They were rivals on the ice last year. This year, they are teammates.
The face of girls’ hockey in the Northwoods had changed dramatically with the Rhinelander/Antigo and Lakeland/Tomahawk co-ops merging to form a new-look Northern Edge for the 2019-2020 season.
The move was a necessity for both programs, which were projected to have numbers which would have struggled to reach the teens had each squad continued to play separately. Talks between all schools involved moved quickly following the end of last season to bring the teams together prior to the WIAA’s April 1 deadline for co-ops.
Together, the squad lists 23 skaters on its roster from five different schools — the majority of players coming from Lakeland, Rhinelander and Antigo. Depth is the No. 1 thing this year’s Northern Edge will have that it, or Lakeland, did not have a year ago.
“By the third period we were dead,” Kate Vizanko, a junior forward from Lakeland said of her experience last season. “It was pretty rough hockey to watch. This year we have so many girls that we’re going to be playing competitively all the way through.”
Depth will not only help on game night, but it has also helped in practice, which have been more competitive in years past.
“I know I have been going a lot harder in practices,” said Rhinelander senior Madi Losch, the Northern Edge’s top scorer from last season. “Everyone’s just challenging each other. It’s definitely helped with the numbers.”
That depth will be put to the test right away as the Edge opens the season tonight against the Central Wisconsin Storm in Merrill. The Storm, who have qualified for the last 12 WIAA state girls’ hockey tournaments, have set a standard in terms of large, multi-school co-ops that have been emulated elsewhere around the state. Now the Edge has one of its own to try to take down the Goliath.
“I have no clue what they have, but I imagine they’re fairly deep and they’ll run three lines against us. We’re going to try to battle back with three lines, just keeping up with them every shift,” head coach Tom Roeser said.
Here are five things to know about this year’s squad.
Last year the Northern Edge had one all-conference goaltender. Thanks to the merger with Lakeland, the team now has two.
There’s plenty of strength at the position between senior Alicia Turunen from Antigo and junior Anna Maulson from Lakeland. Turunen was the unanimous choice as the first-team all-Great Northern Conference netminder last year as she went 4-11-0 during the regular season with a 3.88 goals against average, a .914 save percentage and posted one shutout. Maulson, who received honorable mention at the position, posted similar numbers — going 5-14-0 with a 3.61 GAA, a .895 save percentage and two shutouts.
Roeser said he was not ready to name a starter between the two, noting they both have different styles. He said he expects the two to push each other for playing time throughout the season.
“I don’t want anyone to get too comfortable. I want them to continue working hard and competing,” he said. “We have two goalies that I think will stop most of the shots that come at them.”
When and if Maulson plays in goal, don’t be surprised if Turunen skates out. She scored five goals and had six assists as a freshman when she was Shea Petersen’s backup in goal. She played two games outside of the cage as a sophomore and tallied three goals and three assists.
Whoever is in goal will likely see fewer pucks flung in her direction this season. Turunen averaged 41.1 saves per game last year while Maulson made 27.7 stops per contest. That number figures to drop considerable this year.
The Edge brings back two of its top defenders from last year — Emily Kassler who received honorable mention in the GNC last year and Evie LeVeque. The two Antigo juniors will likely be joined on the blue line by a pair of Lakeland freshmen, Maria Gironella and Caitlyn Fesnick. Roeser called Gironella a strong skater and said Fesnick recently moved to the Northwoods from Minnesota, where she had club hockey experience.
“We’ve never had a very strong defensive line and this year we have an extremely strong defensive line,” Vizanko said.
Losch’s name is missing from the list of returning defenders. That’s because Roeser is planning to move the unanimous first-team all-conference selection up to forward this year. Losch was the Edge’s leading scorer the last two years —with 17 goals as a sophomore and 13 last year. She needs only two more goals to pass Nikki Kloes for No. 4 on the team’s all-time scoring list, and the move to forward will likely aid in that pursuit.
“That’s going to help us a lot,” Roeser said. “Madi will see it as not having as much ice time as I fully intend to run three lines as much as I can, however a lot of her ice time last year was on dead legs. She’s going to find out that she can go full blast for a whole shift, come back, recover and do it again.”
Right now Losch is penciled in on the same line as Vizanko who had 11 goals and 12 assists last year for Lakeland as she received honorable mention in the GNC. Fellow Lakeland junior Isabelle Boyer is back after scoring 10 goals for the T-Birds last year, though Roeser said she’s expected to miss the first few games of the season.
Lauren Kefalinos and Taylee Tucker are back after scoring three goals each for the Edge. Senior Ashley Albee is back after scoring twice for the T-Birds last season.
Beyond that, Roeser said he expects contributions from a trio of freshmen — Maddi Roeser, Wyndi Saari and Kassidee Linssen. Linssen comes to the co-op from Wabeno and coach Roeser compared her skills to former Northern Edge all-state player and UW-Stevens Point defender Lauren Smith.
“She’s a nice player. She’s on our top line right now. She’s tall. She’s lanky, a lot like Lauren Smith, kind of a skater like that. We’ll see if she’s got the killer instinct Lauren’s got too,” he said.
Battling the big dogs
A side effect of the merger between the Northern Edge and Lakeland co-ops is there is no longer a Great Northern Conference for girls’ hockey. The Edge will still see former conference rivals Northland Pines and Medford three times each this season, but that still leaves 18 games on the regular season schedule.
The Edge will face Central Wisconsin twice this season, marking the first meeting between the teams since Dec. 19, 2013 (the teams had a game scheduled for Feb. 2, 2016 canceled due to weather). Additionally, the team has a pair of games against Bay Area on its schedule, one against Wisconsin Valley Union, one agains the Hayward co-op and three games against Milwaukee area co-ops (Arrowhead, Lakeshore, Brookfield) on its slate.
“I’m hoping we’ll be able to compete with the southern big co-ops,” Losch said. “We’ve struggled with all the teams co-oping, 10 schools co-oping together and we’re struggling trying to scrounge together 10 girls form four schools. I’m hoping to compete with some of the southern schools.”
The Edge hope the added depth and strengthen schedule lead to better results, and gives the team a legitimate chance come the playoffs. The team falls in the same seven-team sectional as mega co-ops Central Wisconsin, Wisconsin Valley Union, Bay Area and Fox Cities.
Though the schedule is ambitious, Roeser said he’d like for the team get as much use out of all the players on its roster as possible, finish the regular season above .500 and attempt to make some noise in the playoffs.
“I’d love to go into to the playoffs with some confidence, maybe knock off some teams we’re not supposed to knock off — if not, make them great games. I think that momentum will take us into the playoffs,” he said.
At any rate, the players expect the product on the ice for the new Edge-Lakeland co-op to be better than what they had as separate squads last year.
“Come down and watch a few games. It’s going to be good hockey,”?Vizanko said.
The Edge’s first home game takes place Dec. 7 against Arrowhead at the Rhinelander Ice Arena.
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