Three weeks remain in the girls hockey regular season.
That means teams have anywhere from six to eight games remaining to chase down a conference championship and/or position themselves for the Section 1 playoffs, which will begin the third week in March.
Northfield (9-0-0) and Owatonna (9-1-0) are turning the Big Nine Conference into a two-team race for the championship.
Throw Lakeville South (7-2-1) into the mix and there is a three-team race for the top seed in the Section 1AA playoffs. With two big wins this week, Dodge County has positioned itself just outside of that top tier, with seven games (five on the road) remaining. All of the Wildcats losses have come against ranked opponents.
Section 1A is a tossup at this point, with two-time defending section champion Rochester Lourdes (5-5-0) battling with Albert Lea (6-3-0) and Austin (5-4-1) for the top two seeds, which carry a first-round playoff bye.
All of those question marks will play themselves out over the next three weeks. Here is this week’s High School Girls Hockey Focus:
3 Stars of the Week
No. 1 • Maggie Hanzel, Lourdes
The senior defenseman and Boston University commit hasn’t skipped a beat this season, though her role has increased significantly. Hanzel had a stellar week, scoring both of Lourdes goals in a 5-2 loss at Dodge County on Thursday. Two days earlier, in a 9-1 win against Fairmont, Hanzel had a six-point game, with a hat trick and three assists. Hanzel leads the Eagles in goals (11) and points (21).
No. 2 • Lyndi Schubert, Dodge County
The Wildcats’ junior forward made big plays at key times in two wins over the past week. Schubert had a goal and an assist in a 5-2 win against Lourdes on Thursday, then she scored the game-winning goal in a 2-1 victory against Simley on Saturday. Schubert leads the Wildcats this season with seven goals and 11 points.
No. 3 • Tatum Zylka, Red Wing
The freshman forward had a breakout game in the Wingers’ 6-1 victory against Winona on Saturday. Zylka had a five-point night — a hat trick and two assists — against Winona, doubling her season points total.
• • • • •
• Cassidy Arendt, Mayo: The freshman forward scored twice in the Spartans’ 6-1 win at Winona on Thursday.
• Abigail Conners, Century/JM: The Panthers’ goalie allowed just two goals in a pair of victories against Mankato West last week.
• Shelby Davidson, Austin: The Packers’ senior goalie was lights-out in two games, stopping 78 of 82 shots as Austin fell to Mankato East 3-2, then beat Mankato West 5-1.
• Aliya Gricius, Winona: The young goalie did her best to hold the Winhawks into the games in losses against Mayo and Red Wing. She faced 115 total shots in those two games and made 103 saves.
• Kate Holtz, Austin: The junior forward had four goals and six points in two games last week. She’s tied for 15th in the state with 14 goals.
• Ida Huber, Lourdes: The eighth-grader continues to impress against quality competition. Huber stopped 13 of 14 shots in a 9-1 win against Fairmont Tuesday, then made 44 saves in a 5-2 loss at Dodge County on Thursday.
• Sky Hughes, Dodge County: The Wildcats’ senior goalie turned in two impressive performances, stopping 48 of 51 total shots in wins against Lourdes and Simley last week.
• Milla Sadowy, Mayo: The junior forward had two goals in a 6-1 win at Winona.
(Editor's note: These are considered "pound-for-pound" rankings, similar to many rankings systems in boxing and mixed martial arts. They represent the best teams in southeastern Minnesota, relative to the class they play in. Teams in the Big Nine Conference, Section 1A and Section 1AA are considered for these rankings.)
1 • Lakeville South (7-2-1): The No. 8-ranked Cougars hang at No. 1 in our Power Rankings despite suffering their second loss of the year, a narrow 1-0 setback to No. 10-ranked Eastview.
2 • Northfield (9-0-0): The No. 14-ranked Raiders continue to roll along, picking up wins over Mankato East (3-1) and Red Wing (5-0). They’ve allowed a total of six goals in nine games.
3 • Owatonna (9-1-0): Since suffering their only loss to date — 3-2 at Northfield on Jan. 28 — the No. 20-ranked Huskies have won five straight, outscoring their opponents 34-3 in the process. Their rematch with Northfield on March 4 could well determine the Big Nine Conference champion.
4 • Dodge County (7-4-0): The Wildcats’ four losses have all come against teams ranked in the top five in the state — Benilde-St. Margaret’s (No. 4, Class AA); Breck (No. 5, Class A); Hill-Murray (No. 3, AA); and Warroad (No. 2, A).
5 • Rochester Lourdes (5-5-0): The No. 19-ranked Eagles have outscored their opponents by 4.8 goals per game in their five victories. Three of their five losses have come by one goal; the other two were against No. 8-ranked Gentry Academy and Dodge County.
• • • • •
TUC (TEAMS UNDER CONSIDERATION)
• Mankato East (6-3-1): The Cougars had a six-game unbeaten streak snapped in a 3-1 loss to Northfield on Saturday.
• Albert Lea (6-3-0): The Tigers were defeated soundly by Owatonna and Northfield in their past two games.
• Austin (5-4-1): The Packers have rebounded from a tough stretch of three straight losses, going 1-1-1 against Mankato East and Mankato West over the past 10 days.
Upcoming Games To Watch
• Mayo at Century/JM (7 p.m., Thursday): The first scheduled game between the intra-city rivals this season was postponed. They’re set to meet this week at the Rochester Recreation Center. Century/JM has won three of its past four.
• Gentry Academy at Dodge County (7 p.m., Thursday): Dodge County puts its two-game win streak on the line against the No. 8-ranked team in the Class A state poll.
• Austin at Albert Lea (7:15 p.m., Saturday): Albert Lea blew out its oldest rival 6-1 in their previous meeting this season. The winner of this will have bragging rights and the inside track to a top-two seed in the Section 1A playoffs, which carries a first-round bye with it.
Stats That Stick Out
• 5: Points in her past three games for Century/John Marshall’s Greta Freed.
• 5.8: Goal differential, per game, for Owatonna this season. The Huskies average 5.9 goals per game and allow just 1.1.
• 6: Section 1 teams that appear in the most recent state rankings: Lakeville South (No. 8), Northfield (No. 14) and Owatonna (No. 20) in Class AA; Mankato East (No. 17), Albert Lea (No. 18) and Lourdes (No. 19) in Class A.
• 15: Players who have recorded at least one point for Rochester Mayo this season, in just five games played. Mayo had 13 players record points last season.