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Girls Hockey: Cards pose a danger

While not one of the top two teams in the Class 6A field, Willmar may be one of the most dangerous. Seeded third and set to play No. 6 seed Northern Lakes Thursday at the Willmar Civic Center, the Cardinals enter postseason play at a peak with a ...

Willmar goaltender Savana Knutson makes a save in a November 2018 game against Alexandria at the Willmar Civic Center. Jake Schultz / Tribune
Willmar goaltender Savana Knutson makes a save in a November 2018 game against Alexandria at the Willmar Civic Center. Jake Schultz / Tribune

While not one of the top two teams in the Class 6A field, Willmar may be one of the most dangerous.

Seeded third and set to play No. 6 seed Northern Lakes Thursday at the Willmar Civic Center, the Cardinals enter postseason play at a peak with a 5-1 record over their last six games.

"It's been a good run. It's really been a good run since the holiday break," said Willmar head coach Eric Setrum. "The girls have come together and are buying into some of the stuff we want to do and it's been a good end to the season here."

Said goaltender Savana Knutson, "We're all pretty giddy together and just want to go as far as we can."

The early part of the season was full of growing pains, which was to be expected with a team that sports eight sophomores, three freshman and an eighth-grader. It also didn't help that senior captain Serena Monson broke her wrist in the second game of the year.

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"We went on a little skid after that," Setrum said.

Through Dec. 20, Willmar had a 3-7 record. But a boost was around the corner at the Armstrong/Cooper Holiday Classic as the Cardinals went 3-0 and finished first in the three-day tournament.

"It showed us where we should be playing," sophomore forward Bailey Olson said of the team's up-and-down start. "(After the holidays), we knew where we could be and how we could play."

In due time, the sophomores have been able to find a scoring touch, with two 10th-graders - Bailey Olson (16g-18a-34p) and Madison Garberding (16-9-25) - in the top three for points on Willmar's roster, along with junior Mya Monson (17-11-28).

"Us sophomores and younger people, we're not so nervous to play with the older girls anymore," Bailey Olson said. "The seniors are being really good role models and helping us be better athletes."

It's from the back where two of the Cardinals' most experienced players are shining. In the 5-1 stretch, Knutson has a .937 save percentage while allowing just 1.5 goals per game, including three shutouts.

Leading the way on the blue line is Sydney Olson, who is tops among the team's defensemen with a plus-15 rating.

"Sydney, she's been a rock back there," Setrum said. "And Savana, she's as good as it gets as far as we're concerned."

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On the ice, Knutson said communication has been key.

"We talk to each other and if there's something we have to tweak, then we're like, 'Hey, this doesn't work for me. If you could do this ... ,' Knutson said. "It's just all about communication."

It took some time, but the Cardinals are playing their best at the right time.

"There have been some times where we get into arguments and fight once in awhile," Knutson said. "We're cramped in a locker room together pretty much all winter. Overcoming that and figuring each other out has been really helpful. We've gotten to know each other so much better and everybody plays for each other."

With tough competition at the top-Fergus Falls is the No. 1 seed and Alexandria is No. 2-the Cardinals hoping the hot streak can send shockwaves through 6A.

But first, there's No. 6-seeded Northern Lakes to get past. Willmar won both meetings with the Lightning, albeit in tight games (3-2 on Nov. 13 and 6-4 on Jan. 22). Northern Lakes has not won since Jan. 17.

"They work really hard and they never give up," Bailey Olson said. "I feel like there's times where we've kind of let up and played at their level when we could be so much better. If we just play our game, we can beat them."

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Willmar's Mya Monson passes in the neutral zone during a November 2018 game against Alexandria at the Willmar Civic Center. Jake Schultz / Tribune
Willmar's Mya Monson passes in the neutral zone during a November 2018 game against Alexandria at the Willmar Civic Center. Jake Schultz / Tribune

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