It’s been nine years and about 100 miles, but Tony Cloud is finally getting his crack at a head coaching position.

On Wednesday, the long-time assistant was officially named as the new head girls hockey coach at Owatonna High School, pending board approval. This information is per Activities Director, Marc Achterkirch.

After spending eight years in the far northern suburb of Rogers, Cloud came to Owatonna last summer and immediately jumped into the coaching realm, joining Nate Gendron’s staff as an assistant girls soccer coach. He had been traveling back and forth to the area for far too long — making the two-hour trek to Owatonna to spent time with his fiancé — and it was time to see if he could make something work in southern Minnesota.

“We were doing the long-distance thing for about five years,” Cloud said over the phone on Wednesday evening. “We got to the point were enough was enough. My wife had been teaching (at Wilson Elementary), so that made the transition much easier.”

Cloud — who has eight years of experience coaching high school hockey and another three as a player — naturally gravitated toward the rink once he got established. He had applied for the vacant head girls position and was a finalist for the job that ultimately went to former Korean Olympic coach and Division I national champion, Sarah Murray.

Naturally, Cloud understood Achterkirch’s decision to go with Murray and was offered a position as the head JV coach and varsity assistant. He accepted and spent a full season behind the bench, taking the opportunity to learn from a former high-level player and coach while further integrating himself within the program.

“Luckily there was some carryover from soccer to hockey,” said Cloud, who joined the hockey team in the middle of tryouts last winter after returning from his honeymoon. “I got to build some of the relationships (as an assistant) and I think that will offer a little more continuity within the program. I am a familiar face.”

After the season ended, Cloud — who is a full-time student at Minnesota State University in Mankato — had every intention of returning as assistant in 2019-20, but was quickly elevated to the top of the short list of potential head coaching candidates once Murray announced she would be leaving to take over at Saint Mary’s University in Winona on June 10.

The hiring process took less than two weeks, and by Wednesday morning, he was suddenly the head of perhaps the most promising young team in the Big Nine Conference.

“No, I didn’t think it would happen this soon,” Cloud said. “But I’m ready. This is an exciting opportunity.”

Cloud was on the ice with the varsity players on Wednesday and plans on “building (the program) from the ground up.” He will be working closely with the U10 and U12 teams and will be reaching out to all of the youth coaches in the near future.

“I am looking forward to working with all the coaches and seeing how they want to progress so we can get as many young players involved in hockey as possible,” Cloud said.

The Huskies finished 11-11-3 overall and 10-4-2 in the Big Nine Conference last season. The team had just four total upperclassmen and relied heavily on a number of talented underclassmen, and even some junior high students. In fact, the team’s second-leading scorer, Ezra Oien, just finished her eighth grade year at the Owatonna Middle School. The Huskies will return five of their top six goal-scorers from last season and most of its defensive rotation.

Cloud graduated from Elk River High School in 2006 and spent three years as a varsity assistant on the boys team at Rogers and five with the girls.

He is pursuing his mathematics teaching degree at MSU.

Reach sports editor Jon Weisbrod at 444-2375, or follow him on @OPPJonW

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