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Girls' Hockey: Lots of minutes, plenty of results for Red Wing blue line

Red Wing's Meg Grove takes a shot from the point during the Wingers' 1-0 loss to Northfield on Nov. 30. Kyle Stevens / RiverTown Multimedia1 / 2
Red Wing's Kendal Swanson clears the puck out of the defensive zone during their Jan. 13 game against Northern Lakes in the St. Paul Winter Classic at North Dale Rec Center. Joe Brown / RiverTown Multimedia2 / 2

Think your work day is long? Watch Emily Hart, Kendal Swanson, Meg Grove and Eliza DiNatale on the ice for the Red Wing girls' hockey team.

Every game on the blue line is an endurance test when you play just four defensemen. But that has been the norm for Hart, Swanson, Grove and DiNatale for two seasons.

With the competition the Wingers tend to play, the work is demanding. But the foursome know how to take care of themselves after putting in workhorse-like minutes every game.

"On days off, I'll work out or go home and take a jog or lift weights, just to keep fit," DiNatale, a freshman, said.

Swanson, the defense's lone senior, added, "Scott (Haley, Red Wing's head coach) loves to skate us, so that helps to keep us fit having to go out every other shift. And Dan (Anderson, assistant coach) loves to play a short bench for 'D.' Throughout my time in high school, we've played with a short bench."

Ideally, a team wants three pairings on the blue line, but for a Class A team like the Wingers, sometimes the depth isn't there. A year ago, it became an issue, especially against top-tier teams.

"Last year, we pieced (Taylor) Heise and (Nicole) Oberding on 'D.' We pieced them in during the section final against Northfield because we felt like we didn't have the depth that we needed," Haley said. "That hasn't been the case this year. Because of them playing so strongly, we've been able to keep Heise and Oberding at forward, which is huge."

Haley added, "I was telling Dan the other day that the thing about this team from last year's team is the D-corp is the most improved."

Last year was a learning experience for first-time varsity players like Grove and DiNatale, and Swanson to a smaller degree as she saw her minutes jump up. But the pairings — the junior Hart with sophomore Grove and Swanson with DiNatale — found some chemistry that has only improved with time.

"They have grown so much this season. It's been incredible," Hart said of Grove and DiNatale. "Meg and Eliza's hockey IQ, as we call it, has skyrocketed since last year."

Grove added about her pairing with Hart, "I've learned a lot by talking. We communicate well and work well together."

DiNatale chimed in about her pairing with Swanson, "It was a lot easier this year because last year was my first in high school and in varsity hockey. With Kendal again, it makes it a lot easier."

Short shifts are the key. The four have their internal clock set to 45 seconds as the ideal time. A minute if you have to. Do not go to two minutes.

"With our success, it's been a lot of fun and makes it all worth it in the end," Swanson said.

"The defense's goal to stay fresh: short shifts. Forty-five seconds is the ideal time to make a switch to the other pairing."

"We're all really tired after games and we all work through it," said Hart.

Haley leaves the defense in the more-than-capable hands of Anderson, who has molded the group into one of the best in Class A. During the regular season, Red Wing held teams to 1.8 goals per game, sixth best in Class A. They also limited opposing teams to a 12.5 percent success rate on the power play.

Along with junior goaltender Tyler McGrath, the Wingers have won six games by shutout this year.

"Honestly, I don't really know what's going on. That's the arrangement Anderson and I made a lot of years ago," Haley said with a laugh. "He does a great job with them, they rally around him. They have their own pre-game meetings sometimes. It's a close-knit group. Throw Tyler and Hailey (Ehlers) in the mix and they've done an excellent job."

Getting a first-round bye, the Wingers are white-hot going into the section playoffs, going 9-0 after the calendar turned to 2018. They begin Section 1A play at 7 p.m. Saturday at home against fourth-seeded Austin.

Section 1A playoffs

First-round results (from Wednesday)

(4) Austin 6, (5) Albert Lea 3

(3) Faribault 12, (6) Waseca 0

Semifinals (7 p.m. Saturday at high seed)

(4) Austin at (1) Red Wing

(3) Faribault at (2) Rochester Lourdes

Championship (7:30 p.m. at Four Seasons Centre, Owatonna)

Austin/Red Wing winner vs. Faribault/Lourdes winner

Final Four breakdown

Red Wing Wingers

Regular-season record: 21-4

Ranking: 3rd

Regular season vs. section: 4-0

Top scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):

Taylor Heise 58-25-83

Emily Hart 9-26-35

Nicole Oberding 16-16-32

Goaltender (wins-losses-save %-GAA):

Tyler McGrath 21-4-.930-1.72

Rochester Lourdes Eagles

Regular-season record: 13-11

Ranking: 15th

Regular season vs. section: 4-0

Top scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):

Emma Schmitz 31-21-52

Clara Billings 22-8-30

Maggie Hanzel 9-19-28

Goaltender (wins-losses-save %-GAA):

Corrin Hanson 8-6-.876-3.00

Clare Brunn 5-6-.872-3.00

Faribault Falcons

Regular-season record: 15-10

Ranking: n/a

Regular season vs. section: 5-4

Top scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):

Olivia Williamson 30-18-48

Haley Lang 12-17-29

Kayli Burkhartzmeyer 13-13-26

Goaltender (wins-losses-save %-GAA):

Camryn Salmonsen 13-10-.917-2.45

Austin Packers

Regular-season record: 8-15

Ranking: n/a

Regular season vs. section: 2-5

Top scorers (Goals-Assists-Points):

Myia Hoium 20-16-36

Lily Holtz 11-20-31

Jordyn McCormack 18-12-30

Goaltender (wins-losses-save %-GAA):

Faith Sayles 4-7-.860-5.06

Shelby Davidson-Newkirk 3-6-.842-5.89