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West Fargo girls hockey could go far this season

West Fargo's Andrea Klug makes a save against Dickinson during a February game at Veterans Memorial Arena. Carrie Snyder/The Pioneer

Before the beginning of any athletic season, coaches take a deep breath, purse their brow and nervously look over their rosters to discover just how much of a bind they'll be in from the loss of graduated players.

Who's gone? Who will take their place? How many still have experience - who doesn't?

This season, the West Fargo girls hockey team won't have that problem.

All the players from last year's fifth-place State Tournament team should return, meaning experience definitely is on the Packers' side.

"We're a little older and we do have a couple new kids," said Pat Johnson, West Fargo girls hockey coach. "Hopefully, this year everyone gets a little faster, a little stronger."

Last year's team had a whopping 12 sophomores, meaning West Fargo is looking at a tough turnaround during the 2011-12 season. For now, though, the Packers are in good shape.

One critical constant is their starting goalie, Andrea Klug.

"Right now, Klug is the starter, but things could change by game time," Johnson said. "The ultimate goal would be to have two (goalies) that are equal and we'd have a hard time deciding a starter."

As an eighth grader last season, Klug finished ranked eighth in the state with a 90.3 percent save average and a 15-7-1 record. With four more years to hone her craft, Klug has a real chance to vie for the title of North Dakota's top netminder.

Backing her last season was sophomore KeerieAnne Bruce. Bruce didn't see much ice time (2.67 games played), but managed to finish with a 96.3 percent save average while letting in just one goal.

Offensively, the Packers had a smattering of players who put up impressive numbers. For example, their top four scorers amassed more than 20 points each. Junior Kacie Johnson led West Fargo with 30 goals and 24 assists, ranking her third in the state in points. Behind her, and No. 10 in the state, is junior Kaylee Lothspeich, who scored 19 goals and 16 assists.

Top defenseman this year will be Katelyn Peterson and Mel Sopp, who racked up eight and 11 points, respectively. Peterson also was named first-team All State last season along with Johnson and Klug. Lothspeich earned second-team honors.

But Johnson isn't looking at just one or two players to carry the Packers throughout the 21-game regular season.

"It's got to be more of a team effort," he said. "We're looking for everyone to step up and play their parts."

Prevalent parity

For the last few years, as a rule, five girls hockey teams have comprised the cream of the crop in North Dakota: Fargo North, Bismarck, Fargo South, Grand Forks and West Fargo. All of them, except for the Packers, are losing top senior players from last season.

The hardest hit are Fargo South and Grand Forks, which will lose seven seniors apiece. South is losing its No. 2 and No. 4 point leaders and their starting goalie, Emily Foyt. The KightRiders are out Cass Dahl and Tyler Voegle, their No. 1 and No. 3 points leaders, respectively, and their second-string goalie, Andrea Patry.

The Bruins still will retain point leader Lindsay Nagel, however, who racked up nine assists and a team-high 26 goals last season as a freshman.

In fact, the top two teams in the state, Bismarck and three-time defending state champion Fargo North, are losing a mere three seniors apiece and still will retain their No. 1 points leaders: Spartan sophomore Mara Teschendorf (29 goals, 12 assists), and Blizzard junior Maddy Gendreau (41 goals, 45 assists). Gendreau also was the No. 1 scoring leader in the state last season, beating out Williston senior Rachel Hennessy by 21 points.

Though there are no doubts these teams still will be forces in the state, Johnson believes one perennial bubble team from the lower tier has a chance to climb the ranks this season.

"Minot is like us; a younger team, a growing team," he said. "But you can't overlook the other (weaker teams) and lose a game you shouldn't."

In fact, the Majettes are losing just one senior, Dayna Flaten, and the impact of her absence will be minimal since their top eight scorers will be back for another go-round.

Tough start

West Fargo kicks off their season against some top-tier teams. They started Nov. 24, at home against Fargo South - the Packers won 5-1 - and then face defending state champs Fargo North on Dec. 1, at 7:30 p.m. at the Urban Plains Center.

Another test will be on the road against Minot on Dec. 4,

at 7 p.m.

But if they can fend off these tough opponents and get some early-season momentum, the Packers have a solid chance at making a run for the state title.

Their future looks bright, Johnson said.

"We should get better every year," he said. "(After) this year, we'll start losing seniors, but hopefully we can make a solid run and compete in every game."