Ava Guillemette

Ninth-grader Ava Guillemette leads Prior Lake in points last season with 23 (11 goals, 12 assists).

Can the Prior Lake girls hockey team make bigger strides this winter?

The Lakers have seven of their nine forwards back from last season and three of their five defensemen, so the team is returning some varsity experience.

Can Prior Lake make it work on the ice? The Lakers struggled last winter, finishing 3-23 overall (1-17 in the South Suburban Conference). It was the program’s 10th straight losing campaign.

“Our strength will be our experience,” Lakers coach Kiersten Nelson said. “We are returning a huge portion of our roster and have varsity experience in all positions on the ice.

“Another strength is the willingness of our athletes to learn and try new things,” Nelson added. “They are coachable and put a great effort on the ice. We will see tremendous growth in these athletes throughout the season.”

Prior Lake got off to a good start with a 3-0 home win over No. 10-ranked Farmington Jan. 16. Senior Alex Pellicci made 34 saves for her first-career shutout.

Ninth-grader Ava Guillemette, junior Ryane Kearns and eighth-grader Abby Grove each had goals, while Guillemette, Kearns, juniors Lindsey Grove and Jenna Johnson and sophomore Brooke Holmes each had assists.

Prior Lake nearly opened with two straight wins, but fell 3-2 in overtime to Rosemount at home Jan. 19. The Irish scored the game-winner 41 seconds into the extra session.

Sophomores Nina Winter and Lula Swanson had Prior Lake’s goals, while senior Payton Bloedow, junior Adrie Zollman and Swanson all had assists. Pellicci made 41 saves in goal.

Prior Lake’s schedule this winter will consist of 18 conference games, ending March 13 at Lakeville North. The Section 2AA tournament will follow.

Will there be a state tournament due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic? The Minnesota State High School League will decide Feb. 4 at its next board of directors meeting if there will be winter state competitions.

There were none for fall sports.

“Our hope is to be able to play all 18 games this season and to finish in the top half of the SSC,” Nelson said.

When Gov. Tim Walz shut down youth and high school sports for six weeks back on Nov. 18, the Lakers were stuck in Zoom meetings and doing individual workouts to prepare the season.

In-person practices started Jan. 4, so there was not a lot of time for Prior Lake to get ready for the season.

“The athletes have done a great job of following protocols, preparing on their own, and handling the adversity thrown their way,” Nelson said. “We had a great first week of practice and they showed they are ready to enjoy every single practice, game and the opportunity to play the game.”

Tom Schardin covers sports for Savage and Prior Lake. He is dependable, sarcastic and always joking around. Tom enjoys running and swimming and is often busy coaching his two kids' sports teams.