Bears return core group of players for new season

From left to right, Eveleth-Gilbert Area seniors Sophia Flatley, Anna Seitz, Kada Ceglar and Autumn Gregorich are pictured at Thursday's practice at the Eveleth Hippodrome. The girls will lead the Golden Bears into their season opener tonight against Henry Sibley.

EVELETH — In his second year at the helm, Eveleth-Gilbert Area girls’ hockey head coach Earl Fitzgerald is confident in the squad assembled for 2019-2020.

“We’ve got pretty much our core back,’’ Fitzgerald said Thursday night at the Eveleth Hippodrome.

That means “we can kind of pick up where we left off.’’

The girls “understand our philosophy and our concept is controlling the puck and spreading it out and trying to set up some nice plays,’’ Fitzgerald said. “They all buy into this. So most of them are excited to come back.’’

The Golden Bears graduated captain Katie Scherf, Bekah Davidson, Alayna Krause, Lauren Day and Julie Licari. Despite those losses, E-G returns junior Rachel Woods in net, six forwards and three defensemen.

“She really had a strong season last year and we’re really looking for her to have a good season this year,’’ the coach said of last year’s starting goalie. “She’s excited for this season too.’’

Having the forwards back will be big for the Golden Bears, as well, Fitzgerald said, “because they understand what we want out of them and how to work with our defensemen.’’ The forwards he mentioned are Anneka Lundgren (last year’s leading scorer), Kylie Baranzelli (the second leading scorer in 2018-19), Kada Ceglar, Alex Wercinski, and alternate captains Sophia Flatley and Anna Seitz.

“So it’s actually a pretty nice combination’’ with the three defensemen coming back.

Those defensemen are capt. Autumn Gregorich, Jennie Krause and Sydni Richards. E-G is rotating in a couple other girls looking for the fourth defenseman, he added.

The 2019-20 lineup will open up the season tonight against Henry Sibley at 7 p.m. at the Hippodrome.

“We have some tough games right out of the gate,’’ said Fitzgerald, including Sibley, Hibbing and Princeton. “We want to play tougher competition because that’s how we feel we’ll get better.’’

The coaching staff has been stressing how game situations and scenarios are going to play out.

“We just want to have puck pressure. We want them to be on the puck first, be proactive and not reactive. We want to attack’’ and hopefully that’s how we can get possession of the puck, the coach said.

Looking at the roster, Fitzgerald believes his club is “more of an offensive team. When we have the puck we want all five players to get in on the play. We’re big on possession. If we have possession, we are controlling the game.’’ He added the mentality is to get the puck and keep it. “We want to control the puck and advance it.’’

Besides their play on the ice, the coach believes the relationship between all of the girls is excellent. “All these girls get along’’ even though they are from several different schools.

“Everybody pitches in and takes ownership in themselves. “They act like a team, which is really nice,’’ he said. If someone makes a bad play, the rest of the girls try to pick her up. “We do stress team concept here.’’

The opening days of practice have been just as good. “So far we’ve actually had a pretty good opening week. Everybody is skating pretty good, working on conditioning and puck control.’’

As far as who will win Section 7A, Fitzgerald said, Cloquet, Duluth Marshall and Proctor/Hermantown will be E-G’s toughest competition.

No matter who the girls are up against, they are eager to get this year started.

“We’re actually kind of looking forward to the season,’’ Fitzgerald said.

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