Wingers developing into perennial title contendersIn three short years the Red Wing girls hockey team has become a consistent contender for the section title and will enter this season as one of the front runners.
By: Nick Gerhardt, The Republican Eagle
In three short years the Red Wing girls hockey team has become a consistent contender for the section title and will enter this season as one of the front runners.
The Wingers reached the state tournament for the second time in three years last season and went on to win the consolation championship with a young cast. The good news for Red Wing is that most of that lineup returns when the Wingers face fourth-ranked in Class A South St. Paul Tuesday in South St. Paul. Red Wing starts the season ranked seventh in the state by Let's Play Hockey.
The Wingers made their first trip to the state tournament in 2009 with standout defenseman Rose Alleva leading the team. Alleva, a Ms. Hockey runner-up, went on to play at Princeton University after the 2009-10 season and Red Wing didn’t skip a beat despite her graduation.
“I think that surprised a lot of people, but it didn’t surprise us because we knew we had a talented group of kids coming right behind her,” Wingers head coach Scott Haley said.
Alleva’s presence on the ice elevated the Wingers into prominence, but her impact extended beyond that and has continued to make Red Wing a contender.
“I can speak for my daughters, Paige and Reagan, and the impact Rose had on them was tremendous,” Scott Haley said. “She was the first, high, top-end kid we’ve had in our program’s history and she just kind of paved the way for those kids.”
Alleva played in the Upper Midwest Elite Hockey League while in high school and soon others like Paige and Reagan Haley, goaltender Lisa Nibbe and Nicole Schammel played in the league.
Detractors used to point to Red Wing as a one-person team, but after last year’s run to the state tournament the Wingers showed they have become a top program. Red Wing features a bevy of talent.
Paige Haley, a junior defenseman, became the latest Winger to commit to a Division I program when she gave a verbal commitment to play for the University of Minnesota. Haley scored 22 goals and had 25 assists last season.
Haley’s stats ranked second behind Schammel. Schammel scored 41 goals and had 14 assists as a freshman last year. In addition Schammel, Red Wing also brings back Reagan Haley, who had eight goals and 25 assists, and Emily Stegora, who had five goals and 11 assists. Eight of the Wingers’ nine top scorers return.
“A lot of these kids have been skating during the summertime in the offseason,” Scott Haley said. “Girls are lifting weights and doing speed and agility — things that take you from being a middle-of-the-road program to a team that should be able to compete to go to state every year.”
Red Wing also has a solid last line of defense in Nibbe. Nibbe had an .882 save percentage and a 3.49 goals against average as a junior. Scott Haley described her as one of the best goalies in the state whom colleges are recruiting.
Not only does Red Wing return most of its starters, it may also have the most depth ever in program history.
“The difference between the first line and the second line is really minute. Our third unit is by far the strongest third unit we’ve had here,” Scott Haley said. “That’s huge if we can get them some more playing time than we have gotten out of a third line in the past.”
A third line can be a luxury in high school hockey and it should help keep everyone fresh late into the season.
The Wingers have finished the season strongly the last three years, but starting hasn’t looked as good. Red Wing got off to a 2-4-1 start last year, an 0-3 start in 2009-10 and a 1-4 start in 2008-09.
“Every coach says this — and we really try do it — is build toward February,” Scott Haley said. “That’s something we’ve tried to pride ourselves on.”
The Wingers have played some of their toughest opponents in the early, in order to prepare for the difficult games later. Given that so many players return from last season Red Wing may be prepared to hit the ice running.
“I think that the big thing is we’re a little bit ahead of where we’ve been traditionally,” Scott Haley said. “The kids are just a little more developed so we hit the systems a little earlier than we traditionally have. The learning curve’s a lot quicker. I think the hope is that we should be up and running a lot quicker than we have been.”