After two weeks of practice to start the season, the Western Wisconsin Stars girls hockey team hit the ice at full speed last week.
The Stars opened their season with four games during the Thanksgiving week. And now they have two weeks to learn from those games before they take the ice again.
The season opened for the Stars on Tuesday, Nov. 21, when they skated to a 3-2 win at Superior. After two days off for Thanksgiving, the Stars played in three games in a tournament at Baldwin last Friday and Saturday. The Stars ended the week with a 2-2 record.
The Stars truly are a western Wisconsin team. They play most of their home games in Somerset, but have girls from New Richmond, Somerset, Osceola, St. Croix Falls and Amery on the roster.
The numbers are better for the Stars this season. They carry 21 girls on the roster, including three goaltenders.
Second-year Stars coach Bob Huerta said the girls have been quickly grasping the coaches' plans for the season. Huerta coached youth girls hockey before taking over the Stars. So he has coached nearly all the girls on the team before, including the freshmen.
"At this point, we're a little further ahead opposed to last year," Huerta said.
The Stars faced an important game right away, because Superior is one of the teams in this sectional. Superior had already played a game prior to last Tuesday's contest. That helped the Spartans lead 1-0 after the first period. The Stars settled down in the second period, getting goals from Bailey Williams and Ellie Brice.
Superior tied the score at 2-2 at the 6:46 mark of the third period, but the game stayed tied for just 20 seconds. Grace Klein scored the deciding goal off assists from Margo Gauper and Sydney Hahn.
Catherine Magler, who along with Klein are the only seniors on the Stars roster, made 20 saves in goal to net the win for the Stars.
The Stars opened action in the Baldwin tournament Friday morning against the St. Paul Blades. The Stars were red-hot at the start, then had to hold to maintain a 4-3 win over the Blades.
Jade Williams scored twice to get the Stars rolling and Hahn followed suit to give the Stars a 3-0 lead in the first period. The final two of those goals came on the power play. The Blades got the only goal of the second period.
The officials took over the third period, with eight penalties making the period a battle of special teams. Mackenzie Mike scored her first-ever goal for the Stars early in the third period and that goal proved to be the difference.
The Stars took the ice again on Friday night against Rochester Lourdes. Rochester's superior speed overwhelmed the leg-weary Stars, with Lourdes winning 7-1. Klein had the Stars' only goal on a second period power play.
The fourth game of the week came on Saturday when the Stars played a familiar foe, the St. Croix Valley Fusion. These teams played three times last season and will likely play at least that many times this season. This game was a battle right to the end, with the Fusion winning 6-5 in overtime. The Fusion are currently ranked fourth in the state.
Jade Williams scored three times against the Fusion, with Hahn and Bailey Williams each netting one goal. Brice assisted on four of the Stars' goals in the game. The Stars put on heavy pressure in the final minute of regulation, but couldn't get the game winner.
The Fusion scored the game winner 5:05 into overtime.
Huerta said the Stars learned a great deal in these four games. After graduating their two leading scorers from last season in Cassie Gravelle and Brie Larkowski, there were concerns on where the goal scoring would come from. But led by the Williams sisters, the Stars appear to be capable to score with any team. The team was working with new line combinations, so the two weeks of practice will give them time to gain familiarity.
The Stars were scheduled to play in a tournament at Wisconsin Rapids this weekend, but the tournament was cancelled. The Stars are now off until Friday, Dec. 8, when they play the Chippewa Falls-Menomonie co-op team in Menomonie.