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2000-01 Girls High School Hockey Preview: Leading the Up North girls evolution

The "Golden Age" of girls high school hockey is beginning in and around Duluth. Programs that were once a just dream are suddenly well past mundane reality, and are now growing and improving at a previously unimaginable rate. That has coaches and...

The "Golden Age" of girls high school hockey is beginning in and around Duluth. Programs that were once a just dream are suddenly well past mundane reality, and are now growing and improving at a previously unimaginable rate. That has coaches and players alike bubbling with enthusiasm and excitement as the 2000-01 season opener draws near, with better teams, better schemes and bigger dreams for the first generation of girls that has truly grown up with hockey as an option.
Duluth East
"Depth" is the buzz word you'll hear most frequently around the Greyhounds' practices this season, as head coach Jack Shearer looks to send out three lines of quality players.
The charge will be led by returning standouts like Becky Salyards, Anna Roesler and Becky Fisher, who were all key components of the 1999-2000 team.
Salyards is the team's top returning forward and also served as East's soccer goaltender this fall. She got a late start to the hockey season because of East's tremendous soccer success, but Shearer says that she's picked up the pace of her game considerably as of late.
Roesler, a defenseman converted to forward, gives the Greyhounds a physical presence in the corners, and Fisher, the team's top defenseman, will provide strength on the blue line.
"We expect Fisher to not only play strong defense, but to step it up and produce offensively as well," said Shearer. "She has the skill to do that."
In goal, the Greyhounds will again go with junior Jaime Crain, who stepped in as an emergency netminder for the team last year.
"We didn't have a goalie, and she said that she'd do it," said Shearer. "She's grown in leaps and bounds. She's our most improved player."
Shearer said that he and the Greyhounds coaching staff will be stressing defense this season, and that he's hoping that the squad's rapidly improving skill level, combined with its enthusiasm, will take care of putting points on the board.
He'll get an early chance to find out, as East takes on Rochester John-Marshall on Saturday afternoon at the DECC.
Duluth Denfeld/Central
Scott Forbort, who volunteered with the Denfeld/Central team last winter, has taken over as the team's head coach this season, its second as a co-operative separate from Duluth East.
The team lost only one player to graduation following last season, goaltender April Makowski, and hopes are high for a vast teamwide improvement this season.
"We want to compete with three lines and a couple sets of defensemen this season," said Forbort. "That's our goal. We've got some good young talent, and the program is beginning to develop. We had 33 girls try out, which shocked me, and each year we get better. We'll be improved."
The leader of the Denfeld/Central growth spurt is senior defenseman and captain Allison O'Hara, who Forbort says, "has been through it all," in regards to Duluth girls hockey, from skating with the Ice Breakers to serving as Denfeld/Central's backbone. She'll receive help on the blueline from another senior and fellow captain, Amy Kunze.
"We'll take care of our own end first," said Forbort. "We've got some of our more experienced players back on defense."
Last year's second-leading scorer, junior Brandy Braack, will be counted on heavily for scoring this season as well, and will be joined by fresh faces Tawni Mattila, an eighth-grader, and Janae Fabini, a ninth-grader, up front.
Veronica Surges, a home-schooled player who occasionally relieved Makoski in goal last season, is back with Denfeld/Central in 2000-01, and will be the starter between the pipes.
"This year, all the girls that played last year have a season under their belts," said Forbort. "Last year, we were teaching offsides and icing, and this year we're teaching systems. This year, it'll be better hockey."
Proctor/Hermantown/Marshall
This co-operative squad, which beat East late last season, should not be overlooked as a contender this year.
With almost its entire roster back from last season, head coach Glen Gilderman expects his girls to be competitive in just about every game this season.
Gilderman, like nearly every coach in the area, has good reason for optimism as his roster of talented young players builds on their initial seasons on the ice.
"We already have been able to do things that we didn't do all of last year," said Gilderman. "All of our defense is back, and everyone gets along. This is a good team."
Its centerpiece will likely be its top center, Amy Kachinske. The Hermantown senior scored 41 points last season (27 goals-14 assists), and Gilderman expects that she will again be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Joining Kachinske on a line will be Proctor's Lou Paulson (16-11--27 last year) and Hermantown's Leah Baron (11-13--24 last season), giving the squad a tenacious first line that ranks with the best in the city.
In goal will be junior Jodi Blustin, who posted a 5-2 record with a 3.00 GAA as a backup last season.
Defensively, the team will be counting on Britta Peterson, a junior, to once again be the team's backbone. Following a 1-4 start to the 1999-2000 season, Gilderman moved Peterson (1-15--16 last year) from forward to defense, and the result was an astounding 14-4 finish to the year.
"She's the quarterback," he said.
The team will be tested early again this year, however, as it plays its first five games away from home.
"I hope it works out for us," Gilderman said.
He'll begin to find out on Thursday night when his team travels to North St. Paul.
City overview
Although the consensus seems to favor East, no one expects many runaway games between the Duluth-area schools this season.
"I wouldn't concede anything to East," said Gilderman. "But East should be very good. I don't expect to see anybody in the area blowing everyone out."
East, however, does feel some pressure as the team to beat, which Shearer doesn't mind.
"Like with any sport, there's always a rivalry in the city," he said. "And, of course, we would want to come out as city champs if there ever was that title."
Outside of Duluth, expectations are highest for the Cloquet and Hibbing teams, which each Duluth-area coach points to as the favorites.
"Hibbing and Cloquet are very strong," said Gilderman, who defended Hibbing in light of the recent recruiting accusations levied against the program which claimed one of Greenway's top players from last season.
"Those things just happened," he said. "Success follows success, and players want to go there. It just happens."
Another thing that "just happens" is progress, which Shearer feels is the key to Up North girls hockey this winter.
"The speed of the game has improved," he said. "The game is played at a faster pace here than it ever was, and the playmaking ability is really increasing. The gap in the skill levels is coming closer and closer, and that's really exciting."

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