NEW ULM - By her account, New Ulm senior defenseman Lexi Fischer is making the most of her second chance at the sport she loves the most.
Fischer was a member of the girls hockey team last year, but she quit the team during the regular season after some internal problems with the team.
That decision cost her a chance to play on a team that made it to the state tournament and took sixth. She decided she wanted to come back this season for one more try at it, and that has paid off for her.
Staff photo by Steve Muscatello
New Ulm senior Lexi Fischer has been a leader on defense for the Eagles this season. The Eagles open the Class A State Girls Hockey Tournament at 6 p.m. Wednesday when they play Warroad at Xcel Energy Center.
"It means a lot," she said. "Just watching the seniors from my first year (she went to state as an eighth-grader), they got to go to state and it was the most amazing feeling ever, watching them play their last year and getting so far. I hope that I can experience the same thing."
While she was away from the game last year, she learned to appreciate everything she had even more. She re-joined the team this year and she's been a big reason why the Eagles are back at the tournament for the fifth straight year. She has five goals and seven assists from her defensive position.
"It made me come back knowing that I couldn't give up and I couldn't let anything get me down to not want to be here," Fischer said.
On Wednesday, Fischer and the rest of her teammates take on Warroad (24-2-1), the No. 1 seed and the top-ranked team in Class A at the Class A State Girls Hockey Tournament at Xcel Energy Center.
The Eagles play at 6 p.m. against the high-scoring Warriors, who have 157 goals in 27 games (5.38 goals per game).
If the Eagles win, they at 1 p.m. Friday against the winner of South St. Paul and Hibbing/Chisholm. If the Eagles lose, they play the loser of that game at noon Thursday.
Even though the Eagles drew the top seed right away, Fischer and her teammates are up for the challenge.
"It's going to be tough," Fischer said. "It's probably going to be one of the hardest games we've ever played in our careers. But we have to keep our head in the game and watch the puck at all times."
Joining Fischer in the defensive side of the rink is junior Kali Denn, who is making her fifth appearance at the tournament. Denn has been a leader all season and she's tallied five goals and eight assists this year.
"It's pretty exciting, that's for sure," Denn said after last Thursday's Section 3A championship game. "It's the fifth year in a row, I didn't know if it was going to be a go or not."
Also back on the defensive end are goalies Julia Schaefer (junior) and Bailey Landreville (freshman). Schaefer was the starting goalie at the state tournament last year and she and Landreville have split time between the pipes this year.
Schaefer has 277 saves for a .882 save percentage and Landreville has 291 saves for a .869 save percentage.
While splitting time has been difficult for both at times, they both cheer each other on.
"It's hard, but we try and support each other and just work to learn from it," Schaefer said. "
Schaefer is up for the challenge of playing the top-ranked team in the state and she has to be. She started the first tournament game at Xcel last year (a 12-1 loss to South St. Paul) and she said that playing up there is something she'll never forget.
"It was hard to describe the feeling of playing, just knowing that you're playing on the same ice as the pros," Schaefer said. "It's hard to get used to such a big atmosphere but once you get your nerves down, it's just another game."
The Eagles have struggled in first-round games at state. They're hoping to help gain some respect for the section, which is viewed as the weakest in the state by almost everyone else.
"Every time we want to show who we are, even though we are Section 3 and no one thinks highly of us, we deserve to be there," junior Lexie Weiss said after Thursday's game. Weiss has 19 goals and 20 assists on the season.
The team's leading scorer is Brook Schugel, a freshman. She has 30 goals and 18 assists, including eight goals in the two playoff games so far. It's also her second trip to the state tournament.
Although the Eagles have only two seniors and five juniors, many of the underclassmen have state tournament experience.
"For sure, I think we've had quite a few girls on the team that have played for three-plus years," Schugel said after last Thursday's Section 3A championship game. "They have the experience to know what to do. We've been in this position before and it feels good."
Brittany Denn is second on the team with 24 goals and she also has 18 assists. Erika Ries has 15 goals and 11 assists.
The Warriors are led by senior forwards Lisa Marvin and Kayla Gardner. Marvin has a team-high 86 points; including a team-leading 60 assists, and Gardner has a team-leading 34 goals and 40 assists.
Ninth-grade forward Demi Gardner has 25 goals and 33 assists on the season.
Senior goaltender Dayton Hilgert has a save percentage of .940, making 410 saves and giving up all 26 of the goals allowed by the team. Sophomore Danielle Knott is 6-0 in the net and did not allow a goal in 306 minutes.
The Eagles are hoping to make some noise at Xcel. Just winning a game at the tournament isn't their No. 1 goal anymore.
"Definitely not, we've got bigger goals, better goals - to win at the Xcel," Kali Kali Denn said.
As for Fischer, it's the final week of her prep hockey career. She knows that she'll always remember the trip to state, but this one is a little more special.
"It's going to hurt and it's going to be hard to get used to it," Fischer said. "I made the most of the years I was on the team. I'll probably go to college and play intramurals but it's going to be hard, that's for sure. Hockey's been my life since I was four or five-years old."