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Seeding won't offer any breaks for New Richmond girls hockey team

New Richmond defenseman Megan Wolner (3), a junior from Somerset, carries the puck from behind the Tiger goal during a recent game.

The WIAA girls hockey sectional tournament seeding will be completed this Sunday.

One look at the state rankings and you can quickly see that the New Richmond girls hockey team faces an uphill battle when they begin the WIAA tournaments.

There are eight teams in Sectional 1 of the WIAA tournaments, including the Tigers. Of those eight, six were ranked among the top 15 girls programs in the state this week in the US High School Hockey Online rankings. New Richmond and Superior are the only teams in the sectional who aren't ranked among the top 15 programs in the state.

Hayward is the most highly ranked of the sectional teams, currently ranked third. Also ranked are the St. Croix Valley Fusion (sixth), WSFLG (ninth), Eau Claire (11th), Hudson (12th) and Chippewa Falls (15th).

That doesn't leave the Tigers with many options for seeding. Tiger coach Emily Dabrowski said it is likely her team will draw Hayward in the opening round of tournament play, which begins on Feb. 14-15. Dabrowski said this is "definitely" the strongest sectional tournament field in the state.

The Tigers are just hoping they can be healthy by the time tournaments arrive. They have been playing more on heart than health in recent games. The Tigers took on the sixth-ranked Fusion on Saturday and by sheer heart, they made this a close game, losing to the Fusion 2-0 in Baldwin.

Illness has been pounding the Tigers and it has only slightly begun to let up. Dabrowski said she had no more than eight healthy girls at any practice last week. It was probably fortunate for the Tigers that last Tuesday's game against Hudson was postponed. A makeup date has not yet been decided.

Saturday's game began with three Tigers out sick. Another had to be pulled out during the game because of a knee injury and several were limited by breathing issues from the bronchial bug that has engulfed the team over the past month.

In Saturday's game, the Tigers gave up a goal 34 seconds into the contest. It may have looked like doom and gloom for the Tigers, but they soon found their spirits rising. The Tigers didn't put a shot on goal in the first period, but they came back to nearly match the Fusion shot-for-shot in the final two periods.

"The morale was so high," Dabrowski said, praising the effort given every girl on the team.

That began with senior goalie Baily Lund. When Lund catches fire, she can be as tough as any goalie in the area. That was the case Saturday, when she stopped 29 of 31 Fusion shots.

"She was on her game, it was awesome to see," Dabrowski said. "That really picks a team up."

The Tigers resume their schedule this Thursday, with a game against WSFLG that will be played in Grantsburg. That's followed by two home games. The Tigers will play at 3 p.m. on Saturday against Viroqua. On Tuesday they get a visit from the Black River Falls squad, in a 6 p.m. start.