Through the first six games last season, the East Ridge girls’ hockey team was outscored 24-3. Former NHL and Minnesota Wild winger Wes Walz, known as a fierce competitor, then took over the program midseason.
“You want to be a difficult team to play against,” Walz said. “It used to be teams would come in and score 10 goals or eight goals against us.
“It’s not so much that way anymore.”
Not so much, indeed. The Raptors allowed just 10 goals in their first seven games while posting a 6-1 record early this season.
It’s far different from the sluggish start last fall, when East Ridge worked its way to a 10-14-2 overall mark and 8-8-2 record in the Suburban East Conference. Walz and then-co-head coach Tim Fink were named Class 2A, Section 3 coaches of the year.
Rachel Rollins has been playing varsity since she was a freshman. Now a senior, Rollins is enjoying the program’s best start. She credits the coaching staff.
“They take a lot of time to work on the little things with us that make a big difference,” Rollins said. “We’ve become much more disciplined.”
They’re taking shorter shifts, which has helped the girls keep their legs fresh for the third period. The third periods have been dominated by the Raptors so far.
The team has adopted a defense-first mentality, which includes a lot of video analysis.
“If defending or keeping the puck out of the net isn’t your first priority, then you do not have a chance to really be successful,” Walz said. “Our girls have really understood exactly what we want in our own zone.”
This is the fifth year of the school and hockey program. Consisting of mostly underclassmen throughout the program’s brief existence, the team is maturing physically and mentally into a winner.
“Everybody that’s watched us says it looks like a different team,” Walz said. “The girls that are involved in the program, whether it’s JV or varsity, they should be proud of what’s happened because it’s been a quick turnaround here.”
Sophomore Erin Cheatham has stepped up in goal.
“She’s an outstanding talent,” Walz said. “She’s still very young and has to work on some of the finer points, but she works very hard and it’s been a joy trying to help her in her game. She’s a really good goalie.”
There are plenty of Raptors who can contribute offensively, including Jaedyn Walz, Anya Hafiz, Kayla Griffith, Jessie Anderson, Katie Scheibner, Brooklyn Pierre, Hannah Johnson and Cara Kaufer.
“I wouldn’t say there’s a superstar,” Rollins said. “We all pull our weight.”
The Raptors lost just two players from last year’s team. These are the signs of a ripening program and a group of girls who are having fun.
“Coming to the rink is always a blast,” Rollins said. “Us girls are like a second family. Since we’ve been winning though it’s been a lot more fun.
‘‘We like coming home on the bus with a smile on our face and getting the win and bringing it back to East Ridge.”