The 2018-2019 season for Hastings Raiders girls' hockey was one of ups and downs in numerous ways. They finished the regular season with an 8-15-1 overall record that saw the Raiders win a couple games but then lose a couple and they were never quite able to string together more than two victories in a row.
However, a goal here and a goal there would have made a big difference.
"I'd say the biggest growth was in our ability to compete and our work ethic throughout the season," said head coach Josh Colvin, who stepped down from his position at the end of the season. "The record is going to be what the record is, but we had almost double-digit, one or two-goal losses, so we were right in it. There were very few games that we got to the third period and it was clear that we didn't have a chance to come back. So there was a lot of heartbreaking losses."
The Raiders played in 13 games that were decided by two goals or less and they went 4-8-1 in those matchups. Colvin continued that theme of close losses, saying in the past Hastings has been able to eek out those one-goal games.
"Our goalie (freshman Lauren Dubej) matured really, really well. Three years in a row now we've had to have a freshman or a sophomore starting, it was the second time in three years that we've been put in the position where we have to have a rookie coming out, and that's a growth process," he said. "One of the things in my nine years working with Cork (former head coach Jeff Corkish) that allowed us to have so much success over the years is we could get on the right side of those one-goal games because we had a seasoned goalie who was usually a junior or senior who could hold it close and we could just outwork them.
"Lauren did a great job, but that's just a tough position to put us in," Colvin said. "But now they've got a goalie who works, who the girls believe in and who's going to be here for three more years and is going to give them that chance to do what Hastings does well, which is really squeak out those 2-1 wins that we just weren't able to this year."
One area that really hurt the Raiders was their inconsistent offense. They gave up 2.88 goals per game, but rarely were able to put up three or more goals per game themselves. Hastings scored three goals or more in just eight of their 25 games. During those eight games, they were 7-0-1. However, when they scored two goals or less they were 1-16-0, including the playoffs.
"Goal scoring in women's hockey is a challenge, there's no doubt about it. We had stretches where we could put a lot of pucks in the net and then we'd have stretches where you just couldn't even get pucks there," Colvin said. "The biggest issue is trying to get that second person. It's hard to score from 25 feet and further out, so you really need that second and third person in front of the net to get those rebounds. One area that I'm a little disappointed that I wasn't able to get those girls where I hoped, was that grittiness and toughness from that second girl to get in front of the net, get their stick on the ice and be able to bury it.
"My first year as the head coach I spent a lot of time working on scoring and things like that and it just didn't seem to pay off," he said. "So I talked to coach Corkish and he goes 'yeah I remember doing that for two or three years and realized unless you have a team that's just loaded with Division I talent, the reality is you're going to score off the power play and off your in-zone, so we worked a lot on that."
Colvin said the team finished with a 14 or 15 percent success rate on the power play, which is around average. The Raiders controlled the puck for long periods of time during their power plays and had great puck movement, but were not able to get enough shots on goal and take advantage of rebounds or other opportunities.
This year's team was unique in that it was a mix of a very deep senior class and plenty of young talent. Colvin said with seven seniors it might have been the most or second-most seniors they've ever had, and that looking ahead there were just two juniors on the team this season followed by a lot of sophomores.
"You talk about players who are going to make a huge impact in the coming years, Jaida Hanson is a two year All-Conference Honorable Mention player in her freshman and sophomore years, she's about as good a hockey player as you're gonna find pound-for-pound and she's working her butt off in the weight room," he said. "Kaitlin Petrich was voted our most improved and I think that was an easy one, she was one girl last year who struggled with the mental side of the game, just figuring it out. It's a big jump for U12 to varsity hockey, and this year as a sophomore was absolutely dominant in certain phases of the game and she's only going to get better."
With stepping down from his head coaching position, Colvin has said the thing he is going to miss most are the relationships he made.
"These are girls I've known since they were really little kids, this was Steve Benson's group for lack of a better term with his daughter Sam in there and he coached them all the way up," he said. "I still remember those little kids in the halls and at learn-to-skate and U10s, watching the U14s have a great run. I still remember MacKenzie Putnam one year, it was between practices at probably U10 or U12 doing ballerina pirouettes in the locker rooms. It's been great just to watch them mature, watch them develop as people and get to be a part of their lives."
That group of seniors includes Sam Benson, Hannah Hubbart, Syd Radke, Maddie Junker, Addie Buck, Libby Judge and Putnam.
That is a lot of experience and leadership to lose in just one season, but Hastings will return next year with Dubej in goal who played in every game this season, and three of their top-five points earners including Hanson, Petrich and junior Taylor Larson.
The offseason will see more change as a new head coach is brought in and long-time assistant coach Steve Benson retires after more than 20 years with the program.