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Girls hockey: River Lakes Stars feel like they have proved they belong

River Lakes earns its second straight state Class A berth in hopes of creating a tradition of being a regular in St. Paul. The Stars play No. 1 Warroad at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center.

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River Lakes senior Kianna Roeske (15) and Willmar senior Nina Dawson battle for the puck during a faceoff in the first period of a Central Lakes Conference game Nov. 23, 2021 at Koronia Civic Arena in Paynesville.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune
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ST. PAUL — Throughout this season the River Lakes girls hockey team has been known as one of the better teams in Section 6A. However, after making it to the Class A state tournament a year prior, the first time in the program’s history, the team constantly battled the question of repeating as section champs.

Was it a one-hit wonder? Or the beginning of a new era?

The answer was written by the Stars defeating top-seeded Fergus Falls in the Section 6A championship 3-1 to repeat as the Section 6A champions.

River Lake battles top-seeded Warroad at 6 p.m. Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.

The winner advances to the semifinals at 1 p.m. Friday at the Xcel where it plays the winner between the fourth-seeded South St. Paul Packers and the fifth-seeded Luverne Cardinals.

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The loser enters the consolation bracket and plays the loser of the Packers and Cardinals on Thursday at the TRIA rink in St. Paul.

The consolation championship is scheduled for 10 a.m. Saturday at the TRIA rink, third-place is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday at the Xl and the Class A championship game is scheduled for 4 p.m. at the X.

River Lake is a co-op made up of athletes from Rocori, Albany, St. John’s Prep, New London-Spicer, Paynesville, Belgrade-Brooten-Elrosa and Eden Valley-Watkins.

Verified

 “I think it proves something about what the program is trying to do and it kind of proves that last year kind of wasn’t a fluke coincidence,” River Lakes head coach Alexis Klatt said. “I think it does prove that we have a lot of strong players and strong players coming up and hopefully we can make this more than just two years.”

River Lakes senior Kianna Roeske says Klatt’s thoughts have helped the team return to state.

“What our coach keeps saying is that it’s not just a coincidence any more for us,” Kianna said. “It’s going to be a tradition for River Lakes and we finally get to put River Lakes on the map and we’re just excited for our whole team.”

Kianna, and her younger sister Kaydence, the Stars’ starting goalie, both previously played at the X last season.

For Kianna, the achievement of making a repeat state appearance goes past the sport of hockey, or even River Lakes girls hockey.

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“One thing that is important to me is just that it’s not just exciting for our team, it’s exciting for all of the past generations of River Lakes girls and all the future generations of River Lakes girls,” she said. “It gives them hope and faith and the idea that we can make it there. It is possible for us to make it to the state tournament and then it’s just so exciting.”

Read more prep tournament coverage here from the West Central Tribune.

The sibling duo

The Roeske sisters have been a dynamic duo for the Stars this season.

Kianna leads the 16-12 Stars in goals with 28, followed by Sophia Hess with 22, and leads the team in points with 51, followed by Hess with 46.

“I have really great linemates and really great teammates that always know how to get me the puck and just support me,” Kianna said.

Kaydence, a ninth-grader, comes into state with a save percentage of .931 and 14 wins.

Kaydence was the starting goalie last year for the Stars as an eighth-grader and also as a seventh-grader.

“I just always try to have a positive mentality,” Kaydence said. “I try to not let one goal bother me, just stay in the game and keep going hard.”

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Two things will be different this season. More fans will be present . Last year was limited due to COVID. And the tournament will not be a one-and-done situation.

Still, having had the experience at state last season, and majority of last year’s team being returners, the Roeske sisters feel more confident about the team’s chances.

“We know what it’s like to skate on that ice,” Kianna said. “We know how big it feels. We know how the puck bounces off the boards and it’s great that we’re able to experience that two years in a row.

“We don’t know the exact atmosphere because we couldn’t have as many fans as we’d hoped last year,” Now that we’ll be able to have our fans there the place will be more energetic and it’ll be awesome.”

Kaydence explained what it’s like as a goalie to perform at the Xcel between the posts.

“It’s just like, you gotta know it’s a lot more quiet in there it seems like because it’s such a big area,” she said. “(You’ve) just got to be able to listen for your teammates and make sure that they can hear you communicating and just kind of know where you’re at in the net.

“You kind of have an idea with how big the building is and then you just have like that sense of where you are in the net, kind of. With such a big area it’s a little bit harder to sense. But with experience it’s nice to know from experience the previous year.”

Regardless, the sisters are ready to have a few more games together and close out Kianna’s high school career. “It’s been awesome playing with her,” Kianna said. “This will be my third year with her and it’s her second year at the state tournament and it’s crazy. She keeps us in all the games. It’s always fun at the end of the games to give her a big hug and just tell her how great she is.”

Kaydence added: “It’s nice to have a sibling on the team. I can always rely on her to be a person I talk to and stuff. For me as a goalie, and her being one of our top players, if I am trying my hardest I know that she’ll also be trying her hardest and trying to score if we are behind.”

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River Lakes' Sophia Hess (20) looks to get by Willmar's Becca Dawson during a Central Lakes Conference game Nov. 23, 2021 at Koronis Civic Arena in Paynesville.
Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

So far, so good

Klatt, in her second season as head coach, has gone 2-for-2 in helping lead River Lakes to state.

“It’s really special to me because this is my home program as well,” she said. “It’s something that I was never able to do as a player. But I now get to see other girls live out while they play and on top of that I think that it also speaks to the depth of our coaching staff too.”

Klatt, who also serves in the National Guard, credits the help of her assistant coaches, including assistant coach Kyle Curran.

“Curran stepped in and he was our acting head coach when I wasn’t able to be there and I think just as much, if not more, of the team’s success this year is owed to Kyle and how he handled taking over in my absence,” Klatt said.

They’re ready

Aside from fans returning and the tournament being extended, one thing will be familiar for the Stars: Starting the tournament by battling the top-seeded team.

Last year, it was 19-3 Gentry Academy. The Stars, having no experience at state or skating at the Xcel Energy Center, lost 4-1.

Now, the Stars prepare for top-seeded Warroad, which is 23-3-1.

The last time the Stars battled the Warriors was in the 2018-19 season, Klatt’s first season as an assistant coach for the Stars.

“Our girls are just absolutely jacked. How often do you get to play the No. 1 seed in the state?,” Klatt said.

The Stars look to be underdogs. But being the underdog is nothing new to River Lakes.

“I think our section play will play into that a lot. We weren’t the favorites,” Klatt said. “I think the last time I looked at the odds they were like 75-25 in favor of Fergus Falls. Hardly anybody thought that we were going to come out on top. I think that’s kind of the way that we’re going into this first game at state.

“Nobody is thinking that we can do this, probably except us. So I think that the girls will really use that as a motivational factor.”

One thing that is difficult to prepare for on a typical high school rink is playing on the ice at Xcel Energy Center, home of the Minnesota Wild.

“That’s one thing that I’m really thankful for in that we did make it last year,” Klatt said. “The majority of our team is returners and they did have the opportunity to skate at the Xcel last year.

“There’s only a couple girls on the team that will have that initial first time playing there shock. But that’s something that we’ve talked about and we’ve worked on mental toughness. Focusing on what you can control this year and hopefully that’s what they do.”

With the tournament not being a single elimination game, Klatt’s ‘we’re not done’ motto for the section tournament rings true even at state this year.

“Whatever is the outcome of the Warroad game we’re not done after that,” she said. “Regardless of the result of the game on Wednesday we’re still not done, we still got another chance. Just reminding them that there’s more hockey to be played and we can come out of that with a more positive turnout. Hopefully their minds think the same and they use that to power through.”

State girls hockey

Quarterfinal pairings for the tournament at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul

Class A

Games Wednesday

  • Mankato East (21-5) vs. No. 2 Orono (24-3), 11 a.m.
  • Albert Lea (14-10-1) vs. No. 3 Proctor/Hermantown (19-7-1), 1 p.m.
  • River Lakes (16-12) vs. No. 1 Warroad (23-3-1), 6 p.m.
  • No. 5 Luverne (23-3) vs. No. 4 South St. Paul (15-10-2), 8 p.m.

Class AA

Games Thursday

  • Northfield (19-5-3) vs. No. 2 Edina (25-2), 11 a.m.
  • Burnsville (22-5-1) vs. No. 3 Minnetonka (22-6), 1 p.m.
  • Brainerd (17-11) vs. No. 1 Andover (27-0), 6 p.m.
  • No. 5 Gentry Academy (22-6) vs. No.4  Maple Grove (20-6-2), 8 p.m.

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Matthew Curry is a sports reporter and photographer for the West Central Tribune.
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