Sometime in the doldrums of the upcoming winter, members of the Maple Grove Crimson girls’ hockey team will remember their 6 a.m. summer workouts.
“They came with an energy and intensity,” Crimson coach Amber Hegland said. “Nobody ever talked about how early it was.”
No taking it easy, either. In the early morning hours at the Maple Grove Community Center, the Class 2A state runners-up from last season ran tactical drills, worked on skills and scrimmaged.
“At the end of the summer, they were actually thankful that they got up and worked so that they had the rest of their day to do whatever they like to do,” Hegland said.
As practice began Monday for a new season, the Crimson sought to keep building on offseason improvements. Maple Grove came just shy of the state title in a 3-2 loss to Eden Prairie on Feb. 20.
“It feels really good just to be back on the ice, especially with this group of girls,” Crimson senior defenseman Sydnee Hanson said. “We’ve all grown up together.”
Maple Grove returns a core of 15 seniors, many of whom have played together since second grade.
“It’s an incredible group of kids first and foremost,” Hegland said. “They really care about one another. Aside from that, they have found a love of hockey as a group.”
Senior forward and Gophers recruit Taylor Wente had 22 goals and 26 assists last winter. Defenseman Tina Kampa, a Bemidji State recruit, made many stops and sparked the offense with 18 assists. Hanson likewise made defensive plays and assisted on nine goals.
Forward Payton Olson had four goals and four assists last winter. She should help an offense that lost two of last season’s top four scorers.
Goalie Breanna Blesi posted a save percentage of .940 last season, while Coco Francis, the team’s other goalie, was at .933. Blesi, an Ohio State recruit, posted a 10-3 record and had a 1.37 goals-against average. Francis was 8-2-2 and surrendered 1.46 goals per game.
“They’re both really great and know what they’re doing,” Olson said. “They’re very aware.”
Blesi challenged herself in a new way in the summer by practicing with the Crimson boys’ hockey team. She opted to keep playing with the girls’ team this season, though.
“It was definitely a good way to develop new skills and everything like that,” Blesi said. “What it came down to is I love my team. I love everybody on this team, and I wanted to finish my high school career with them.”
The Crimson seniors consider themselves close friends and look out for each other on and off the ice.
“We all have each others’ backs and give each other our all on the ice, and it really creates a good team atmosphere,” Blesi said.
The Crimson begins regular-season play Friday at Edina. A challenging schedule awaits, with games with Hill-Murray, Minnetonka, Wayzata, Breck and Eden Prairie. The Northwest Suburban Conference offers challenges as well with Elk River-Zimmerman, Blaine and Centennial.
“We wanted to challenge these girls, that they were going to need to play each and every time they stepped on the ice because the team staring back at them has the potential to win every game that they play as well,” Hegland said.
Maple Grove has that potential, too, having won 46 games in the past two seasons.
“We’re going to try to go out with a bang,” Blesi said.