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Prep Girls Hockey Preview | Chippewa Falls/Menomonie Sabers

Prep Girls Hockey Preview: Defending state champion Chippewa Falls/Menomonie relying on depth again to navigate challenging schedule

Last season the Chippewa Falls/Menomonie girls hockey team utilized a recipe that carried the Sabers all the way to a state championship.

Some of the ingredients will be different this season, but eighth-year coach Tony Menard and his squad believe a similar approach can lead to more success for the co-op.

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie returns 13 letterwinners from last year and will once again rely on depth as the Sabers navigate a tough schedule in and out of the Big Rivers Conference. Plenty of familiar names are back for the Sabers from last year’s state title team that won the championship with a 3-2 overtime win over the University School of Milwaukee in Wisconsin Rapids.

Video highlights from the Saturday, Feb. 20, 2021 prep girls hockey state championship game between Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and the University School of Milwaukee in Wisconsin Rapids.

Forward Paige Steinmetz scored 11 goals and assisted on 14 others in earning All-Big Rivers Conference honorable mention in 2020-21. Defenseman Emelia Berg (two goals, eight assists) and forward Joey Schemenauer (seven goals including the game winner in the state title game, seven assists) will serve as captains this season with Steinmetz as the team’s assistant captain.

Forwards Brianna Buonincontro (six goals, six assists), Emma-Lyn Stephenson (five goals, five assists) and Madelyn Hebert (three goals, one assist) add scoring punch up front while Addy Frenette (five goals, seven assists) moves back to defense this season and is also an assistant captain.

Freshmen Ashley Slupe, Addisyn Buesgen and Tessa Leisses are expected to make an early impact in the lineup while sophomore Kasandra Herr takes over in net for the Sabers.

A large and influential group of seniors that helped turn the tide for the program has now graduated, but Menard believes the next group is ready to step up and continue with the good things those graduated veterans help build towards.

Tony Menard Mugshot

Menard

“This group has a lot of depth and a lot of talent but they also have a lot of heart and a lot of passion for the game of hockey,” Menard said. “I think they were able to see the senior group go through the program and what that looks like from start to finish and now it’s the juniors and seniors turn to take control and make their own imprint on the program. I can tell they’re eager to do that.”

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie got its first taste of live action on Tuesday with a scrimmage against Black River Falls, contesting two 20-minute periods where Menard said the team skated well, peppered many shots on goal and learned throughout the competition.

The Sabers posted a 14-6-1 record a season ago, winning eight of their last nine games overall. The Big Rivers Conference is always strong with Eau Claire Area, Hudson and St. Croix Valley perennially among the top teams in the state with the Sabers and Stars making up two of the four state qualifiers a season ago. The league gets even better this season with the addition of the Western Wisconsin Stars to the mix. The Stars were the section’s number one seed a season ago before being upended by Chippewa Falls/Menomonie 3-2 in the sectional semifinals.

Highlights from the Wednesday, Feb. 17, 2021 girls hockey state semifinal contest between Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Central Wisconsin in Schofield.

“Last year I think we were 2-3-1 in conference,” Menard said. “All of our games were nice and close and that’s just how it’s going to be in the Big Rivers. You’ve got to show up and play especially when you look all four of us at the time were ranked at the time and there were only six teams ranked in the state.”

The out-of-conference schedule for the Sabers is also loaded with heavy hitters including a state semifinal rematch with the Central Wisconsin Storm on Feb. 3 in Wausau and road games at the Bay Area Ice Bears and 2019 and 2020 state champion Fox Cities Stars to close the regular season later in February.

The Sabers are also hosting a high-profile tournament over the holiday break on Dec. 28 and 29 at Chippewa Area Ice Arena, an event that also includes Fox Cities, the Rock County Fury, Fond du Lac Warbirds, Hayward and Eau Claire Area.

“It’s a good midseason check and it’s either going to propel you into the second half of the season or you’re going to go into the second half of the season questioning how you’re going to finish,” Menard said.

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie opens the season on Tuesday at home against Superior in Chippewa Falls. Overall the Sabers play four of their first six games of the year on the road.

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