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Girls' Hockey

Aberdeen Cougars to feature familiar girls’ squad

Sydney Hofer, of the Aberdeen Cougars, center, reaches to gather the puck as Tiffany Hatwan, of the Mitchell Marlins, right, closes in on defense during a semi-final game at last year's SDAHA Girls State Tournament at the Odde Ice Center. Hofer is one of three returning captains for the Cougars this season. Photo by John Davis taken 3/5/2022

This year’s Aberdeen Cougars girls’ hockey team will be nearly a carbon copy of last year’s squad.

The Cougars, who open their season by hosting Rushmore on Saturday and Sunday at the Odde Ice Center, return every starter except for one. Goalie Ellen Orr moved to Bismarck, N.D. Taking her place in goal is Chloe Vikander.

Outside of that, the team is practically identical from a year ago, right down to its three returning captains in Sydney Hofer, Kailyn Poppen and Ema Rehder.

The fact that the team returns the vast majority of its players is crucial, because the Cougars use a lot of skaters.

“I do things different than most people, because we had 16 girls last year and everybody played,” said Cougars coach Rob Weinmeister. “I like to run three lines. I like to be out with quick shifts. I want them at a high level of speed and intensity. I think that’s to our advantage sometimes, because we go a little deeper than most teams that way.”

The Cougars, who have seven of their first eight league games at home and then seven of their final eight on the road, will once again feature solid team speed bolstered by the likes of Allison Woehl and Alyssa Roehrich. Morgan Jones will be counted on for her puck handling out front. In short, Aberdeen appears to have all of the pieces.

“Everybody has some good talent as far as what they bring,” Weinmeister said.

The Cougars will try to take advantage of those attributes and then attempt to hold their own against more physical squads.

“We like to use the whole ice. We like to use what I like to say speed and finesse. Let’s skate fast and move the puck fast,” Weinmeister said. “But we’re doing a lot of pushups in practice already this year, so we’re trying to toughen up.”

It’s not that the Cougars don’t have kids who are afraid to get a bit physical like Lauren Scheel and Madeline Sandvig. It’s just that it takes a bit of a toll, according to Weinmeister.

“When you’re fighting them in the corners and going through the battles in the corner, it’s tiring,” Weinmeister said, “especially if you’re not as physically strong as some of those other girls are.”

Rob Weinmeister, head coach of the Aberdeen Cougars girls varsity, watches the action from the bench during Friday night’s game against the Sioux Falls Flyers at the Odde Ice Center. Photo by John Davis taken 1/7/2021

There’s no denying that the Cougars have found the recipe for success. The squad, which finished third in the state tournament last season, won six of the past seven state championships prior to that with a runner-up finish the other year. The Cougars were state champs in 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020 and 2021.

Weinmeister said some of the current players watched and learned from members of those teams.

“That’s where that culture comes from,” he said. “They see what the work ethic is and what the expectation is.”

Weinmeister said he doesn’t talk about state championships as being the standard. He instead focuses on things that will lead to the players having success on the ice, little things that lead to big things.

“It’s focusing on making sure that we can become the best players that we can be. The standard that is set is not, ‘Hey, you have to go out and win championships,’ but you have to work hard,” Weinmeister said. “You have to bring 100 percent effort every day. You have to make yourself better. You have to make your teammate better. I think that’s the standard that gets you to where you want to be.”

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