1. NATIONAL RECOGNITION
USA Today selected its preseason ALL-USA girls’ hockey team, and Minnesotans dominate the list. A whopping 11 varsity players were selected, along with three representatives from Shattuck-St. Mary’s in Faribault. The remaining four players come from Connecticut, New Hampshire, North Dakota and Massachusetts. Among those honored are Eastview’s Natalie Snodgrass, who made the national publication’s first team at the end of last season, and second-teamers Emily Brown of Blaine and Taylor Heise of Red Wing.
2. SCOUTING THE CHAMPS
Class 2A state champion Eden Prairie doesn’t fret defending its title. In fact, the Eagles are daring teams to keep pace. Head coach Jaime Grossman called his group “the fastest team we have had in our time” at Eden Prairie. Proven players backed by goaltender Alexa Dobchuk are poised for another run. Continuity has Class 1A champion Blake feeling confident. The Bears return 16 players, though none scored more than 14 goals. Expect Blake to share the scoring load rather than lean on a premier finisher such as Carly Bullock (58 goals as a senior last season).
3. COACHING CHANGES
Three strong metro area programs introduce new coaches this season. Wayzata coach Jessica Christopherson, who led Coon Rapids to a third-place finish at the 2011 state tournament, returns to the bench after a one-year coaching hiatus. Her staff includes Rachael Bona, star of the 2011 Coon Rapids team and three-time NCAA champion with the Gophers. Edina, fourth at state last season, welcomes Sami Reber, a 2011 Edina graduate who played at Harvard. She replaces Laura Slominski, who stepped down after eight seasons and six state tournament appearances. And at Cretin-Derham Hall, Brooke White-Lancette takes over for John Pohl, who stepped down after last season. White-Lancette has been active in local hockey circles the past 13 years.
4. AMAZING GRACE
Breck senior forward Grace Zumwinkle draws raves for dominant play while her booming shots are drawing blood. Unleashing a shot that Mustangs coach Ronda Engelhardt called “the hardest in girls’ hockey,” Zumwinkle bent the mask and bloodied the nose of Centennial’s goalie in the season opener. Next game saw Zumwinkle break the skate of Benilde-St. Margaret’s goalie and crack the shin guard of another Red Knights player, the latter causing bleeding. Beyond the equipment carnage, Zumwinkle, committed to the Gophers, scored 10 goals in Breck’s first three games.
5. CHAMPIONSHIP CROWDS GROW
A two-game state tournament championship session continues to boost attendance. Fans will once again be able to buy a ticket good for the Class 1A title game at 4 p.m. and the Class 2A title game at 7 p.m. The format drew an announced attendance of 4,530 last season, a 22 percent increase from 2015.