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Ice Bears turn back Northland Pines, improve to 7-2

By Greg Bates

DE PERE – The Bay Area Ice Bears girls’ hockey team’s second loss of the season Dec. 14 didn’t sit right with the players.

After falling 3-2 in overtime to the Central Wisconsin Storm, Bay Area had a few practices before its next game, hosting Northland Pines Dec. 17.

“We don’t like losing,” Ice Bears forward/defenseman Josie Bender said. “We get angry when we lose, so we came out and took it out on Eagle River.”

Northland Pines didn’t stand much of a chance.

Bay Area outshot its opponent 27-2 to take a six-goal lead after the first two periods and cruised to a 7-0 victory at the Cornerstone Community Center.

Three Ice Bears players tallied three or more points on the night: Claire Bradford (four points), Julianne Bradford (three) and Jordan Brady (three).

Of Bay Area’s seven goals, four were by freshmen: two by Claire Bradford, one by Rachael Beeck and one by Kristina Kruse, the first of her career.

First-year Ice Bears coach Joe Gerarden said he liked how his girls responded to the previous game’s loss.

“We went back to keeping it real simple: quick passes, not overhandling the puck and getting out of our zone,” he said. “We’re a fast team, and we used our speed tonight. We outworked them.”

Bay Area, ranked No. 2 in the state, was quick to jump on Northland Pines with three first-period goals.

“It showed how we can turn around and play our game after coming off a hard loss,” Claire Bradford said. “Getting three quick was important because we could settle down and feel more comfortable the rest of the game.”

Bradford — who finished the night with one goal and three assists — said she tried to get her teammates involved in the action.

“I focus on shooting from the point and having those shots be on net,” she said. “Getting my shot through and having rebounds or tips available for the forwards, that’s something I try to focus on. That’s where most of my points have come from is trying to create plays around the net for the forwards.”

The Ice Bears special teams had a strong game, scoring a pair of power-play goals.

Brady had a tally in the first period to put her team up 2-0, and Julianne Bradford, her second of the night, got the final goal in the third period.

Bay Area also scored shorthanded when Stacey Cloute fought off a delayed hooking penalty and put the puck past the goalie to make it 4-0.

“With the special teams, we’ve been practicing a lot at practice,” Bender said. “We have practice every night, and they’re quite long, so we get a chance to work on that. Even for 10 minutes each practice helps out.”

Even though his team scored three special-teams goals, there’s still a need for improvement, Gerarden said.

“That’s the coach in me,” he said. “There’s that tendency to want to rush, and I just want them to slow. With that many shooters on the ice, it’s bound to go in if we’re controlling the puck.”

Defensively, the Ice Bears played flawlessly, as senior goalie Jenna Christopherson notched her first shutout of the season.

She faced 10 shots on goal the entire game, eight coming in the final period.

Bay Area kept Northland Pines out of its defensive zone the majority of the night.

“We tried to break the puck out along the boards, and we didn’t force any pucks up the middle,” Bradford said. “In the third period, when we tried to focus pucks up the middle, that didn’t work as well for us. Keeping the puck on the wall and winning battles at the blue line was important.”

Early-season success

The Ice Bears are now 7-2 this season after Friday’s victory.

The team is deep, which is a great luxury, Gerarden said.

“Sometimes we have high talent, or like this year, we have a lot of people at the same level,” Bender said. “We have a lot of freshmen who are fighting for a spot on varsity, so the competition between our team is strong. That makes us better because everyone’s fighting for a spot this year, which we didn’t always have before.”

That depth has allowed the Ice Bears to run three full lines every game and stay fresh.

“Playing two lines and four D is tiring, so you don’t get the best out of your top players,” Claire Bradford said. “Being able to roll three lines and six D is important so that when your top players are out there they can perform at their best level.”

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