Blend of experience, youth leads Blue JaysWithout question, the Blue Jay girls hockey team was Jamestown High School’s feel-good sports story last winter. The program produced a record number of victories (13) and brought home its first trophy from the state tournament — a fifth-place, consolation championship trophy — after turning heads by winning back-to-back games on the state’s biggest stage to close out the season.
By: By Michael Savaloja, The Jamestown Sun, The Jamestown Sun
Without question, the Blue Jay girls hockey team was Jamestown High School’s feel-good sports story last winter.
The program produced a record number of victories (13) and brought home its first trophy from the state tournament — a fifth-place, consolation championship trophy — after turning heads by winning back-to-back games on the state’s biggest stage to close out the season.
The admiration earned was largely driven by society’s almost instinctive love to root for the underdog, and with barely 12 skaters to work with, Jamestown head coach Brad Schaack’s team was exactly that.
The 2012-13 campaign will be no different for Schaack and the Jays, numbers-wise, and duplicating last year’s postseason magic will be a tall order. But it’s an order the Blue Jays will have a shot at delivering, according to Schaack.
The first brick in the season-long building gets mortared into place tonight when the Jays square off against Fargo North at 7 at Wilson Arena.
“It’s going to be tough to match what we did last year,” Schaack admitted. “Numbers have always been a problem with us … but we always seem to overcome it. It is what it is and we just have to deal with that.
“Hopefully we’ll have no major injuries or a ton of sickness,” Schaack added. “If we can avoid those and gradually get better as the year goes on, I can see us getting back to state.”
Jamestown finished last year with a record of 13-12-1 overall, and ended the regular season seventh in the 11-team state standings prior to upsetting Bismarck (4-2) and Minot (3-2) in the consolation bracket at state.
Graduation hit them hard as the Blue Jays lost three seniors — all defensemen — with the biggest hole being all-state honoree Mataya Olson.
“It’s tough to replace a Mataya Olson,” Schaack said. “Anytime you lose an all-stater back at the blue line and only have one (defenseman) coming back, it’s going to be a battle to get back to where you were.”
The one true defenseman returning is junior Brenna Pritchert, who scored twice and assisted on six goals as a sophomore. She will be joined at the blue line with all-state senior Amber Schaack — who logged a majority of minutes on defense last season — and eighth-grader Haley Hillstrom.
The Blue Jays have 13 athletes on the roster, with fourth eighth-graders and one seventh-grader comprising five of those 13 spots.
“With Amber and Brenna back there, I’m not worried about those two and Haley is looking good back there too,” Brad Schaack said. “We scrimmaged Mandan (on Saturday) and (Hillstrom) held her own.”
Amber Schaack, daughter of the coach, can be unstoppable with the puck on her stick, but her all-around talent on the ice has meant filling in at spots — mainly defensively — where her team needs her.
Schaack scored 35 goals and posted 13 assists for 48 total points — seventh best in the state last season — while playing largely away from the net. Amber has committed to play hockey at Division III Concordia College next season, and if the Jays are going to find success this winter, a majority of it will need to flow through Schaack.
Amber has amassed 91 goals and 32 assists so far in her prep career.
“She’s never been a stat girl. The only stat she worries about is wins and losses,” Brad Schaack said. “She’s still going to get her goals. She’s going to need to be a little more selfish than she has in years past, but I see another big year from her.”
Jamestown is also returning senior goalie Carissa Finck, who collected 652 saves with an 89.8 save percentage last season.
“During her freshman and sophomore years, if she gave up a softy it got her down and you could tell. She’d hang her head,” coach Schaack said. “She stays focused now and doesn’t let in a lot of softies, and when she does her head’s not down. She’s come a long ways.
“We’ll be taking more chances this year than we did in the past and we’ll be counting on Carissa to get some big saves.”
Jamestown will have two main lines it will be relying on, starting with senior Steph Kamlitz (C), eighth-grader Elly Millender (LW) and sophomore Ally Dion (RW). The second line has senior Larissa Wiest (C) next to sophomore Torri Kamlitz (LW) and senior Lexy Grabinger (RW).
“We’re strong at center. They’ve both been around and both are strong on their skates and physical,” Schaack said.
A third line of all underclassmen will also be utilized in spurts this season, comprising of seventh-grader Sydney Soulis (C), and eighth-graders Haley Schnaidt (LW) and Jade Schafer (RW).
Jamestown fell to Fargo North three times last winter, including a 2-1 loss to the Spartans in the opening game of the state tournament. In last year’s opener, the Spartans nipped the Jays 4-3 in Fargo.
“We’ve had some pretty dang good games with them. They’re always tough, always physical and always fun games,” Schaack said. “Hopefully we can get a ‘W’ on them right away. It would be a good way to start the season.
“We have to give it 110 percent, crash the net and keep everything to the outside for Carissa. We’ll drop the puck and see what happens.”
Sun sports writer Michael Savaloja can be reached at (701) 952-8461 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org