Minnesota’s girls high school hockey season officially begins at 6 p.m. tonight.
That’s when the puck is scheduled to drop for the opening faceoff in Mankato East/Loyola’s game against Rochester Mayo at All Seasons Arena.
It’s the first varsity game on the state schedule.
“I think we’re anxious; I think we’re excited,” coach Amber Prange said. “I think we’re excited about getting out there and seeing what we can put together. We’re amped up and ready.”
For the Cougars, the start of the season means the end to questions about last season’s team, namely: How are they going to replace all the players who graduated from a state-tournament squad?
“Our team was really good last year,” senior forward and captain Sydney Kanstrup said. “We lost a lot of players, but we can live up to our potential if we work our hardest.”
Gone from last year’s 18-9-2 team are its top scorer, top two defenders and a goaltender who set a single-game record for saves in the state tournament.
Madison Davis, who is now playing college hockey at Hamline, had 50 points last season and 139 over four seasons. Bri Adams scored 23 points last year, patrolling the blue line with Claire Johnson. And Andrea Schreiber played every game last season in goal and and wowed the Xcel Energy Center by stopping 69 shots in a 4-2 loss to Mound Westonka in the state quarterfinals.
“We lost a lot of amazing players, a lot of high scorers,” junior forward and alternate captain Kaylee Eykyn said. “But we also have a lot of strong players back, some fast skaters. ... And, based on our reputation, we’ll show up every game.”
Kanstrup and senior defender Emma Bastian have been on two state tournament rosters, having gone with the Cougars in 2017 as well, so the standards for East/Loyola haven’t changed.
“We always talk about this not being a rebuilding year,” Prange said. “How can you talk like that with four seniors and six juniors? It’s not about who we lost; it’s about what’s different.”
Kanstrup, who had 11 goals and seven assists for 18 points last season, agreed.
“We all know our potential and what we want for this season,” said Kanstrup, who has compiled 53 points since first playing varsity hockey as an eighth-grader. “With our potential, we can still get back to state. But before we start thinking about state, we want to get on the same page and start working hard. … We want to make sure everybody has the same mindset and has the same goals.”
Freshman McKenzie Keller is the Cougars’ top returning scorer from a season ago, scoring 12 goals and compiling 27 points.
Eykyn had 11 goals and 19 points, and junior Hannah Rigdon had 10 goals and 18 points. Senior Saisha Dau had 10 points, and junior Evie Johnson had seven.
“We might not have the finesse that (Davis) brought, but I think we’re going to grind it out and find ways to win games,” Prange said.
Bastian, junior Gracie Bowman and freshman Emmy Schulz have experience on defense.
Junior Hailey Baker and freshman Anna Rader are competing for goaltending duties.
“Our expectations are super-high,” Prange said. “But we have faith that, even if we don’t win, we’re still going to leave it all out there. We hope to get better every day and be playing our best hockey in February.”
Follow Shane Frederick on Twitter @puckato