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Lightning has new coach, many new skaters

Northern Lakes Lightning girls’ hockey player include, front row: goaltender Alexa Holm. Second row: Sydney Tietz, left, Britta Bittner, Allie Olson, Brittney Knox, Bella Abear and Sam Gutzman. Back row: assistant coach Chuck Deutsch, assistant coach Matthew Bugnacki, manager Julia Teich, McKenzie Rickard, Chelsea Skluzacek, Michala Stangel, Ashley Kosloski, Lexi Brewer, Mandi Soderholm, Chloe Deutsch, Abby Meister and head coach John Stockler. Photo by Kelli Engstrom.

The Northern Lakes Lightning girls’ hockey team, which started the season with two close losses, have a new look with John Stockler taking over as head coach, plus underclassmen moving up to play key roles after the graduation of six seniors from a squad that finished 8-18 overall.

“I’m excited about this opportunity,” Stockler said of his first high school head coaching opportunity. “I’m challenging myself and our girls this season.”

Stockler had previously been an assistant boys’ hockey coach at Princeton High School before eventually coming to Breezy Point to work with the Northern Lakes youth program.

“I like to teach the principles of the game, and I’ve been working for hockey schools since I was 13 years old,” he said. “I believe in working smarter, not harder. We don’t want to just run around the ice. We want to put ourselves in a good position.”

Another change has been Alexa Holm successfully making the switch to goaltender for the Lightning this season. The freshman had a goals-against average of 3.00 in her first two games.

“Alexa went to three or four goalie camps to get ready for this season,” Stockler said of Holm. “Alexa has played as well as anyone could ask in her first three games from a person who switched positions from a skater to a goalie. She knows there’s a lot of work to do for her. The reps needed to become successful at what is the most important position in hockey. Alexa has been committed and working hard on the new craft from the day she decided to make the switch. This is just the beginning of development, and bright things are coming her way.

“As well as Alexa has done, the team in front of her is buying in on the idea that we are going to play the game from our net out.  Making defensive zone a priority they understand what we are going for and are working extremely hard on it.”

On defense, the Lightning have senior Britta Bittner, junior Ashley Kosloski, sophomore Chelsea Skluzacek; and freshman Michala Stangel.

“We do have some depth and experience on defense,” Stockler said. “We will rely on them hard early in the season.”

At forward, Northern Lakes has seniors Brittney Knox, Allie Olson and Bella Abear; junior Sam Gutzman; sophomores Chloe Deutsch, Lexi Brewer and Mackenzie Rickard; and eighth-grader Mandi Soderholm. Sophomore forward Sydney Tietz will miss the start of the season after having knee surgery.

Last season, Gutzman had a team-high 12 goals and was also third with 17 points; Abear was tied for the team lead with eight assists while scoring nine goals; and Knox has four goals and nine points.

“We’re looking for Bella (Abear) and Sam (Gutzman) to have the scoring connection they had last season,” Stockler said. “We’re starting the season with two (forward) lines and a short bench.

“But I’m happy that we have a 15-under (youth hockey) girls’ team for the first time this season. We had eight or nine girls stay with the 15-under team (instead of high school) for more playing time.”

Knox will serve as captain while Abear and Bittner will be alternate captains. Matthew Bugnacki is the Lightning’s assistant coach while Chuck Deutsch is a volunteer assistant.

Northern Lakes was 2-4 in the Mid-State Conference last year. The Lightning lost to Alexandria 5-2 in the Section 6A semifinals.

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Northern Lakes Lightning Girls' Hockey Schedule

DECEMBER

5 - Northern Lakes at International Falls, 3 p.m.

8 - Northern Lakes at Hutchinson, 7 p.m.

15 - Northern Lakes at Wadena-Deer Creek, 7 p.m.

17 - Northern Lakes at Morris-Benson, 7 p.m.

19 - Silver Bay at Northern Lakes, TBD

22 - Detroit Lakes at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m.

29 - Northern Lakes at Schwann’s Cup (Blaine), TBD

30 - Northern Lakes at Schwann’s Cup (Blaine), TBD

31 - Northern Lakes at Schwann’s Cup (Blaine), TBD

JANUARY

5 - Moose Lake-Willow River at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m.

7 - Eveleth-Gilbert at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m.

14 - Park Rapids at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m.

19 - Northern Lakes at St. Cloud Cathedral, 7 p.m.

21 - Northern Lakes at Eveleth-Gilbert, 7 p.m.

26 - Northern Lakes at River Lakes (Paynesville), 7 p.m.

28 - Wadena-Deer Creek at Northern Lakes, 7 p.m.

30 - Morris-Benson at Northern Lakes (Hallett), 2 p.m.

FEBRUARY

4 - Section quarterfinals, TBD

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