It's been nearly 19 years since Johnny Pohl helped put Red Wing on the state's hockey map. A 1998 Mr. Hockey winner, Pohl pushed the Wingers to the state championship in 1997.
But Pohl and his teammates did more than draw attention to the boys' hockey program. They inspired a new demographic to try hockey: girls.
"The town of Red Wing was tremendous in its support for a girls' program when we first started coming up," said Scott Haley, head coach of the Red Wing girls' high school varsity program. "At the time the girls' youth programs were getting started, the boys' high school team was very successful and had some very involved parents that had daughters.
"Our goal was to give girls the same opportunities and same form of passion as we had with the boys' program. We wanted it to go in the same direction with the same focus people have on their sons."
But it wasn't easy.
Scott's daughters Paige and Reagan grew up playing on boys' teams. there was no other option. This used to be commonplace for most young girls looking to play hockey, especially in smaller communities. But Scott wanted something different for his daughters and their female teammates.
While watching the first-ever U.S. Women's Olympic team compete in Nagano, Japan in 1998, Scott decided to take action. Red Wing needed a strong girls' hockey program.
"I started coaching my daughters and rallied others in the community to form a girls' team," Scott said. "It took off from there."
It was a formidable task. They started out with just one 12U C-team for all girls, ages 8 to 12. Slowly, more bought into the idea. New faces began to show up at the rink and soon age groups were split appropriately. The Haley sisters, along with friends Nicole Schammel and Emily Stegora, remained together. They pushed one another on the ice while simultaneously helping to develop the girls' program with Scott.
"We switched from playing boys to girls and then managed to keep that same bond as a tradition through high school," said Reagan, a senior Winger and UMD recruit. "We pushed each other."
The three sheets of ice in Red Wing heavily supported the addition of extra girls' teams, which set the foundation for a budding high school program.
A young Reagan and Paige Haley prepare to hit the ice with the help of dad, Scott.
In 2006, the girls' high school team needed a head coach. Scott Haley stepped up. He realized the need for experienced players and saw the potential brewing in the youth system.
"My first two seasons I think we maybe won six or seven games," Scott recalled. "But we had a strong 10U team and the numbers were starting to come up."
Also on the rise was Rose Alleva.
"Just watching her was incredible," said Paige Haley. "She made a lot of us realize that we could do something more in hockey."
Alleva, a runner-up for the 2010 Ms. Hockey, brought a jolt of life to the Wingers. She led the girls to a third-place finish at the Class A state tournament in 2009. Since then, Red Wing has become frequent visitors to the big dance. Rose went on to play four years of Division I at Princeton.
"Rose laid the framework and showed us what it took to move on and be a good player," said Schammel, a 2014 Ms. Hockey finalist and current Minnesota State forward. "She gave us something to measure ourselves up to."
That high school success translated to the rise of youth numbers. Girls saw the high school squad and saw role models. The constant collaboration between the high school program and youth program continues to fuel the fire.
"The (high school) kids have been really instrumental in providing mentorship for those younger kids," Scott said. "All of our high school kids are involved in our jamborees and the parents do some unique things to create a fun atmosphere for high school and youth."
Scott and parents also gather youth teams to watch Red Wing Alums in college. This season there were showcased when Minnesota squared off against Minnesota State.
"It was great to see the amount of (Red Wing girls) that came to our game," said Paige, a sophomore with the Gophers. "We were able to still be those examples and show them that hard work can get you far."
Red Wing puts extra elbow grease in its recruiting and retention efforts.
"I see an athletic girl at the YMCA and I ask her why she isn't playing hockey," said Scott. "I feel like I've had to do that to help our numbers, and my group of parents who have been instrumental in helping out are working hard to recruit girls, too."
Scott and a group recently created a Red Wing girls' hockey committee, where the focus remains on recruitment and retention. Former players who have benefitted from the program hope it continues to thrive.
"I would say that it's important, not even just for hockey, but for girls in general to get out there and be athletes," said Paige. "Our numbers are improving and it comes with time. Hopefully we'll continue to see successful hockey players come from there and see more and more young girls coming out to play."