With three new captains and a bundle of production to replace, the Northfield girls hockey team is keeping its scope small through the first two weeks of practice.
The Raiders aren’t focused on what’s gone, or what might be waiting on the horizon. Instead, they’re picking up picking off specific accomplishments on individual days leading up to the first game of the season Nov. 14 at home against Hastings.
“We’re starting to get our team unity together,” senior Anne Fossum. “We have a completely different group of girls, but I think we’re finally starting to click.”
Fossum, a defender entering her fourth year on varsity, joins with senior forward Audrey Pagel and junior forward Jessica Boland as the team’s three captains, replacing last year’s leadership of goalie Rachel Bielenberg, defender Kate Boland (now with Bemidji State) and forward Lizzy Morsching (now with St. Benedict).
“It’s been really fun to lead the younger girls and get to meet them all,” Pagel said.
According to Pagel, the conversation had yet to turn toward the season-opener against Hastings as of Wednesday night.
Instead, it’s been focused around preparing a young team that features only three seniors returning from last year’s varsity team.
“We’re definitely a young team, so since captain’s practices we’ve started to get team unity going,” Jessica Boland said.
That’s all been underneath a new head coach, with Paige Haley set to start her first year in charge of Northfield after serving as an assistant a year ago. Before that, Haley was a member of the University of Minnesota women’s hockey team, which she helped win a national title in 2015 and 2016.
On top of last year’s captains, the Raiders also graduated forward McKenna Nelson and defender Jillian Noel from last year’s squad. The skating quartet of departing talent produced 41 goals and 53 assists, with 21 of those goals and 30 of the assists coming from Kate Boland. The Raiders will also be without junior forward Mya Wesling (11 goals, 13 assists), who will be out for the season due to an injury suffered on the soccer field.
Jessica Boland, though, is the team’s top returning scorer with 19 goals and 21 assists to her name a year ago in 26 games. That’s in addition to a number of younger skaters Haley figures will make a leap this winter.
“I’ve seen big things from Ava Stanchina and Ayla Puppe,” Haley said. “Ayla Puppe’s an eighth-grader, Ava Stanchina’s a ninth-grader, and they made a big jump this summer in their skill development and they worked really hard, so I’m excited to see what they do.”
As far as the netminder, sophomore Maggie Malecha is set to step in to the full-time starting role after sitting out a large portion of last year with an injury.
“She’s been training all summer and she’s been a high-level player, she’s just had to wait her turn, so now she’s coming in and has been working her butt off all summer and training and getting ready for this new role,” Haley said. “She’s totally absorbing it and she’s going to make the best of it. I mean, she’s only a sophomore, so she’s going to be in net for the next three years if things go well.”
The defensive pairings will feature Fossum, junior Payton Fox and sophomore Cambria Monson, who all possess multiple years of varsity experience, but who else they’ll line up with is still to be determined, and may not be set in stone until more than a month into the season.
Wednesday was the first practice the Raiders threw on colored jerseys to signify membership of a specific forward line or defensive pairing.
“It’s really competitive right now with who’s playing where,” Jessica Boland said. “In practice we’re just working on — Paige is really emphasizing working hard because obviously our skill isn’t all there. She just wants the work ethic to be there.”