The Northern Lakes Lightning girls hockey team's shortened 2020-21 season was fairly middling, but the team packs a ton of experience for the new season and is ready to make a statement.
After a 9-11 season - delayed and shortened due to COVID-19 restrictions - the Lightning lost just one senior in Savannah Abear, and there is an all-time high total of 31 girls on the 2021-22 roster. That means the team is deep and experienced as they begin the new season.
“Our program is in our 14th or 15th season, and we have never had that many girls,“ Deutsch said. “To have 31 girls - three of them goalies - is pretty awesome. It just allows the two teams (varsity and junior varsity) to have some kind of fluidity.”
The team may rely on its veteran leadership early on - from the likes of captains Riley Fogarty and Rose Aldridge, along with alternate captains Megan Muller and Jada Brodzinski.
“Right now, our three lines that we have on varsity are pretty good - pretty consistent and strong,” Deutsch said. “My top line is probably the best line I’ve coached at the high school level. I think we have really high hopes, but they are realistic high hopes.”
Though the team has three goalies on the roster, longtime netminder Kate Stephens is likely to be in net the majority of the time. The junior has been a fixture in the crease for the Lightning since her eighth-grade season, and her coach says she has only gotten better.
“We really have a seasoned goalie,” Deutsch said. “This is her fourth season playing high school goalie, and she is just getting stronger.”
Last year’s team lacked senior leadership. The way things look presently, that may not be an issue for many years to come.
“When you really look at it from top to bottom, we are very well-balanced grade wise,” Deutsch said. “We have some really good freshmen, a couple of good sophomores, some really good juniors and really good seniors. Our balance is nice. We have a good flow.
“If we can stay healthy - staying healthy is so key - we are going to challenge everybody.”
The Lightning are 2-0 at the time of publication, shutting out both Northern Tier and Prairie Centre thus far. They face St. Cloud Cathedral next on Tuesday, Nov. 30.
“I'm optimistic, but I'm optimistic with reason,” Deutsch said. “I pretty much think we're going to be above .500 this year. I don’t want to get too cocky, but everything is pointing in the direction where we should be an above .500 team. If we get to that 20-win threshold, that would be great, but this is a team that is going to battle and keep us playing well … This season just has a feeling. This program has never made it to a section championship. There’s no reason we can’t get there.”
Diondra Putnam and Joe Herda are assistant coaches for the Lightning.
“It would be great to get some fans to come out and watch,” Deutsch said.
Dan Determan may be reached at 218-855-5879 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Facebook and on Twitter at www.twitter.com/@PEJ_Dan.