Eagles back at The ‘X’

NEW ULM – By now, the New Ulm girl’s hockey team is definitely not a stranger to the state hockey tournament, and with a veteran team, the Eagles are once again back to the premier event.

New Ulm (18-7) will start it’s sixth straight state tournament trip when the Eagles play Red Wing (22-6) at 1 p.m. on Wednesday at Xcel Energy Center.

First-year head coach Kristin Faber, who was an assistant coach last year, is making her state tournament debut as head coach. She expected to put in a lot of effort as head coach and it’s been worth it.

“It’s a lot more work, but you’re so involved in giving back to a sport that I played for a long time, so the behind-the-scenes work isn’t all that bad,” she said. “It’s time consuming, but in the end, it’s all about improving girl’s hockey.”

It helped being an assistant last year under Angie Zeig, who coached the team to five state tournaments. The expectations for this year’s team remained high and the Eagles have delivered.

“For sure, it helped a lot last year getting to know all of the girls and our strengths and our weaknesses,” Faber said. “The girls have been very receptive to the changes that I’ve made this year – it’s kind of a different style of practice. I think they’ve done a great job with it this year and they’re having success too, which is good.”

This year’s New Ulm team has six seniors on the roster, giving the Eagles a big veteran presence. It also helps that almost all of the players have played at the Xcel Energy Center.

“They have a lot experience playing, even at a higher level,” Faber said. “At the state tournament, you see a whole different level of hockey. Having that leadership and the veteran players on the team that have been there and know what’s happening and where we need to go has been huge.”

One of the seniors, Kali Denn, is making her fifth state tournament appearance in hockey.

“It feels amazing, I’m really sad that it’s my last year and I have to end it,” Denn said.

Statistically, the Eagles are led by Brook Schugel’s 59 points – 28 goals and 31 assists. Schugel was moved from a forward to a defender at about the Christmas break, and she’s handled it well.

Although she’s made the switch to help prevent scoring, she still manages to help the Eagles score plenty of goals. She gives the Eagles another scoring threat on the ice along with the three forwards who are also skating on their shift.

“I think she was receptive to the change, she’s the type of player that you can put anywhere on the ice and she’s going to be successful,” Faber said. “She’s got a great, hard shot that can get to the net and if she sees an open lane, she’s going to take it up.”

Brittany Denn, a sophomore, leads the team with 33 goals and she has 22 assists. Lexie Weiss has 19 goals and 20 assists and Erika Ries has 16 goals and 14 assists. The Eagles have also outscored their opponents 125-67 on the season.

“Lexie is our workhorse, she’s out there all the time going 100 miles per hour,” Faber said. “We’ve got Brittany up front, and she knows where to be and she’s got a good shot.”

The Eagles have also been working on their defense this year, and the players seem to like it.

“Defense is something I’ve been stressing all year and we’ve been working on it pretty much every day,” Faber said. “We’ve got a good core of four or five back there that have done a great job.”

Senior Julia Schaefer is 11-5 with a 2.03 GAA and sophomore Bailey Landreville is 5-2 with a 3.41 GAA.

“We have two very capable goalies right now, Julia played well for us through the section tournament and made some key saves against Luverne, so hopefully one of our goalies can stand on their head at the state tournament and play tight,” Faber said.

New Ulm faces a Red Wing team that won the Section 1 title with a 6-3 win over New Prague. Earlier this year, the Eagles lost 7-2 to New Prague.

Faber said that the Wingers are a fast team and they are led by senior Nicole Schammel, who leads the team with 58 goals and 100 points. She has school records for career goals (266) and career points (446).

Junior Reagan Haley added 76 points, including a team-leading 55 assists. Junior Ashley Corcoran has made 84 saves, a .913 save rate, and ninth-grader Anna Vagasky has 512 saves and a .923 save percentage.

“They’ve got one line that is very skilled and they’re fast,” Faber said. “Matching that speed and manning up in the ‘D’ zone is going to be tough.”

Faber knows that limiting the top line’s scoring chances will be the key to the game.

“I think shutting down their first line is going to be huge,” Faber said. “They put up points – multiple points every single night and if we can shut them down, that’ll be key for us.”

She expects quite a battle with Red Wing, but she believes in her team’s ability.

“I think we’ve got a good squad,” Faber said. “I’m confident in what we’ve put together and what they’ve worked to achieve this year. I know that they’re excited to get up there and make a good statement.”

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