For perhaps the first time in his long tenure, Scott Haley is going deep into his system in November. The Red Wing girls hockey coach has been blessed with high-end talent for much of his time guiding the Wingers, but that often came with a short bench.
This season, Haley has a front-runner for Ms. Hockey, and a support group that will roll 11 others over the board that are more than capable of holding their own.
"That's the biggest difference between this year and other years is we're not reinventing the wheel," Haley said. "We lost one senior (from last year). We basically just kept last year's section roster, and that's that. We're touching on concepts that we usually do in January. And having these early games, we'll have a fifth game done through the third week, when some have just two, that's advantageous to us to getting out of the gate. Everyone has a lot of experience and composure and routine to know the expectations."
Through two games, Red Wing is 2-0, with 5-2 wins against Mahtomedi and Class A's second-ranked team in St. Paul United. It was that game against the Spartans, on Saturday, what could be possible with the sixth-ranked Wingers.
"It sounds crazy, and who knows where United ends up at the end of the year, but we've never beat a team that high in the rankings. We've been No. 1 and lost to No. 2, and, honestly, it's early, but I think No. 4 was the highest (before)," Haley said. "And the team didn't even seem to notice."
What is noticeable is Taylor Heise having just half of Red Wing's 10 goals. And that against United, Heise just had two goals and an assist. Emily Hart scored unassisted and Nicole Oberding scored on assists from Solveig Roth and Heise. But it was the final goal from Sophie Schaefer, scoring on assists from Delaynee Fox and Eliza DiNatale, that will be the key to success this season. Well, that along with Hart anchoring a solid defense and goalie Tyler McGrath stopping what might get through.
"What we have to focus on is team defense, which should be better than the past. A lot of those kids, last year was their first full year of varsity. (Offensively), throw Taylor out of the mix, because we know what she's going to do. But can we get four or five other girls in that 20-30 point range," Haley said. "(As for McGrath), she'll be hard pressed to have any games where she's not the best goalie."
Not only are the Wingers deep, but they're old. There are eight seniors on the roster, along with three juniors and a pair of sophomores.
That has allowed for more tinkering, and the plunge deeper into systems as the players don't have to get up to speed. And it has allowed the schedule to be dense in the early going, with Haley maxing out games through the first 21 days of the season.
"Some of it is, I didn't want to have two weeks of practice with no game. We played about as early and often as we could. We've played pretty much the allowable games that they allow. And it's helped us, for sure. Even in our scrimmages in the first week, we had one coach say it looked like we've been practicing for six weeks," Haley said. "Hopefully we can build on that."
Building is exactly what Red Wing is able to do this year. Instead of laying the foundation for two months, the Wingers are ready now. The goals of a Big Nine Conference title and a return to the Section 1A championship game are still in place. To get there is simply a matter of coming together as soon as possible.
"The biggest thing for us is we've got to get better all-around, to be playing team hockey by February," Haley said. "We have a long way to go to be a complete team. We're only rostering 12 skaters, and all those kids are playing. We're playing more kids than we ever have. And that's not going to change. That's the advantage of having some depth for a change."