Dodge County on a power trip, with one of state's best special-teams units
The Dodge County girls hockey team has one of the state's top-five power plays this season. The Wildcats say it's due to a few simple factors, primarily communication and teamwork.
KASSON — Dodge County has a secret to tell about its lethal power play.
Shhhhh … don’t share it with the Wildcats’ Section 1A rivals, though: There is no secret.
“Just read the defense and take what they give us,” Dodge County head coach Jeremy Gunderson said. “Whatever the defense is doing in terms of pressuring us, we just want our kids to react to that and what’s there that they’re giving us. We want five kids working hard where they’re at and communicating with each other.”
So far, so great.
The Wildcats’ combination of talent, hockey IQ and communication has added up to one of the state’s best power players. Entering this week, Dodge County was 19-for-55 on power-play opportunities, scoring at a 34.5% clip.
That’s the fourth-best mark in the state, regardless of class, behind only Maple Grove (an astounding 54.5%), Warroad (40.3%) and Northfield (35.8%).
“We take a lot of pride in our special teams, both power play and penalty kill,” said Gunderson, whose team kills penalties at a strong 86.2% rate. “It’s a huge part of the game. We don’t really … some teams can get faulty by having a rehearsed power play that’s set and designed.
“We have concepts we use — high and low. If a team pressures us high, we’ll work the puck down low, always looking to create a 2-on-1 opportunity and a good scoring chance. … Or if we have the puck high, we’ll look to get shots through, look for screens, tips and rebounds around the net.”
It sounds like a simple game plan, but few teams have the depth of talent that the No. 8-ranked Wildcats (14-5-0 overall) use to be so, well, powerful on the power play.
Their first power-play unit consists of junior defender Abby Simons, the so-called quarterback of the power play, though Dodge County’s power play isn’t a conventional setup. Simons is joined on the top unit by gritty and skilled senior forward Abby Zeitler, uber-talented eighth-grader Maysie Koch, versatile freshman Zoe Heimer and the state’s leading power-play goal-scorer, sophomore forward Nora Carstensen.
“We just try to go out and execute what we do best,” said Carstensen, who entered this week with 11 power-play goals through 19 games. “The five of us work really well together and know where each other are going to be.”
Carstenen’s success is largely due to her own versatility, but also to the versatility of the other four players on the ice with her. Their ability to read a defense and know exactly where the puck should go — as well as where all of their teammates will be — makes the Wildcats an incredibly challenging team to defend.
“(Carstensen) is very good at cycling the puck, knowing where it should go and making good decisions, not forcing a pass if it’s not there,” said Simons, who was second in the state with 12 power-play assists at the start of this week. “She moves her feet well and skates hard. She’s just a really good all-around player.”
Outside of Carstensen, no Wildcats player has more than two power-play goals this season. That’s not necessarily by design, though, coach Gunderson said. It’s just how things have fallen this season.
“Her goals have come from all over the zone; she’s not set in one place,” Gunderson said. “There are times where (opposing teams) will pressure the puck so hard and, I don’t know why you’d leave (Carstensen) open, but … she’s just in the right spot. She’s been successful because the kids around her are doing the right things and her teammates are making plays for her. And then she’s taken advantage of her chances.”
Heimer and Simons both have two power-play goals this season, while Zeitler, Maysie Koch, Mollie Koch and Daisy Harens have one each. Harens (just a seventh-grader) and Mollie Koch, a sophomore, anchor the second power-play unit, along with eighth-grader Bryn Spreiter, freshman Kylie Meyer and junior defender Alyse Williamschen.
“I’d say our confidence is growing with every game we play,” said Maysie Koch, who as of Monday, was tied for sixth in the state with 10 power-play assists. “It’s been a great season so far and we’re getting better and better every game.”
The Wildcats’ power-play specialists all have a somewhat difficult time describing what their role is on the power play. Dodge County doesn’t necessarily run an umbrella or a 1-3-1. They don’t have one player who is always attempting to take the goalie’s eyes away or one player who specializes in making plays off the wall.
The Wildcats are a fluid unit of five, with each player understanding their responsibilities, based on how the opposing penalty killers are defending them.
“We move around a lot. There’s not a lot of standing in one spot,” said Heimer, who has two goals and four assists on the power play this season. “We all know how we need to work together and, with having a 5-on-4 advantage, we know how to make it work.
“You have to keep your head up, always be in place to read (your teammates) passes and put yourself in a place to get good looks (at the net).”
In their first-ever season in Class A, the Wildcats have high hopes for when and where this season will end. They hope and expect it to end in late February, in the Twin Cities, at the Class state tournament. To do that, though, they’ll first have to get through No. 13-ranked and defending Section 1A champion Albert Lea. The Wildcats beat the Tigers in a tight 4-2 game at Albert Lea back on Dec. 10.
“We’ll just take it one game at a time, focus on the next game ahead of us, working together, staying positive and winning,” said Zeitler, who has nine points this season, including four on the power play. “Hopefully we make it up (to state). That’s our biggest goal, the biggest target to hit.”
MINNESOTA'S TOP POWER PLAYS
|1. Maple Grove||18-for-33||54.5%|
|4. Dodge County||19-for-55||34.5%|
|5. Mound Westonka||20-for-61||32.8%|
MINNESOTA'S TOP POWER-PLAY GOAL SCORERS
|1. Nora Carstensen||Dodge County||11|
|2. Lauren O'Hara||Centennial||10|
|3. Rylee Bartz||Warroad||9|
|4t. Ayla Puppe||Northfield||8|
|4t. Ana Davis||Minneapolis||8|
MINNESOTA'S POWER-PLAY ASSIST LEADERS
|1. Mackalyn McGown||Simley||14|
|2t. Abby Simons||Dodge County||12|
|2t. Sydney Leonard||Mound Westonka||12|
|4t. Tayla Hendrickson||Warroad||11|
|4t. Abby Chamernick||Warroad||11|
|6t. Maysie Koch||Dodge County||10|
|6t. Bailey Vesper||South St. Paul||10|
|6t. Lily Fetch||East Ridge||10|