NEW ULM - When teams set goals prior to the start of the season, almost every one of them has a state tournament trip as a goal.
For the New Ulm High School girls' hockey team, simply getting to the state tournament for the fifth straight year is not where the team has its sights set.
"We want to win a (first-round) game at the Xcel Center," Eagles junior Kali Denn said.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm’s Kali Denn is a top returning player for the Eagles this season.
Some people may think that the Eagles have put the cart before the horse with that statement. But this year the team returns almost the entire squad from last year's 14-15 campaign and is the heavy favorite to win the section and make a trip to state again.
"We lost two players from last year," head coach Angie Zeig said. "One graduated (Aimee Abrahamson) and another chose not to come out. But otherwise the bulk of the team is back and they are looking pretty promising."
With 19 players on the varsity roster, depth is not a concern for the Eagles.
"We have a pretty distinct two top lines and we are going to try and run a third line at least part of every period," Zeig said. "I think that we have the players to fill in to be able to do that. I am confident in their abilities this year."
Zeig said that the Eagles do not have any real weakness this season.
"We have stayed healthy through the first few weeks of practice and scrimmages," she said. "We have a lot of returning players and the newer ones are really pushing themselves to be better. I have seen a lot of promising things out of the newer players. We have a solid core of defensemen back. We will just need the lines to mesh together."
Zeig agrees that the realistic goal for this team is not just getting to state, but "making a better show in that first game."
The Eagles have lost all four of their first-round games in the state tournament. They have a 2-8 mark in their four state tournament appearances including play in the consolation bracket.
"If we can get those three lines going, that will be a big plus, because most of the teams in the state tournament do have three lines," Zeig said. "We did do three lines last year in the second and third games of the state tournament. It was tough to do that in the first game at state last year. I think that our third line this year may not have a lot of scoring power, but they are solid defensively."
Denn said that despite the depth and talent that is back, she and the team know that they cannot rest and be complacent.
"We know that we need to push each other in practice and get better," Denn said. "We are not the best team on the ice yet. We want to improve ourselves so that when we get to state we can win that first game."
The Eagles will have a tough non-conference schedule to prepare them for an eventual state tournament run.
New Ulm has non-conference games against Chaska-Chanhassen, Sartell-Sauk Rapids, St. Cloud Icebreakers and Holy Family Catholic.
The Eagles will open their season at home Saturday with a noon meeting with Mankato West at the New Ulm Civic Center.
"We need to play those kind of teams during the season," Denn said. "We need to play those strong teams to prepare us for the state tournament."