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Lakeville North's Alexis Joyce, no. 20, right, celebrated with teammates after making the second goal of the night against Eden Prairie.

Marisa Wojcik, Star Tribune

Lakevill North girls' hockey pumped up and ready

  • Article by: AARON PAITICH
  • Special to the Star Tribune
  • November 17, 2012 - 8:37 PM

At a team sleepover two weeks ago, Lakeville North watched a replay of last year's Class 2A girls' hockey state semifinal loss in overtime to eventual champion Minnetonka.

It struck such a chord that a few girls broke down into tears.

"Reopening wounds," senior captain Megan Skelly said. "But it definitely pumped us up to play better this season. That really lights a fire under us to do better this year."

To repeat as South Suburban Conference and Section 1 champion won't be easy, but the Panthers are in a strong position as the 2012-2013 gets underway. Elite scoring talent, offensive depth, strong defense and confidence in net comes wrapped in experience at Lakeville North, which helped it garner a preseason No. 3 ranking.

The secret's out on this blossoming program.

"The girls know that they're not going to sneak up on anybody," coach Buck Kochevar said. "This year's a different setting. Everybody's back. We didn't lose much. You can build confidence off of that."

Kochevar has the luxury of rolling out the same three forward lines from last year's season. Alexis Joyce, Christi Vetter and Ashley Kloncz combined for 147 points in 31 games last season. Joyce, a junior, led the team with 26 goals.

"It's a fun team to play on," Skelly said. "With Joyce and Vetter and Kloncz as our first line, they're tallying points up left and right. Maybe three or four per game. Fun to watch, fun to play with, fun to practice with."

Skelly and Allie Harvey are centered by Riley Tousignanton the Panthers' second line. The Panthers will also find scoring on the third line with Maddie McGlade, Heidi Winiecki and Hannah Koloski. Kochevar won't be afraid to tinker with those lines to build balance throughout the lineup as the season goes along.

Dani Sadek leads the defensive corps. The junior tallied 15 goals and 37 points in 31 games last year. She runs the power-play point and has a high hockey IQ.

Alexander, quick and athletic, returns to play in goal after splitting duties the past couple of years. The senior eventually took over the top spot as the Panthers cruised into the state tournament last February.

"And boy, does that help," Kochevar said. "She's playing with a lot of confidence. When you have somebody between the posts like that, it can bring up your whole team. She'll be a bright spot again this year for us."

Alexander has been putting in extra work and doing more behind the scenes as she prepares for a full season as the No. 1 goalie -- and, she hopes, another trip to the state tournament at the Xcel Energy Center.

"We definitely want to make it back there this year," Alexander said. "I think we have the talent to. We just have to keep working hard."

It won't be handed to them. Lakeville North fell to Eden Prairie 4-3 in overtime in the season opener on Tuesday night at Ames Arena. The biggest roadblock -- a more-than-worthy adversary -- sits just 1.8 miles away.

Lakeville South, a fellow South Suburban team and Section 1 rival, will have a say in how the Panthers' season plays out.

"Those are games that I think everybody in the community looks forward to," Kochevar said of their intercity rivals. "Everybody's ready to show their best. It's a flip of a coin between us two, and it will be, because rivalries bring that out. It brings out the best."

Skelly, now in her fifth and final year with the program, couldn't wait to get started. She has seen the program grow into something she couldn't imagine. Now, with the season underway, it's time to execute.

"We're no longer that younger team that people talk about," Skelly said. "Now this is our time."

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