The Hill-Murray girls’ hockey team surprised a lot of people last season. The young, inexperienced squad began the season 3-3-3.
Once Christmas time came around, the Pioneers hit their stride, advancing all the way to the Class 2A state semifinals.
“I’m sure we caught some people off guard, definitely,” coach Bill Schafhauser said. “It took us a while to get going, but once they gained confidence in each other, it was fun, that’s for sure.”
Opposing teams won’t be fooled again this season. With a strong core returning, the Pioneers are expected to contend.
Four key veterans have played well in the Elite League this fall.
Sarah Bobrowski is the Pioneers’ leading returning scorer and senior captain. She is committed to play college hockey at Lindenwood. Bobrowski brings speed and a scoring touch that will be heavily relied upon.
Senior Brittney Anderson bolsters Hill-Murray’s blue line. Anderson, who will play for St. Cloud State next year, plays defense “the old-fashioned way,” Schafhauser said. Anderson is strong in small areas, protects the puck well and rarely gets beat 1-on-1.
“She’s an absolute workhorse,” he said. “She logs a ton of ice time. She has a great shot and is a great special teams player. The little tricks and details that not a lot of defensemen have — she definitely has all of that.”
Jess Bonfe is a prototypical power forward. Tall and strong on the wing, Bonfe is getting a lot of interest from Division-I schools but is uncommitted. The junior is expected to take another jump offensively this season.
“She’s really good in the trenches and in front of the net,” Schafhauser said. “She’s just a really good athlete.”
Transfer with skills
The Pioneers also have a newcomer in McKenzie Steffen, a sophomore transfer from Benilde-St. Margaret’s whose family moved, Schafhauser said. Steffen also had a strong season in the Elite League.
“[Steffen] brings a ton of skill,” Schafhauser said. “She’s great with the puck and is a great skater. I’m hoping she finds her way offensively. She definitely has the ability to put up a lot of points and be a really good special teams player.”
The Pioneers received contributions the past season as well from freshmen like Kate Smith, Kenzie Prater and Jac Kaasa.
“All those kids got some awesome experience,” Schafhauser said. “Pretty balanced scoring I think is what we’ll experience again. That’s what really carried us last year and I fully expect it to happen again this year.”
Depth and balanced scoring is what separates the pretenders from the contenders, and the Pioneers were able to run four lines without hesitation.
But after the Pioneers’ strong playoffs run, the secret’s out. Hill-Murray is preparing for another impressive campaign.
“There won’t be any surprises for other teams, and that’s OK,” Schafhauser said.
“It’s just a different learning experience. It will be a different approach for us, but our expectations will remain high.”