Girls hockey in western Wisconsin is a vastly underrated sport. Our area has been producing some of the best teams in the state for more than a decade.
The top three ranked teams in the state all reside in Sectional 1. Undefeated Hudson is the top-ranked team in the state, with Eau Claire and St. Croix Valley being the second and third ranked teams. All three are highly skilled teams that possess standout players, along with deep talent pools. Any of the three teams would represent the section admirably at the state tournament.
No. 1 seed: Hudson (22-2-0)
The Raiders have won eight straight games since losing to Eau Claire, 4-3, on Jan. 18 and look to carry that momentum to their first state tournament appearance since 2006. Their only other loss this season was to Mahtomedi, Minn. in December.
Who to watch: Three-time all-state player Anna Wilgren is capable of taking over games, evidenced by her 36 goals, third best in the state. The Minnesota State University-Mankato recruit has also dished out 28 assists and is averaging nearly 2.5 points per game. But Hudson has plenty of other weapons, led by Nikki Olund and Sydney Hendricks with 15 and 14 goals, respectively. Senior goaltender Cassie Schultz has a 1.36 goals against average and .917 saves percentage with six shutouts.
What to watch:The Raiders have outscored opponents 117-32 this season and are the third-highest scoring team in the state, behind only Eau Claire and Beaver Dam. They'll likely face either Eau Claire or River Falls in the sectional final on their home ice in the sectional final Feb. 17.
No. 2 seed: Eau Claire North co-op (20-2)
In any other section of the state, Eau Claire would be the top seed. The Stars (Eau Claire North, Eau Claire Memorial, Altoona and Fall Creek) are a deep and talented team.
Who to watch: The star of the Stars is senior Abigail Stow. She leads the state with 76 points scored, on 39 goals and 37 assists. She has scored an incredible 183 goals so far in her high school career. Stow is headed to UW-River Falls next winter. Stow doesn't go it alone either. Junior Ava Kison has scored 36 goals this season after netting 37 last winter. There's another Stow who is also valuable to the Stars. Freshman goaltender Naomi Stow is 20-2 this season, allowing 1.48 goals per game.
What to watch: The Stars are averaging 5.5 goals per game while giving up 1.5 goals. With Stow and Kison, they can score at any time. The Stars split with Hudson and St. Croix Valley this season. Opponents will do their best to control Stow and Kison. It may be the production of the other girls that decides the Stars' playoff fate.
No. 3 seed: River Falls co-op (17-7-0)
Unfortunately for the Fusion (River Falls, Baldwin-Woodville, St. Croix Central) they're stuck in the same sectional as the only two teams ranked ahead of them in the state-Hudson and Eau Claire..
Who to watch: The Fusion feature four players with at least 16 goals, led by senior Kamryn Jacobs, who is averaging a goal a game and leads the team in total scoring with 41 points. Classmate Maddie Schultz has tallied 23 goals this season while junior Anna Albrightson and sophomore Taylar Meier have scored 16 each. Senior Olivia Klund and sophomore Sydney Seeley have combined for four shutouts and an .891 save percentage between the pipes.
What to watch: The Fusion are averaging 4.8 goals per game, third best in the state behind only Eau Claire and the Beaver Dam Warbirds. Four of their seven losses this season were to sectional foes, losing twice to Hudson while splitting with Eau Claire and their first round playoff opponent, Superior. If they can get past the Spartans it would set up a rubber match with Eau Claire for a spot in the sectional final.
No. 4 seed: Hayward co-op (12-12)
The Hurricanes are the defending Sectional 1 champions. While the Hurricanes suffered significant losses due to graduation from that team, they still are a threat.
Who to watch: Returning goaltender Lauren Quimby is capable of carrying the team in the playoffs. She's the anchor of a strong defensive unit. The Hurricanes only have three girls who've scored more than five goals this season. Senior Sarah Pearson and sophomore Lauren Donnellan need to be productive for the Hurricanes to advance in the playoffs.
What to watch: Where the Hurricanes are different from last season is goal scoring. Take away three lopsided wins (two over Superior and one over Medford) and the Hurricanes average 1.5 goals in their other 20 games.
No. 5 seed: Somerset co-op (Western Wisconsin Stars) (9-11-2)
The Stars (Somerset, New Richmond, Osceola, Amery, St. Croix Falls) have put up good battles against all of the teams seeded ahead of them, but haven't been able to notch wins against any of them.
Who to watch: The Williams sisters are the keys to the Stars' attack. Jade Williams has scored 24 goals this season, the only Stars player in double figures. Bailey Williams is a big, tough and mobile defenseman who is able to carry the puck from end to end to create scoring chances. Grace Klein, Sydney Hahn, Mackenzie Mike and Ellie Brice all can be scoring threats for the Stars. Senior Catherine Magler has been rock solid in goal this season.
What to watch: The Stars open the playoffs at Hayward on Thursday, Feb. 15. The Stars have been notorious slow starters this season. If the Stars start slowly at Hayward, they may not be able to recover.
No. 6 seed: Superior (6-17)
The Spartans wrapped up the regular season with a 3-2 win over North Shore (Silver Bay and Two Harbors). The win snapped a seven-game skid, which was played mostly without their top two goaltenders-junior Autumn Siers and freshman Katrina Casper. Siers is out for the season, while Casper is back.
Who to watch: The 1-2 punch for the Spartans are seniors Addie Young and Alee Milinkovich-Gray. Young, a future UW-Eau Claire Blugold, has 24 goals and 15 assists, including all-three goals in the win over North Shore. Milinkovich-Gray is second in scoring with 14 goals and 28 assists.
What to watch: Superior went 1-1 against its opening-round opponent Western Wisconsin, winning 5-4 at the Culver's Cup Tournament and losing 4-3 a week later. Other key wins for the Spartans, when they were at 100 percent, were over Onalaska, Northland Pines and Eveleth-Gilbert (Minn.)
No. 7 seed: Chippewa Falls co-op (6-16-2)
The Chippewa Falls-Menomonie team is a capable squad for being the bottom seed in the bracket. They are 3-3-1 in their final seven games. That includes an overtime win against Superior and a tie against the Western Wisconsin Stars, the teams directly above them in the bracket.
Who to watch: Kaylee Frenette is a skilled offensive player who leads CF-Menomonie with 22 goals this season. Freshman Sidney Polzin is quickly becoming a scoring threat, with four goals in the team's final three games.
What to watch: The misfortune for the CF-Menomonie team is that it opens the playoffs on Thursday, Feb. 15 at Eau Claire. This will be an immediate test on how much the CF-Menomonie team has improved. They played on Feb. 1 and Eau Claire won 5-2.