Girls hockey team ready for debut

by Tom Coombe

A new era began Saturday night at the Babbitt Arena.<BR><BR>It’s been over a decade since the community has hosted a high school hockey game, but that changes Saturday with the birth of a regional high school girls hockey program.<BR><BR>The Babbitt-Embarrass Knights host Eveleth-Gilbert, kicking off a 16-game season for a Babbitt-based squad that also includes players from both Tower-Soudan and Ely.<BR><BR>“Saturday will be a special night,” head coach Ryan Lossing said before the game. “A lot of the old-timers in town haven’t had hockey in their backyard in a while. To have a high school game back in the Babbitt Arena will be something special for a lot of people.”<BR><BR>The season-opener is the culmination of a long effort to bring high school girls hockey to the area.<BR><BR>Most of the Knights are from Babbitt-Embarrass, and many were on the 16-and-under team that won the state girls championship a year ago.<BR><BR>Organizers pushed to establish a high school team, and not even a cash-strapped school district would serve as an obstacle.<BR><BR>The Babbitt Blue Line Club has agreed to sponsor the team and is raising funds to cover equipment and travel expenses.<BR><BR>Lossing, as well as assistant coaches Don Lindstrom and Ken Hupila, are volunteering their time.<BR><BR>The Knights started practice two weeks ago, and while the squad has looked good in drills, neither Lossing nor the players are quite sure what to expect once the games begin.<BR><BR>“We’ll find out (against Eveleth-Gilbert),” said Lossing. “This is the first time this whole group has been together. I don’t expect a lot to start out, but I think we’re going to be able to surprise some people in January. I don’t know how much offense we’ll have, so we’ll have to play good defense and keep the puck out of the net.”<BR><BR>The Knights are young, with just one senior - Kasey Bertelsen of Ely - on a 16-player roster.<BR><BR>Many eighth and ninth-graders will get extensive playing time. Lossing expects to put eighth-graders Cortney Rykken and Hanna Lashmett - experienced youth hockey players and figure skaters - with Bertelsen on the team’s first line.<BR><BR>“Kasey is one of the few offensive punches we have at this point,” said Lossing. “(Rykken and Lashmett) are two of our stronger skaters. They will definitely see a lot of ice time being eighth-graders.”<BR><BR>Looking to keep the puck out of the net for the Knights is junior Christina Carpenter, the team’s lone goaltender.<BR><BR>“She’s got good fundamentals and will have to backstop a lot of shots,” said Lossing. “As she plays our team is going to go in that direction.”<BR><BR>Junior forwards Nova Abra-hamson and Tara Tuominen, both of Tower-Soudan, are looking to add some offensive punch. Abrahmson was one of the key players for the Tower-Soudan volleyball team that advanced to the state tournament, and she has previous youth hockey experience.<BR><BR>Rachael Randolph, a junior, stands to see plenty of time on defense for the Knights. Forward Katie Pierce rounds out the junior contingent.<BR><BR>The team’s only sophomore is Becca Carpenter.<BR><BR>“She will have to provide some leadership on defense,” said Lossing.<BR><BR>Lizzy Carpenter, a ninth-grader, is one of the team’s fastest skaters and will play forward.<BR><BR>Ninth-graders Anna Swanson and Kayla Donner play defense, and their classmate Michelle Haapala is alternating between forward and defense.<BR><BR>Katie Duffy is another eighth-grader who could step right in at a forward spot.<BR><BR>Eighth-grader Kelsey Lindstrom plays defense, and Amanda Stern rounds out the roster.<BR><BR>Few area schools have girls hockey programs, forcing some long trips for the Knights. They take part in a tournament at Rochester over the holiday break, and they have road trips to Grand Rapids, Baudette and Moose Lake.<BR><BR>“Eveleth is our closest rival and it would be nice to get a little rivalry with them,” said Lossing. “We don’t know what to expect out of them and they don’t know what to expect out of us.”<BR><BR>