The Bemidji High girls hockey team launches the winter sports season this weekend, heading south to face Prior Lake tonight and Wayzata tomorrow afternoon.
They will be the first of 25 games this winter, only nine at home. Six of these will be at Nymore Gardens and three at BSU.
It will be a new era for the skaters who ended a four year run behind Sarah Erickson and Jess Christofferson last winter by reaching the section semifinals before falling to Moorhead.
During those four years, Bemidji made trip to the state meet in 2007 and twice lost in the section final. Bemidji went 75-32-1.
Graduation cut a wide swath through last year's team, taking 12 seniors who accounted for 66 of the team's 92 goals.
Among them was Christofferson mho paced the team with 23 goals and 15 assists for 38 points despite sitting out several late season games with an injury.
Haley and Alissa Johnson and Hailey Williamson were the next three scorers with Karly Engen also in double figures.
Also gone is goalie Kaia Sele who was a tower of strength in the net the past two winters.
Christofferson is playing at Mercyhurst College in Erie, Pa. and Haley Johnson at Hamline.
Sele plans to play softball at Concordia.
The numbers also nosedived this year with only 21 players reporting to practice. That will prohibit Bemidji from fielding a B Team this winter.
The 21 have been trimmed to 19 to start the year. Ten are letter winners, five seniors and five juniors.
Four B Team grads and five members from the U-14 team will round out the team.
Bemidji will likely have to rely on a staunch defense and strong goal tending and hope to win a number of low scoring affairs.
Matt Menne is back for his sixth season assisted for the third year by Keith Huerd with Kaila Jaeger back for her second year to round out the staff.
Despite its low numbers, the team is not without talent with four of its top six defenders back from 2009 and its No. 2 goalie. A fifth defender will be skating on the second line this year.
But only three forwards are back, one second line wing and two off the fourth line.
The letter winners include seniors Maria Thompson, Emily Larson, Annie Swartz, Jess Hunt and Shelby Sauer and juniors Janie Johnson, Chaniel Nelson, Casey Miller, Amanda Hunt and Becca Gregg.
Swartz had 15 points, Sauer 13 and Larson 12. Jess Hunt with eight is the only other player to have more than five.
Up from the JV are senior Olivia Hruby, and juniors Megan Phelps, Meghan Wannebo and Laura Thompson.
The 14-Under grads are junior Emily Denzer, sophs Allie Lapp and Caitlin Blotske and freshmen Allie Heifort and Karleigh Wolkerstorfer.
Maria Thompson, who started seven varsity games last year, will get the nod in goal tonight.
Sauer, Lapp and Gregg will make up one line, Nelson, Johnson and Miller another and Wolkerstorfer, Wannebo and Heifort the third.
The defensive pairs are Larson with Jess Hunt, Swartz with Amanda Hunt and Blotske with Phelps.
Laura Thompson, Denzer and Hruby round out a four goalie corps.
Bemidji will open league play at Thief River Nov. 20 and make its home debut Nov. 24 with Roseau at Nymore Gardens. All home games this year will begin at 7.
The team returns to the Andover tournament Christmas week to face North Wright County in its opener Dec. 29 in the eight-team affair.
It beat Andover and Woodbury around a loss to Anoka last year to take third place.
ADD SCHEDULE FROM WINTER SPORTS SCHEDULES