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East Ridge and head coach Wes Walz are back this winter off a 10-14-2 season last year. (Bulletin photo by Nick Gerhardt)

2013-14 Winter Preview: Majority return to East Ridge girls hockey team's lineup for 2013-14

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sports Cottage Grove, 55016
Cottage Grove Minnesota 7584 80th Street South 55016

East Ridge returns to the ice the season a year older, a year wiser and with the same head coach in place for once.

The Raptors have endured a constant revolving door of head coaches since the program began, but this season Wes Walz returns as head coach after taking over coaching duties midway through last season.

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East Ridge finished 10-14-2 overall and 8-8-2 in the Suburban East Conference and return all but two players from last year’s roster.

“We should be a better group,” Walz said. “I don’t think we’re going to surprise anybody this year. I think last year we surprised some teams in the last half of last year. I think it’s going to be more difficult for us to win games because I think teams are going to play harder against us so it’s going to be interesting to see if our group is up for the challenge.”

The familiarity with the system will help this season, plus the Raptors return eight seniors this season.

East Ridge scored more than three goals only four times last season so finding a way to score goals is an objective this season. Senior Jaedyn Walz led the team with 10 goals last season, junior Jessie Andersen finished with nine goals and sophomore Brooklyn Pierre had seven goals.

The Raptors return four senior forwards and Walz has the group focused on more puck possession and passing to gain the zone rather than the dump-and-chase approach the team took last season. The five seniors include Jaedyn Walz, Kayla Bender, Cassie Goff and Jenna Griffith.

“I think our confidence with the puck in the offensive zone should be much better just because we’re a year older,” Walz said. “A lot of our girls that played on the same line together last year will play together again this year.”

The focus on goal scoring has been apparent in practice thus far for the team.

“We’d get a lot of shots, but it wasn’t necessarily in the net,” junior Hannah Johnson said. “I think a ton of girls worked on that and you see it in practice, pucks are flying in the net.”

East Ridge returns a veteran group of defensemen this season. Three of the six defensemen are seniors with Kayla Griffith, Jessica Hammer and Rachel Rollins.

“I would say from our backend we’re not the fanciest, but we play efficiently and we play smart and we kind of keep our game as simple as we can,” Walz said.

The Raptors do have to replace last year’s starting goaltender Katie Ahmann, but have several options. Erin Cheatham and Katie Flanders return with varsity experience from last season in net. Walz expects both to challenge for the starting spot this season.

With some stability in coaching this season and a better understanding of the systems in place, the players feel better prepared for this season, which kicks off Thursday against Tartan at Bielenberg Arena in Woodbury.

“This is going to be a prime year for a lot of us, especially with the coaching staff this year, I think we’re going to do pretty well,” Goff said. “Last year at the end of the year we were really picking it up so hopefully it’s just going to continue from there.”

—Nick Gerhardt

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