Hometown star excels at the University

The senior had her jersey retired by her high school in December.

Gophers senior forward Rachael Bona controls the puck at Ridder Arena on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

Daily File Photo, Elizabeth Brumley

Gophers senior forward Rachael Bona controls the puck at Ridder Arena on Saturday, Nov. 22, 2014.

Grant Donald

After playing five years of varsity hockey, Gophers captain Rachael Bona has acquired many admirers in her hometown of Coon Rapids, Minn.

And now, when young Cardinals say they look up to Bona, they can literally look up and see her No. 7 jersey hanging in the rafters at the Coon Rapids Ice Center.

Last month, Bona’s high school’s athletics department honored her before a varsity game, retiring her jersey and cementing her legacy as one of the best players to wear a Coon Rapids jersey.

“It’s kind of surreal to think that [my jersey] will be up there forever and no one will ever get to wear number seven again,” Bona said. “It’s a great honor.”

As a member of the Gophers, Bona still sports the No. 7 jersey and is holding down her role as one of the team’s best scorers.

But that hasn’t always been the case. Bona only found the back of the net once in the season’s first month. On top of that, the rest of the team was going through a rough patch of its own, losing points in the WCHA.

“I definitely was getting frustrated because I wasn’t putting the puck in the net,” Bona said. “It was a good wake-up call for everyone, though. If we didn’t play our best, teams would beat us.”

Bona rarely had any rough stretches during her five seasons at Coon Rapids, as she recorded 165 goals and 105 assists while leading her team to the 2011 Minnesota State Tournament. There, she edged out fellow Gophers teammate Hannah Brandt in the third-place game.

But what Bona considered to be a rough stretch was not actually as bad as she made it out to be, head coach Brad Frost said.

She was still playing quality hockey during the beginning stages of the season, he said.

Frost challenged her to remain positive and promised her a change in fortune.

And it came.

Bona has consistently been lighting up the score sheet during the season’s later games, including a string of four straight games in which she accumulated 12 points.

“Obviously, after a huge [winter] break, you want to come back strong, and I was lucky enough to get five goals in the first two games back,” Bona said.

During the break, Bona visited with her former Coon Rapids coach, Jessica Christopherson, who knew that Bona was capable of changing her early-season woes.

“One of the things we knew about her was she does more than score the puck,” Christopherson said. “We always talk about finding a role on the ice, and that’s what she does best. She just gets things done.”

 On and off the ice, Bona is a prominent figure in the Coon Rapids community.

 “She has really become an ambassador for not only our hockey program but our school community as well,” Christopherson said. “She is kind of the face of our community in many ways. For her to want to come back and help us out is pretty special.”

Bona has read to elementary school students, served lunch at a middle school and made many appearances at youth hockey tournaments over the last couple of years.

That type of dedication to her hometown is something that is rare.

“I just think it is great that a women’s hockey player is such a role model to an entire city,” Frost said. “Rachael is very proud of where she grew up, and I know that everyone back in Coon Rapids loves to see her succeed now.”

Now that Bona is back after the winter break and her final Gophers season is winding down, she’ll shift her focus to winning her third national championship in four years and giving the people of Coon Rapids another thing to cheer for.

“Ever since about week six, when Rachael and the rest of her line started scoring the puck, it has given us more depth, which is huge,” Frost said. “The more people we have scoring, the better off we will be, and Rachael is certainly someone who is extremely dangerous with the puck.”