WHITE BEAR LAKE — You'd think perhaps one year it wouldn't be such a perilous journey.
Maybe some year the road to Suburban East Conference and Section 4 honors won't be loaded with so many menacing hazards.
Make no mistake about it, however, this isn't the season.
The SEC will again be one of the toughest girls' hockey conferences in the state, and good old Section 4 features most of those same teams as well as defending state Class AA champion in Hill-Murray.
Mounds View (13-3-1) claimed top honors in the always-tough SEC last winter, followed by Cretin-Derham Hall (14-4, 18-9), Stillwater (13-4-1, 18-9-1), Roseville (12-5, 18-9), Hastings (9-8-1, 14-12-1), East Ridge (8-8-1, 15-10-1), Forest Lake (7-11, 10-15-2), White Bear Lake (4-10-3, 9-13-3), Park-Cottage Grove (2-14-2, 4-20-2) and Woodbury (1-16-1, 7-19-1). Hill-Murray beat Stillwater 4-1 for Section 4AA title.
White Bear Lake's nine wins last winter almost doubled the five victories the team mustered two years ago.
"I'm confident the experience our players went through last season will be a building block for even better things this season," said Bear head coach Jerry Kwapick, in his 13th year at the White Bear helm. "We have great leadership qualities and the group has been second to none as far as work ethic. An extremely strong bond between the players is very apparent, and the teamwork stemming from this established relationship is starting to show in their strong play."
Kwapick's crew was young last season, and will be young with a dash of seasoning this winter.
Key losses to graduation are small in number (just four) but were large in value to the team. Gone is All Conference netminder Angie Hall, the backbone of the squad since she started in the nets as a freshman.
Senior May Morris and freshman Madeline Marston look to fill the void left by Hall, now at UW-River Falls.
Back to lead the offense are senior forward Kelly Lanigan, an All-Conference performer last season; juniors Jeanette Bealke, Lexi Cooper (Most Improved last season), Sarah Moy and Corinne Watson; freshmen Claudia Verkerkee, Ashley Healy (Rookie of the Year last season) and Ashley Rensted; soph Lily Anderson; and eighth-graders Sydney Shearen and Emma Kaske. Bealke and Watson were Honorable Mention All Conference last year.
Set to man the blue line are junior Payton King (Most Determined last year and Honorable Mention All Conference last winter); sophomores Emma Statt and Grace Howe; and eighth-graders Abby Delarosa and Gretchen Greeder.
Morris and Lanigan will serve as captains for the 2014-15 team, and Bealke, Watson and King are assistant captains.
The Bears take part in the annual Centennial Holiday Tournament and will face a daunting conclusion to their SEC campaign with games against Cretin-Derham Hall, Roseville and Stillwater the last two weeks of the regular season.