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Girls hockey returns as conference favorites

Then-junior forward Kelly Krahn celebrates her goal as Packer fans cheer last week against Fargo North at the Fargo Coliseum. File photo

The West Fargo girls hockey season kicks off its season this week, following a year that saw the team go 20-0 in the Eastern Dakota Conference (23-2 overall) and finish second in the state tournament, falling to Bismarck in the championship game.

“We had a great year,” head coach Pat Johnson said. “The kids worked hard, we had a goaltender that we could count on and some good senior leaders. You have a good year when all of that goes well.”

This year’s team is without last year’s six seniors, including the state’s leading scorer and a veteran goalie, but Johnson is pleased with what he has seen in the first three weeks of practice, so long as his team can get healthy.

“The first week of practice went well,” Johnson said. “They all worked hard and skated hard and we had some good scrimmages, but now we are into sickness so I haven’t had a full team at practice for the past couple weeks. I’m hoping we can get over that and have a full team for the start of the season.”

The team still has two of its first-line forwards in Kelly Krahn and Allison Springer, who combined for 130 of the team’s 387 points last season. However, the loss of Hayley Walsh to graduation may prove significant. Walsh, who now plays at the University of Wisconsin – River Falls, led the state in scoring last season with 44 goals and 46 assists. She averaged 3.6 points per game.

They also said goodbye to goalie Andrea Klug, the team’s primary netminder for five years. In 23 games last season, Klug amassed a save percentage of 94.4.

“Every year you have to replace people. You don’t get to keep them or recruit others. We have some goalies that have played in the past. They are athletic, and they will do fine. It is just a matter of getting back and playing solid defense. We probably won’t score quite as much this season, but we still have some scorers. We still have two of three first-liners, so hopefully they can continue and everyone else will skate up to them. If we can do that, good things will happen.”

As it stands now, Johnson expects freshman forward Janey Sandoval to replace Walsh on the first line, and junior goalies Morgan Stirling and Danielle Halderson are expected to split time in net for the time being.

“If one of them takes off and plays really well, they will be the go-to person,” Johnson said. “You hope that one of them wants to take that role, but they are both working for playing time.”

While the team still has some high-scoring skaters and solid defense. The lack of experienced, upper-class skaters is somewhat disconcerting to Johnson. However, he is confident that his six freshmen and two eighth-graders will be able to learn on the fly.

“The youth will have to learn a bit faster than usual,” Johnson said. “After a few games, they can’t be youth anymore. They have to be regular varsity hockey players, but they are working hard and trying their best to pick it up.”

The Packers are the favorites in the state once again, but Johnson expects tough games throughout the season, especially from Bismarck, Grand Forks and local rivals Fargo North and Fargo South. One thing you can expect from the team, according to its coach, is continuous improvement.

“We just want to keep improving and developing into a good hockey team,” Johnson said. “We want to give ourselves a chance to win each game, and then everything will take care of itself. We need to outwork people, we need to out-hustle people and we need to out-teamwork people. That is what we stress. If we do that, we have a chance, and that is all you can ask for.”

The girls will host Dickinson on Friday at 7:30 p.m.