Norby opening door for new coach
Gretchen Norby has been the embodiment of Detroit Lakes girls hockey as a player, assistant and head coach the entirety of the 21st century and the history of the program.
Recently, Norby resigned from the position opening up a job that has only been held by only two people since the program was created.
“I’ve had lots of people ask me over the past couple days, ‘Is it the parents? Is it the kids?’ I won’t lie; I had my fair share of problem parents and kids but I would never let that be the reason. For me, it ultimately came down to it was just time for a change.”
The grind of head coaching duties has increased from what was once a season of coaching to an all-year round practice of trying to encourage three-sport athletes while cultivating the core group needed to make each team successful. In her exit interview with Activities Director Rob Nielsen, Norby stressed it was the time commitment that had become a key reason why she needed a break.
“Rob was really good to me about it,” said Norby. “He called me right away and asked if there was anything he could do to change my mind. It’s not negative; it’s not bad. It was a very difficult decision to make and it’s just time. The time was a huge reason for me. It’s not just four months out of the year anymore. You have to commit to a lot of things.”
Norby has put in that time organizing the Skate Like a Girl campaign annually giving free opportunities to young players to try out the game and become part of the Detroit Lakes Youth Hockey Association. She also recognized the time commitment put in by kids, parents and her fellow coaches on keeping a hockey program growing.
“I think the demands on kids have changed,” she said. “It’s no longer a four to five month commitment. We expect them to be invested all year long. That’s hard when we have kids that are involved in two or three other sports and you expect them to squeeze hockey in during the summer.”
Norby leaves a program with a strong base to build upon.
“The big question is will we have enough kids to continue to have a program and I’ll say that we are a lot better off than a lot of other teams,” she said. “It’s something that we’ve talked a lot about and we’ve been able to sustain a JV program for the 10 years that I’ve been here and I think that’s huge compared to a lot of area schools.”
Her replacement will likely be from outside the immediate staff. Assistant Coach Bruce Raboin is a year away from retirement and Assistant Ali Dohmeier is relatively new to the position.
“I worry about who they’ll get to come in and that’s a serious concern for me,” said Norby.
Her concern is compounded by her history with the program and her affection for the game, which is why she got into coaching.
“I love hockey and being around the game and sharing that passion and knowledge,” she said. “I love learning from the game and that was something I wanted to get back into. Obviously, I wanted to give back to the program that gave me so much. Being an alum in Detroit Lakes and being able to come back and lead them to their first state tournament, being a part of that was a dream come true for me and something I always wanted to do as a player.”
Norby graduated from Detroit Lakes in 2004 as arguably the best girls hockey player to come out of DL. At the very least, she won’t admit to being so. She earned All-State honors three straight years and was a member of the inaugural Laker girls team.
Norby moved on to play Division I hockey as a defenseman at St. Cloud State University for two seasons, before a pair of shoulder surgeries cut her career short. She took one year off from the game after college before returning to coach the Lakers under Dan Maloney.
Maloney spearheaded the DL girls hockey program which he began as head coach in 2000 and ran until 2011 when Norby, a three-year assistant, took over the job.
In her first year at the helm, DL made its first trip to the state tournament after defeating Alexandria for the section title. Ultimately, the state tournament was a learning experience after a 13-1 loss to powerhouse Warroad in the quarterfinals and a tough 5-4 double overtime loss to New Ulm in the consolation bracket.
Jeff Giesen was her defensive coach her first year at St. Cloud who eventually took over head coaching duties for the Huskies from 2006-2014. Giesen helped shape Norby’s coaching style, along with Maloney and Gretchen’s father Jeff Norby.
“I came from having Dan, and my dad was my other coach, who really didn't yell at all,” said Norby.
That wasn’t the case with Giesen at St. Cloud.
“That first game, Goose (Giesen) came in between periods and yelled at us after the first period, ‘You guys couldn’t hit water if you fell out of a boat.’ That was kind of an eye-opening experience for me but more so that he got through to a lot of people. He was a very intense coach and he was kind of a hard-ass. That was just his personality and he demanded your best and wouldn’t let you give up until he got that. He was a good coaching influence. My dad was also a good influence for me.”
Norby had a consistent mix of multiple coaching styles to draw from the relaxed Maloney, her father, and the fiery combination of Raboin and Giesen.
“I think I’m an intense coach and I think the girls would probably agree with that,” she said. “I think having my dad being an assistant for six of those seven years, he was a good balance and Bruce, as intense as he is, was a good balance as well. I really enjoyed coaching with those two. They have so much hockey knowledge.”
Imparting that knowledge from her own experience and cache of input from her staff on Laker skaters helped create a number of excellent players in Laker red.
All-time leading scorer and All-State honorable mention Brianna Seebold was first mentioned even though Norby only coached her senior season.
“She was a good hockey player; she saw the ice well,” she said.
Emily Raboin, Randa Larsen, Emily Seebold, and goalie Veronica Badurek, who was in net four of the seven years Norby was the head coach, also stood out.
“There are so many of them,” she said. “We’ve had a lot of good kids come through our program and that’s the part I’m going to miss the most, spending that time with those kids and getting to know them.”
Reminiscing about the players, the state trip, the section finals and the contrasting struggles, along with being a part of the program since she was a kid were all parts of making her decision to step down.
“Looking back and I’ve been doing a lot of reflection too,” she said. “That first year going to state and then having a couple down years and playing in the section final and a couple down years. It’s very cyclical and you see that now and I think we’re on the upswing again with the group of sophomores and juniors we have this year. Somebody told me one time there will always be seniors you want to stick around for, eventually, you have to be done.”
This was not the first time she pondered moving away from the program but she had some unfinished business before departing.
“I had seriously considered it at the end of last year, but I just felt like I hadn’t given it everything I could last year, so I vowed going into this year that I was going be present and do everything that I could, have fun with the kids and make it a fun environment,” she said.
Coaching has equal parts fun and stress and Norby took a serious look at her own feelings in making the decision on what was best for her family and herself, as well as, the program.
“I think it’s really important to do self-evaluations and I just think the kids hear the same things from me year after year and sometimes you feel like that falls on deaf ears,” she said. “I’m just not sure I have the energy to do that anymore.”
Norby will continue her full-time job as the Technology Director for the Frazee-Vergas school district, a job that allowed the flexibility to coach.
“I really enjoy it and they’ve been really kind to me in being able to leave to coach hockey at 3:30 every day,” she said.
She also has not ruled out an eventual return to hockey.
“I’m sure I won’t be done forever,” she said. “I’ll miss going to the rink every day. That was a hard day when I cleaned out my locker. When I wasn’t playing hockey I was coaching hockey so this will be an end of an era for me in some ways. It was a great adventure; I was really glad I got to do it.”