Wildcats one win from state tournament
For the Dodge County girls hockey team, its run through the section tournament has taken a clichéd path similar to that of a Cinderella story.
With victories over Rochester Century and Farmington last week, the Wildcats suddenly find themselves one win away from the state tournament as they’ll face Lakeville South at 5 p.m. in Owatonna Thursday night.
“It’s a nice little Cinderella story to get where we’re at,” Dodge County head coach Jeremy Gunderson confirmed. “A lot of people thought we were going to be the fifth seed [in the section] coming into the year because we lost five seniors to college hockey from a year ago.”
That development has shown up across the roster as the Wildcats have seen plenty of players transform from role players to key cogs. Perhaps the most glaring example of that has been the play of forward Bella Wagner.
Wagner was an extremely important part of the Wildcat’s success a week ago as she notched six goals including four in an 8-0 win against Rochester Century in the Section 1AA quarterfinal.
“The scary thing with Bella is that she has always been this good,” Gunderson explained. “Last year, she was kind of overshadowed by Dana [Rassmussen] and she just kept passing to her. Coming into this season, we talked to her a little bit more about scoring and we let her know she’s one of our leaders.”
The senior responded with a scoring barrage that has lasted all season long with 30 goals to go along with 24 assists. With the help of fellow seniors Molly Shelton and Katie Robinson, the Wildcats have had plenty of firepower to help them pull away from opponents.
“Not to take anything away from Katie, but Bella is probably the most well-rounded player we have on the team,” Gunderson declared. “She’s one of our best skaters and has great vision with the puck. She never turns it over and she’s a force on special teams as well.”
While scoring was a strength, the defensive end needed to be shored up if Dodge County wanted to make a deep run in the tournament. For that, the Wildcats looked for junior goaltender Gabby Suhr to keep teams out of the net.
“As coaches, we always are evaluating ourselves,” Gunderson said of his goalie. “We didn’t think we were getting the best out of Gabby. We knew she had more in her and some of the bad games she was having were a result of a lack of focus rather than a lack of ability.”
With that Gunderson’s staff began to make changes in the way all of his goaltenders prepared for games. Assistant coach Jeff Bolin started coming in early to meet with the goalies before practice and they started facing less shots in practice and turned to more conditioning work.