Can Chris Lepper turn the Burnsville girls hockey team’s playoff woes around?
Lepper has been named the Blaze’s new head coach and takes over for Tracy Cassano, who resigned after six seasons leading the program to become the head coach at Minnetonka.
Lepper also resigned his post this past spring as the Woodbury girls head coach. He’d been with the Royals the last six seasons, and the program struggled to get wins with a 29-121-6 overall mark in that span (5-87-4) record in the Suburban East Conference).
Woodbury has never been known as a hockey power. Burnsville, meanwhile, has a rich tradition with six state appearances since 1996. The last one was in 2014 in Cassano’s first season as Blaze coach.
Lepper will take over a Burnsville team that had 18 wins last year (18-8 overall), including an 11-7 mark in the South Suburban Conference. It was the program’s first winning season since going 21-9 in the 2013-14 campaign.
However, Burnsville has lost five straight section quarterfinal games since making the state field in 2014, including getting upset as the No. 2 seed this past winter by seventh-seeded Park 2-1 in overtime.
The Blaze boasted one of the state’s best defenses last year. The team allowed just 33 goals in 26 games, and all eight the team’s defeats were by one goal, including four in overtime.
Burnsville graduated just four seniors from last season, so Lepper will have load of young talent to work with this winter. But the four seniors lost are big ones — goalie Rylee Pester, who had a 1.28 goals-against average; two senior defensemen in Lyndsey Howard and Madeline Benfer; and forward Jenna Hartung, who led the team in points with 34 (15 goals, 19 assists). Howard’s 24 points were third on the team.
Cassano had a 73-77-9 overall record in her six seasons with the Blaze (37-60-6 in the SSC). The team had a 3-7 postseason mark. The four losing seasons from 2014 to 2018 are the only four in program history.
Cassano was the head coach at Chaska/Chanhassen for two seasons before Burnsville and led Rosemount for five seasons before that.