Last girls standing: Laker seniors go from first-time hockey players to role models
Rhett Zima, Morgan Kvebak and Ivy Geffre tried organized hockey for the first time four years ago. Now, they look back on their careers with fond memories of stepping out of their comfort zone.
DETROIT LAKES – Hockey isn’t a participation sport, at least not traditionally.
At the start of the 2019-20 season, Detroit Lakes girls head coach Scott Piepkorn recruited roughly 15 girls to come out for hockey and fill roster spots on the junior varsity team. Most hadn’t owned a pair of skates, a stick or the faintest clue of how to play the game. Four years later, three of those girls remain.
Rhett Zima, Morgan Kvebak and Ivy Geffre are in their fourth season of organized hockey. They are three of just 16 girls on a shorthanded varsity team in Section 8A. Despite joining in night grade, all three are vital to filling out a varsity roster.
“I showed up four years ago and didn’t know how to skate,” Geffre said. “Pep needed girls for a JV team, and a lot of us were quitting sports we didn’t want to play anymore. We were all kind of like, ‘Let’s do this. Let’s play hockey.’ … I was in basketball until eighth grade. It wasn’t my thing. It got boring to me, and I always wanted to try hockey growing up. When I was little, my parents didn’t want to do the travel, and it was so expensive. Pep told me he would get me the gear. All of my other friends were doing it, so why not?”
Kvebak said she also tried basketball before giving cross-country skiing a shot. Once her friends decided to try hockey, she tagged along.
“I was, but every single one of us, except Rhett, didn’t know how to skate,” Kvebak said when asked if she was intimidated early on. “There were like 15 girls who didn’t know how to skate. We were just like everyone else.
Zima was in a different boat. Her freshman season was her introduction to organized hockey.
“I’ve been skating since I could literally walk,” Zima said. “My aunt played hockey, so I grew up playing pond hockey. We just never did youth hockey because it wasn’t something my family did. At the end of my eighth-grade year, I came to open ice and thought I would try it. It worked out. We had a bunch of girls join originally. We had a JV team. I ended up getting moved to varsity and played varsity minutes. We had a lot of fun that first season.”
A first time for everything
On a roster filled with new faces and no expectations, the 2019-20 Detroit Lakes girls hockey junior varsity team was filled with learning experiences, to say the least.
“I couldn’t stop, and I couldn’t get over the boards,” Geffre said with a laugh. “It took me a while to learn how to jump over the boards to switch lines. When I fell, I struggled getting up. I would just kind of slide a ways until I stopped. I still fall sometimes.”
Even Zima, who knew the basics, had some catching up.
“It took me a long time to understand the game,” Zima said. “Offsides was such an abstract concept. So was icing. Learning what the faceoff dots meant and the rules of the game, I think I had some of the basics down, but it was all so new.”
The girls talked about their first games like they were in the circus.
“We were clueless, and it was chaos,” Kevbak said.
“The worst nerves I got were for the national anthem,” Geffre said. “I just stand there panicking. I can’t drop my helmet. I can’t drop my gloves. The little things were the scariest. Pep doesn’t let us skate out for the anthem because he’s scared we’ll slip, which is probably smart.”
Zima got her first taste of varsity action late in her first season, which included a trip to East Grand Forks.
“When I was a little freshman, it was the East Grand (Forks) game,” Zima said. “When you go there, it feels like they have such a big arena. I felt like an ant. I just felt small, and all these girls were so big and skating right by me.”
Wins are few and far between
Most of the newcomers from four years ago are no longer on the team. Detroit Lakes hasn’t had the numbers to field a junior varsity team in each of the last two seasons. With a fully-suited roster for varsity games, the Lakers have 15 forwards and one goalie.
“I think we’ve all had a moment where we’ve thought about quitting,” Kvebak said. “Me, Ivy and Rhett have looked at each other and thought, “Should we do this anymore? Everyone else is quitting.’ We wanted to stick it out through our senior year.”
Detroit Lakes finished the 2021-22 season with a record of 4-21. Through 17 games this season, the Lakers are 2-15. They’ve scored only 19 goals and have been outshot 822-264.
“This year and last year has been really hard,” Zima said. “You put everything you have on the ice, and it’s never enough. It gets hard on you. But then we do better in practice, and we always try to come out and play hard for each other. We never get too negative. We don’t rag on each other. We always come back from those losses — all of them.”
One of the Lakers’ highlights this winter was beating Morris-Benson Area at home on Dec. 20. Two weeks earlier, the Detroit Lakes fell to the Storm 6-5 in overtime.
“It felt really good,” Zima said of beating MBA. “It was our second game against them, and we just wanted revenge so bad. We worked in practice, and we worked in the game to get it. It just felt so good.”
“It was so great for Talyn (Anderson),” Geffre said of the Lakers’ eighth-grade goaltender. “She gets so many shots each game. So for her to get one, and for us to get one and work together for her, was really special. It also builds confidence. All of the girls feel so confident after a game like that.”
Zima, Kvebak and Geffre hope better days are ahead for the underclassmen on the team. With six of the 16 players on the roster being a freshman or younger, this season feels like ripping one large bandaid off.
“I’m so proud of them,” Kvebak said. “They try their best. That’s all they can do. When we get to celebrate things with them, like winning or scoring goals, it’s a lot of fun. They play against some big girls, and they can skate better than me. They’re doing amazing.”
The home stretch
Detroit Lakes’ three seniors have seven regular-season and at least one postseason game left in their high school careers. While none of them will walk away with any team records or section championships, Zima, Kvebak and Geffre will take life lessons with them long after they untie their skates.
“This game has made me improve myself,” Zima said. “I feel so much better about what I can do on and off the ice. Whether it’s in the weight room or in school, I learned so much. I’ve never had to balance playing a sport and school before. This taught me how to time manage.”
“Hockey teaches you a lot,” Kvebak said. “Just because somebody is bigger than you or faster than you, it doesn’t mean you can’t play with them. You can wreck those girls. You can try new things. It’s going to be okay. There’s nothing to be scared of because you won’t have regrets.”
More importantly, the three Laker seniors symbolize something bigger than sports. They represent what it means to step outside a comfort zone. In every sense of the word, these girls are fearless.
“There’s no need to be afraid about coming out here and making a fool of yourself,” Zima said. “This team is always a new team. Nobody is going to judge you. We’re all new, and we’re all trying. We’re all doing our best.”