There are big shoes to fill on the Northern Edge girls hockey team, but there’s an experienced set of underclassmen and some promising rookies ready for the challenge, as the co-op’s 2021-22 season gets underway this Friday.

This year’s edition of the Edge features 14 skaters, six from Rhinelander, four from Antigo, three of Lakeland Union High School and one from Wabeno.

Gone are the team’s top five scorers from a year ago, all seniors, including the steady Kate Vizanko, Isabella Boyer, Callie Johnson, Evelyn LeVeque and Emily Kassler. In their place is a capable core group, led by Rhinelander’s Maddi Roeser.

“You don’t replace that production,” head coach Tom Roeser said. “They played a physical style of hockey and we’re actually moving the puck a little faster than we have in the past. We lost two of our captains, but there’s girls ready to step up.”

Roeser netted six a points a season ago on three goals and three assists for an Edge team that finished 4-13 overall, dropping a 14-2 final to a powerhouse Bay Area team in regional play.

This season Roeser may drop back to defense, where she would join Lakeland’s Maria Gironella on the blue line. That decision was still up in the air as practice continued earlier this week.

“We will see what Maddi does, we are still working through it,” Roeser explained. “We have nine girls at forward that are fighting for positions, at least now it’s looks like she will be at defense.”

Three of the squad’s victories came against Medford, who are on the schedule twice this season. The other was over the Badger Lightning, in an exciting 3-2 final in December.

Others on the roster with extensive varsity experience is Kassidee Linssen of Wabeno, Antigo sophomore Mackenzie Wissbroecker and Rhinelander’s Wyndi Saari.

Also seeing ice time for the Northern Edge last season and returning is Lakeland’s Kristina Kuenlius, Hannah Mueller of Rhinelander and another Antigo skater, in Alyssa Glenetske.

Goaltender Ellie Stank of Antigo is back as well. Stank started 11 games last season, her first in net, going 2-8 with a .765 save percentage and 6.60 goals against average.

The fourth player from Antigo is a newcomer, in Kaylee Bessert. Others fresh to the Northern Edge roster include Taylor Heleniak, Emalee Detiene, and Mia Tulowitsky of Rhinelander, along with Lakeland’s Emma Chiamulera.

Heleniak has shined early in the center position.

“She brings a ton to the table with her speed and footwork,” Roeser explained. “I think she’s going to be kind of quarterback of a line as a sophomore.”

The roster is made up entirely of underclassmen.

No seniors, but a boatload of juniors,” Roeser said. “But we’ve still got a lot of experience on the ice, we’ve lost a lot of talent but have brought in some that are very impressive.”

A boatload that is mixing together well.

“We’ve got a lot of new girls together, developing friendships from day one,” Roeser noted. “Those relationships should develop on the ice too.”

Roeser is joined on the bench by a new Antigo assistant this season, in former Red Robin boys standout Noah Kubacki. Lakeland’s Brian Heleniak is also on the staff.

With the Great Northern Conference no more for girls hockey, the team is traversing an independent schedule once again, highlighted by a pair of match ups with former GNC rival Northland Pines, as well as the usual powerhouses, including Dec. 21 and Feb. 1 dates with the Central Wisconsin Storm, an early season game with Wisconsin Valley Union and a home game in Antigo against the Bay Area Ice Bears on Jan. 10.

It is one of two games at the Langlade County Multi-Purpose Building, with Arrowhead also visiting on Feb. 11.

This weekend, the team is competing in the Fond du Lac Tournament, which begins tonight against the always-strong Fox Cities Stars at 7:30 p.m.

Saturday the team will play twice, matching up against the Warbirds, a Fond duc Lac co-op, at 10 a.m., followed by the Icebergs, a conglomerate of eight schools, anchored by Stoughton, at 5 p.m.

As far as how the Northern Edge will approach its slate of strong competition?

“We’re not in a position to win physical games,” Roeser said. “We have to be faster than the other team. If we can judge our progress on how we are doing against the better teams on our schedule, I’ll be happy.”

In the ever-evolving world of girls’ prep hockey, that progress may be enough for an interesting and competitive campaign for the Northern Edge.

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