White Bear Lake goalie Angie Hall defends the goal during some drills at the Vadnais Heights Ice Arena, . Richard Tsong-Taatarii, Star Tribune
White Bear Lake faced a bit of a goaltending crisis before the season began. Unforeseen losses and departures left the squad with two young and inexperienced netminders.
So coach Jerry Kwapick split duties between the pipes for the team’s first game against Irondale, which carries one of the state’s most dangerous players in Meghan Lorence.
When freshman Angie Hall entered the game in the second period, she was initiated with her first save. Lorence rifled a snap shot, breaking Hall’s neck guard.
“Welcome to the big leagues,” Kwapick said. “She said, ‘Coach, that hurt.’ I said, ‘I’m sure it did.’ ”
Hall has been phenomenal ever since, sporting a 1.27 goals-against average and .932 save percentage with five shutouts, guiding the young, upstart Bears to a 19-2-1 record and an 18-game unbeaten streak through Tuesday’s games.
“We thought that was going to be our weak point,” said senior captain Nicole Schaub, who will play at Wisconsin-Stevens Point next year. “She stepped it up and she’s keeping our team going.”
It was surely a pleasant surprise for a team overlooked in the Suburban East Conference. The Bears started the season 2-2 before their current run.
Aside from the goalie shortage, the Bears lost a handful of seniors and started the year without one of their leading scorers, senior Crysta Lowell, who had initially decided to play for the Minnesota Thoroughbreds, a respected local amateur program.
Three games into the season, Lowell rejoined the Bears — just days before the Minnesota State High School League deadline. She has posted 19 goals and 14 assists as a key complement to one of the state’s top players in junior forward Hayley Hill.
“It’s so good to have her back,” Hill said. “We have such good chemistry together and she’s such a big contributor for us.”
The dynamic, crafty Hill leads the Bears with 20 goals and 35 assists for 55 points.
“She has one of the softest pair of hands I’ve seen in the state,” Kwapick said of Hill, who recorded two goals and one assist in Tuesday’s 7-5 victory over Park of Cottage Grove.
But what separates the good from the great in girls’ hockey is scoring depth, and the Bears have it.
Powerful and gritty sophomore Kristi Longendyke has 16 goals and 13 assists on the second line.
Chipping in from a strong defensive group is junior captain Sam Hanson, who’s been garnering a lot of attention from scouts this season with 19 goals and 18 assists.
Defensive partner Schaub is a solid stay-at-home defender who also has put up four goals and 13 assists.
The well-rounded Bears are approaching the section playoffs on a tear as the Suburban East Conference’s top dog — a title traditionally held by girls’ hockey powerhouses Roseville and Stillwater. White Bear Lake already beat both of them.
“It was my challenge to the girls. You’re on a run but can you play with the big girls, basically,” Kwapick said. “And they proved themselves they could, which is a really strong confidence boost for us.”