Girls' hockey preview: Raiders return with depth, ready to compete
The Hastings girls' hockey team started practice the day before Halloween and have already had their exhibition trip to Duluth. Heading into the season, they lack much of their goal scoring from last year but also return several girls who saw significant varsity action.
The Raiders finished last season 8-15-1 overall due to a tough nonconference schedule and took their lumps at the start of the season, but they they finished high up in the Metro East Conference with a 5-4 record. They were also 4-3 over their last seven regular season contests headed into sections, where Hastings had the misfortune of running into Eagan and fell to the Wildcats 8-0.
"I was really impressed with our resiliency, both the girls and our coaching staff," head coach Josh Colvin said. "We only had two goalies going into the season and two games in our starting goalie gets hurt and we have to put an eighth-grade goalie right into a lion's den. And on top of that we had low numbers."
Depth has improved
Hastings lost a good chunk of its scoring with the graduation of Rachel Klimek, Erika McDonald and Alexa Harrington. However, returners Layna Connell, Maddie Junker, Addie Buck, Callie McNary and Josie Kummer look to fill their shoes. The Raiders also bring back goalies Alayna Kunshier (sophomore) and Hannah Steele (freshman), both of whom played over 15 varsity games last season.
This season, Colvin said the numbers and overall depth for his team has improved. With that, he explained, comes competition for playing time.
"What I will say that surprised me, in a good way, is that we have a lot of girls that I feel like can compete at a varsity level," he said. "Last year, with just lower numbers in general, that wasn't necessarily the case. So what I'm excited about is our depth, absolutely our depth."
Expect a different Raiders team this season as Colvin attempts to instill a more hard-nosed mentality.
"We're more focused this year on competing, physically battling and trying to be just a really tough team to play against," he said. "I think last year I spent a little bit more time than I would want trying to play 'pretty' for lack of a better word. What I really learned from that midway through the season is that we're going to score by getting the puck in the net and being the tougher team to play around in the crease."
This year's captains are seniors Josie Kummer and Layna Connell, who were also captains last season along with graduate Lauren Tix, who returns this year as a junior varsity assistant coach. There is also a leadership group of McNary (senior), Junker (junior), Benson (junior) and Libby Judge (junior).
Similar to last year, this year's goals are to set themselves up for success with several benchmarks along the way.
"We feel that as a team, if we play well, we should finish in the top portion of the conference," Colvin said. "Every year of course you hope to put yourself in the position to have a home section game. There aren't necessarily numbers on that in terms of wins and losses, but there are some key matchups that those outside are looking at. But the reality is, if you have a season that struggles, the nice thing is that everybody makes the playoffs. If you get hot at the right time, and you upset a couple of people, nobody is going to remember those November and December games."
This season's schedule is very similar to last year's, however Colvin said that by the time December comes he will have a very good idea of where the team is at.
"We have the Duluth scrimmage trip right away so that will give us a good feel, but before Thanksgiving we have six games," he said. "Four of the six are against section opponents, so we go Park, Apple Valley, Eagan and East Ridge, which are all section opponents, we play Woodbury and then we start our conference (schedule) against Simley."
Last year's conference success has given Colvin and his team a lot of confidence when Metro East play starts this season.
"We look at our conference schedule and it's a group of good teams that we feel we match up very well with," he explained. "The elephant in the room is always Hill-Murray, but I kind of like having to go and face a team like that a couple of times a year. It gives us a glimpse of what it takes to make the state tournament."
The Raiders' first game of the season is Thursday, Nov. 9, at Hastings Civic Arena against rival Park of Cottage Grove. They then travel to Apple Valley on Saturday, Nov. 11, and are home the week after against Woodbury on Tuesday, Nov. 14.