Heading into the season Lakeland head girls hockey coach Steve Bucklew knew that repeating as Great Northern Conference champions was going to be a challenge.

His roster had only 14 girls, eight of them underclassmen, and he had lost two players to the Madison Capitols.

“I remember thinking before we started that we’re going to really struggle because I knew the numbers were way down and a lot of the talent we had was real young,” said Bucklew.

But the young Thunderbirds displayed phenomenal stamina all year, and despite the huge amount of ice time demanded from the scarce roster, Lakeland was a tough team to beat in the GNC and they were able to compile a 5-3 conference record and finish second.

“There was times there where we were playing four games in five days against really good competition,” said Bucklew. “There wasn’t a game where they weren’t skating their butts off. Luckily we didn’t have a lot of serious injuries this year. Grade-wise these are great kids. They all have really good grades. So to lose anyone during the season would’ve been a real mess.”

Overall, the T-Birds finished 7-14, but it was a tough, well-earned 7-14 because Lakeland faced five of the teams that finished ranked in the top 10 in the state.

“By far the most challenging schedule we’ve ever had,” said Bucklew.

The Thunderbirds faced the Warbird Alliance, Central Wisconsin, Western Wisconsin, St. Croix Valley and Hayward over the course of the year. Those teams finished first, third, fifth, sixth, and 10th in the state according to the Wisconsin Prep Hockey rankings.

And though they took losses against the state’s top teams, Bucklew was impressed by how his team battled.

“The girls don’t have to hang their heads,” he said.  “They played those teams pretty well.”

Against conference teams, Lakeland beat Medford three times and the Northern Edge twice.

They also beat Northland Pines in a non-conference game during the Culver’s Cup in Madison.

In conference play, Lakeland had a league-leading 53 goals. Their 6.6 average goals per game also led the GNC.

That offense was fueled by Lakeland forward Asucena Boyer, who became the Thunderbirds all-time leading points scorer this year.

She finished tied at the top of the GNC in both points and goals.  Her 20 conference points were tied with Grace Wittkopf of Northland Pines. Her 11 goals were tied with Allie Kieffer of Northland Pines. 

Lakeland was tough in net this year as well.  Sophomore Anna Maulson led the GNC in saves, with 76, and save percentage, with a 0.938. 

The only cloud on the Thunderbird’s season was being kept out of the WIAA state tournament, in which they received a number three seed, due to collecting three disqualification penalties over the course of the year. 

According to WIAA regulations, any team that reaches that total is barred from the playoffs.

Regardless of the way the season ended, Bucklew had the highest respect for his team and their effort over the season.

“Real proud of this group. I think they did everything we could’ve asked them to do.  Even with the season ending suspension there wasn’t a lot of finger pointing.  hey just took it as a team,” said Bucklew. “It’s a real tight-knit group and one of the best teams we’ve ever had.  It’s the highest seed we’ve ever got.”

Lakeland will lose seniors Asucena Boyer, Bri Carlin, Caitlin Hartigan, Ally Pairolero and Sagen Quale to graduation.

Jacob Friede may 

be reached at jacob@lakelandtimes.com or sports@lakelandtimes.com.