The fortunes of the Blake girls' hockey team this season will depend in large part on senior forwards Sam Broz, Suzy Higuchi and Ellie Morrison — regardless of how often they play on the same line.

Second-year Bears coach Kristi King is weighing the girls' preference to skate together against her desire to split them up and make more lines more potent. The trio combined for 125 points last season, 60% of Blake's offensive output. This winter, they will hold three of the team's five captain spots. Higuchi, a center, will wear one of the three C's on her jersey. Wingers Broz and Morrison will sport A's as assistant captains.

While none of the girls wants to be the odd one out and skate without the other two, they aren't afraid to go it alone. They share a common thread of courageousness.

Friends since they began playing hockey at Blake as seventh-graders, Broz, Higuchi and Morrison each played much of their youth hockey seasons as the only girl on a boys' team. They don't talk much among themselves about their bond, but King, a veteran coach, can see it.

"They are just built a little different," King said. "They know what they want, and they have the passion and drive to go and get it."

Rough first meeting

Broz and Morrison didn't like one another as youth hockey players. As the only girls on their respective teams playing Choice Winter Hockey, they developed a rivalry both heated and personal.

"We had a little bit of a beef back then," Broz said. "We went after each other a little bit. Sometimes shoves after the play or hacks to the ankles."

Morrison, who works construction during the summer, brought her edge to Blake's program. She scored 22 goals last season, second on the team, and gave the Bears a presence.

"She's a really tough player," Higuchi said. "I always know that she has my back. On average, I'm one of the smaller players on the ice. Having her on a line with me definitely makes me feel a little bit more protected."

Following her passion

Higuchi and her family moved from Japan to California, where she began playing hockey around age 4. About six years later, Higuchi's first year as a Squirt, coaches told her she would be moved down a level simply because she was a girl in an otherwise all-boys league. That was all she needed to hear. Her family left California for Minnesota.

Higuchi, who has full Japanese citizenship, said she is making a knowledgeable hockey fan out of her father, Masahiro.

"The basics like offsides, he's got that down," Higuchi said. "When it comes to terms like 'breaking ankles,' he's still getting there."

Last season, Higuchi led the Bears with 26 goals and tied Broz for the team lead with 24 assists.

"She's never really gonna turn over the puck," Broz said. "She's just so good at keeping the puck on her stick and protecting it."

Constructive summers

Morrison has worked for 810 Builders LLC the past three summers, doing everything from carpentry to pouring concrete.

"I absolutely love it," she said. "It's such a different environment than I'm used to. There are a lot of interesting people to meet along the way."

This summer, she helped build an add-on to a house. She assisted in roofing and deck building, the latter requiring her to operate a Bobcat skid-steer loader.

"I would drill the little foundation holes and then pour mixed concrete," she said. "It was always nice and messy. I would have hockey afterward most days, so I would get to the rink covered in cement dust down to my knees. I still have residue in my shin pads."

Bringing the Bears back

Blake, a private school that drew scrutiny while winning seven Class 1A state tournament titles, moved up to 2A and was assigned to Section 6, which is loaded with some of the metro area's top teams. The Bears haven't returned to a state tournament since.

The first 2A season coincided with Broz, Higuchi and Morrison joining the program as seventh-graders. In their career, they have endured playoffs losses to Wayzata (one) and Edina (four). Writing a different February outcome is the trio's shared goal.

Said Broz: "It's the most frustrating thing in the world. But I think that we have a pretty good chance this year."

Added Morrison: "For sure, it's something we talk about. There's always a hill to climb, and we're a grinding team that hopes to get to the top of it."

The schedule for girls' hockey opening day Thursday