The title defense began last week for the Breck girls hockey team, but don’t tell that to head coach Chris Peterson.
He wants none of it.
Sure, the memories will linger from an unforgettable February. As will the feelings the Mustangs shared together in the middle of the Xcel Energy Center ice that Saturday afternoon.
But that was then, and Peterson has said understanding at least that much is priority No. 1 as the girls skate headfirst into the now.
“I’ve been reminding our kids of that almost daily,” Peterson said. “Last year is nice because we can celebrate it and remember it and learn from it, but it is also last year’s team that did it. Nobody is going to care about what we did last year, so we shouldn’t either.”
In other words, there will be no victory lap for Breck, which won its first ever girls state hockey championship last February with a 3-2 overtime victory over South St. Paul in the Class A final.
Instead, the Mustangs are preparing to embark on a schedule loaded with the type of opponents worthy of a title bout with the champs.
It included the season opener at No. 3AA Lakeville North, an immediate redemption shot for South St. Paul Nov. 20, and a trip into the hotly contested Cake Eater Classic in Edina Nov. 23 and 24, where the Mustangs will open with No. 3A Blake before facing either No. 3AA Benilde-St. Margaret’s or No. 4AA Edina the following day.
The gauntlet doesn’t end there either. Not even close. Of Breck’s first dozen games, 11 will come against a ranked opponent, seven of which will be feature teams currently ranked in the top-five of either the Class A or AA girls hockey Let’s Play Hockey state rankings.
“The nice thing is that when you win a state championship, everybody wants to play you,” Peterson said. “Everybody wants a crack at the defending champion. Scheduling games wasn’t all that difficult. A lot of teams wanted to play us, and we fit most of them in. I don’t think anybody will be able to argue with our strength of schedule.”
What could be up for debate is Breck’s ability to handle it. Peterson admitted he’s not even sure his line-up, which graduated five monster parts from last year’s team, and will play this winter with just a single senior on the roster, is ready for what will be coming.
Kate Schipper’s presence will certainly help lesson the impact. But she represents the extent of the Mustangs senior class. Fortunately, the future Minnesota Gopher has the resume to take on such a responsibility.
Schipper finished last year with 42 points in 20 regular season games, and then added another 10 goals and five assists in helping carry Breck through its five-game postseason run to a championship.
She’s poised to threaten the school’s all-time scoring mark this winter, and was the state’s most prolific scorer when it mattered most last postseason.
“Kate was all-world in the playoffs” said Peterson. “And she’s been great so far this year. She will have to grasp the leadership role. She has a lot of responsibility being the only senior, but she’s already shown she can handle it.”
The Mustangs will also be aided by the return of sophomore Leah Schwartzman, who had 30 points a year ago and scored the overtime-winner to give Breck its title.
Eight other skaters are also back, as his ninth-grade goaltender Sydney Scobee, who will share duties with fellow ninth-grader Jenna Brenneman.