The Minnesota River Bulldogs girls hockey team has taken a roster hit this year but should still have a strong offensive and defensive lineup when they open the season away against Minnehaha on Friday, Jan. 15, at 7 p.m.
The Bulldogs lost four players to graduation last year, and another three who were on the team last year opted not to return this year.
Returning to the ice are two of the team’s top three scorers from last year. Senior Nicole McCabe (21 goals, 19 assists last year) and junior Anna Pavlo (23 goals, 10 assists) are expected to lead the team on offense.
“The Lady Bulldogs’ strength will definitely be on the offensive side of the ice,” said head coach Tom Blaido. “We have a lot of talented goal scorers and I don’t just mean the forwards either. We have several defense that are able to put the puck in the net.”
Pavlo, who attends Le Sueur-Henderson, will play center and serve as a captain on this year’s team, alongside LS-H senior teammate Emma Seaver.
“Anna is one of the most talented players to put on a Lady Bulldogs' jersey,” Blaido said. “Anna is the type who expects a lot from herself and works hard to achieve it. She is respected not only by her teammates but by everyone in the conference. You know you are special when everyone in the Big South, players and coaches, know your name.”
Blaido is looking to Sofie Wilson (LS-H), Lucy Kleschult (LS-H), Mary Rella (Belle Plaine), and Gabby Prochaska (Cleveland) to head the Bulldogs’ defense.
“Sofie is the type of defense that just doesn’t allow people to get behind her; she specializes in keeping the play to the outside and keeping the area in front of the net clear,” Blaido said.
Kleschult brings speed and is good at clearing the front of the net, Blaido said.
Belle Plaine senior Mary Rella will also be an aggressive force on defense and has a “wicked shot.”
“Mary isn’t afraid to go into the corners to dig out a puck and also doesn’t have a problem showing her strength in front of the net either, no fear,” Blaido said.
Speaking of the net, Belle Plaine junior Amelia Messer will be the Bulldogs’ starting goalie this year. Messer was the backup varsity goalie last year and saved 61 of 66 shots throughout the regular season.
“Amelia is a taller player who fills up the net and has super reaction time,” Blaido said. “Amelia also plays her angles very well and has no problem being aggressive in the net.”
Other players expected to make an impact on varsity include Makenna Mueller (LS-H), Darbi Dunning (LS-H), Adrianna Bixby, Angel Maas, and Sophia Doherty.
Winning the Big South Conference is the ultimate goal this year, Blaido said, and New Ulm and Luverne will be the teams to beat.
This year’s team appears to be ahead of the curve, if the first practices are any indication. Blaido said he can tell the girls have been working together in the off-season, and he is seeing a continuity that usually does not appear until later in the season.
“They should be fun to watch,” Blaido added.