new 2024 season with Orono. The Orono community, as well as players and families, are looking forward to what the new head coach has to offer.

Following the end of the Orono Girls Hockey 2023 season, they were in need of a new coach. This is where Paul Antonenko, previous Orono Junior Varsity hockey coach, stepped in. Antonenko has been in the Orono community since 2014, moving from the Kansas City area.

“Paul Antonenko joined the Orono Girls Hockey team in 2023. Paul has extensive experience coaching youth hockey and has been involved in the local hockey community since his family moved back to the Twin Cities area and settled in Orono in 2014,” Orono Girls Hockey’s main page says.

A former goaltender, Antonenko, was born in Edmonton, Alberta. He played youth hockey in the Detroit, Michigan, area before graduating high school in 1988 from Thief River Falls, Minnesota. Three of Antonenko’s children played hockey at Orono High School. Antonenko is also a Level 5 USA Hockey Coach and a Level 4 USA Hockey Official.

“I have been playing hockey since I was four years old. Have played high school hockey, had a short stint playing junior hockey in Canada, and have been coaching for a long time. I am a Level 5 USA Hockey coach and a Level 4 USA Hockey referee,” Head Coach Antonenko said.

Antonenko has been involved in coaching since 1991 while he attended the University of North Dakota. His first high school coaching role was as an assistant coach for the East Grand Forks Greenwave. Since then, Antonenko has been involved in coaching and administration of hockey programs throughout the Midwest. He has coached at all levels of youth hockey and has coached boys and girls through those years.

“I started coaching in 1991 and have coached on and off (mostly on) since that time. I am learning all the time, and am amazed at how much I continue to learn every day about how to be a better coach and leader,” said Head Coach Antonenko.

While talking to Antonenko, many have said he has a true passion for hockey just by the way he speaks. He described many pros and cons of being a coach, such as any time he needs to make roster decisions for a final cut for a team. He says that his values for a team make the decisions become easier.

“The players always put so much effort into a tryout or to earn a spot on a roster for playoffs, it is always gut-wrenching. Ultimately, I have come to understand that we just have to do the best job we can with what we know at the time a decision is made. Recognizing that we are never going to be perfect and someone is going to feel hurt or slighted,” said Head Coach Antonenko.

Antonenko’s many coaching experiences have led him to have a set of values for both him and his team. He has proven to have a big passion for both coaching and being involved in hockey. After his children graduated, he felt a sense of responsibility and wanted to give back to the community in a meaningful way.

“Team first. Work hard, Play fast. We need to ensure that we are putting the interests of our team ahead of ourselves. I also want to make sure that the individuals whom I get to lead/coach will be better people as a result of me being a small part of their lives for a short time,” said Head Coach Antonenko.

After the coaching change last year, Antonenko wanted to provide a positive environment and help everyone move on.

“I thought it would be fun as everything I have heard or witnessed about this group of young women is nothing but positive,” Head Coach Antonenko said.

Assistant coaches Hannah Williams and Claire Bjerke have described Antonenko as knowledgeable; it is said that he brings strong energy, has high expectations, and transparently communicates with everybody involved. It is also said that Antonenko is very passionate about the sport of hockey and about the Orono community. Both assistant coaches believe that he will bring great leadership and team inclusion and help elevate the team’s competitive level.

Head Coach Antonenko also receives high praise from the team captains as he continues to dive right in this season. The team captains agree that the dynamic of the team has not changed and, in fact, improved positively due to the addition of Head Coach Antonenko.

“Coach Paul has great leadership qualities and has done a ton of small things to show he is all in for our program. He has told us that it’s our team, not his, and will do whatever it takes to help us achieve our goals. Overall, he is a dependable and caring coach who is always putting our best interests first to grow us as hockey players and people,” Team Captain Gace Bickett said.

The Orono girls have played eleven games so far this 2024 season with a 9-1-1 record. Saturday, December 9th, the Orono girls face Chaska-Chan at the Chaska Community Center. With Orono ranked number two in the Metro West conference in the Class 1A rankings according to the Start Tribune preseason poll, the Orono Girls hope to pull out another win.

Looking forward, the holistic team goal is to take home the title of State Champion, Assistant Coach Bjerke says, surpassing their achievement of the 2023 State Championship runner-up according to MSHSL records.

“We can’t control accolades, championships, etc.. but we can control what we do individually every day so that if we achieve daily goals, we should have a strong chance of attaining that championship,” Antonenko said.

Orono Girls Hockey hopes to continue their success this season with their new Head Coach and achieve their goals.

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About the Contributor
Natalie Widen
Natalie Widen, Staff Reporter
Hi, my name is Natalie Widen. I am a senior this year and have been at Orono since kindergarten. Outside of school, I enjoy water sports and being with friends and family. I am going to college for nursing.

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  • M

    MikeFeb 24, 2024 at 11:44 am

    I played hockey, my son played hockey, and the one thing I saw as a player and a parent, is how some parents let their passion for their kids get in the way of the coaches for the team their kids play for, and ultimately the team their kids play for. I didn’t have the “connections”, which really didn’t make a difference for me since I was never very good anyway. My son didn’t have the “connections” but he did have the talent and his coach was fairly new to the team, therefore he ended up being a top five player for the team. Nonetheless, I was ashamed to hear the things parents were saying about what their kid deserved and how our coach doesn’t know what he’s doing and he’s playing the wrong kids.
    Larry Olimb. Mr. Hockey Minnesota. All time assist leader at the University of Minnesota. Takes the Orono girls team to the championship game, but doesn’t win. Nonetheless, some parents feel they didn’t win because their kids didn’t get enough ice time. Please let the coaches coach.

  • M

    Mark JohnsonFeb 20, 2024 at 1:17 pm

    Antenenko doesn’t have anywhere near the credentials Olimb has.