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Prep Girls Hockey State Notebook: Chippewa Falls/Menomonie's Rudiger follows in family's hockey tradition
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Notebook

Prep Girls Hockey State Notebook: Chippewa Falls/Menomonie's Rudiger follows in family's hockey tradition

From the STATE CHAMPS: Full coverage of Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey team's big win series
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Hayward at Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey 2-5-21

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie's Kendall Rudiger looks to pass during a regional final game against Hayward on Feb. 5 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

Kendall Rudiger has deep connections with the sport of hockey.

Her father Mark played for the Menomonie boys team during its 1991 state championship season. Her older cousins Payton and Taylor were key players during the earlier days of the Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey co-op.

And now Kendall is taking her turn logging important minutes on the ice with the Sabers, as the senior forward has helped guide Chippewa Falls/Menomonie to state for the first time in co-op history.

Rudiger is a part of a talented senior class that has grown up at the varsity level for the Sabers. The senior defenseman has played in 90 games across four seasons for the Sabers with five of her 10 career goals coming this year including two in the playoffs.

Her two playoff goals have come at key times. The first came in the latter half of the third period in the 3-2 sectional semifinal win at Western Wisconsin on Feb. 9 to put her team ahead 3-1. It proved to be an important goal as the Storm came back with a goal of their own with less than two minutes remaining to cut the deficit to one. The senior struck again in Saturday’s 7-4 sectional championship game at St. Croix Valley.

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie jumped out to a 2-0 lead after the first period, but the Fusion cut the gap in half early in the second period before Rudiger offered a response later in the period by finding the back of the net to help the Sabers retake a two-goal lead as the team never trailed en route to the win.

Mark assisted on a goal in the Menomonie boys hockey team’s 3-2 state championship victory over Superior in 1991. Payton and Taylor were both multi-year players during the earlier days of the Chippewa Falls/Menomonie co-op and Kendall practiced with her older cousins during her younger days and said all have been supportive of her along her hockey journey.

The journey now takes her somewhere her father was 30 years ago — a state tournament.

“We’re all just super excited,” Kendall said of the team going to state. “It’s different this year but we’re all looking forward to getting somewhat of the normal experience.”

Video highlights from the Friday, Feb. 5, 2021 prep girls hockey regional final matchup between Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Hayward at Chippewa Area Ice Arena.

State experience

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While this year marks the first time the Chippewa Falls/Menomonie co-op has advanced to state, it isn’t the first time a Chippewa Falls girls hockey team has qualified.

The Chippewa Falls/McDonell co-op qualified for the state tournament in its first two years of existence in 2007 and 2008, advancing to the championship game in 2007 before falling to the Appleton West co-op 4-2.

The head coach of that team was Andy Skelton, who returned to the scene this season as an assistant coach on Tony Menard’s staff.

Menard said Skelton has brought familiarity, confidence and knowledge of what it takes to get a program to the highest level, as well as being a valuable sounding board for in-game strategy and adjustments.

Video highlights from the Saturday, Jan. 30, 2021 prep girls hockey matchup between Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Superior in Chippewa Falls.

Big Rivers

Two of the remaining four teams in the state tournament are from the Big Rivers Conference as Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Eau Claire Area are still alive.

The conference has always been tough at the top with Eau Claire Area, St. Croix Valley and Hudson perennially offering strong teams. Each of the conference’s four teams have made a trip to state since 2014.

But it has been the emergence of Chippewa Falls/Menomonie this year that has helped make the Big Rivers a premier league in the state from top to bottom. All four teams spent most of the year inside the Wisconsin Prep Hockey top six state rankings; the four ended the regular season ranked third through sixth with St. Croix Valley, Eau Claire Area, Hudson and Chippewa Falls/Menomonie in that order, respectively.

The Sabers ended a nearly five-year conference winless streak in January. 2020 with a win over Hudson and this season picked up wins against St. Croix Valley and Hudson while going into overtime twice with Eau Claire Area, tying once and losing the other.

“We knew that if we could find a way to compete with those teams in the conference, the rest of the games were going to come full circle too and that’s where we’re at this year,” Menard said of the conference.

Highlights from Wednesday's girls hockey game between Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Western Wisconsin.

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