After being outscored 139-41 on their way to four wins last season, the Brainerd/Little Falls Flying Warriors are focusing on finishing their scoring chances and playing better defense in 2012-13.
With 14 letterwinners, Stephanie Sustercich enters her second season as head coach encouraged that the Flying Warriors will improve in those two areas, which should help elevate the program in the Central Lakes Conference and Section 8-2A.
“For the conference, we feel if we could move up two places that’s going to get us around the middle of the pack,” Sustercich said. “We think that’s a realistic goal. The same in the section — if we can move up two more places, that’s going to give us that push to keep on progressing forward.
“It’s unrealistic to say we’re going to get to the top of the conference, and the top of the section, in one year.
“We are going to concentrate on being a finishing team. If we can increase our shots on goal by 25 percent, that will help us. Increasing it by 50 percent, while we’re still working on skill development, that might be asking too much at this point.”
Senior captain Emily Stark is the leading returning scorer with nine goals and 12 points.
“She’s one of our go-getters,” Sustercich said. “She works hard in the corners. She’s a go-to girl that will play forward and defense and will do it on the fly. We have a lot of expectations for her, being a senior.”
Senior Maren Brown was the third-leading scorer with three goals and 11 points.
“We’re looking to have her play a center role this year, kind of driving a line, putting more pucks in the net,” Sustercich said.
Junior captain Kristina Anderson was fourth in scoring with four goals and nine points.
“Kristina’s role will also be centering a line at the moment,” Sustercich said. “She’s another one of our go-to girls. We’re looking for big things from her. She has a lot of speed this year. She’s doing well, putting the puck in the net.”
Additional returning forwards are senior captain Alayna Ernster, junior Sara Wennerstrand (2 goals, 6 points), junior Paige Oakley (1-3) and freshman Maddie Ellingson.
“Maddie played on our third line last year,” Sustercich said. “She didn’t see as much ice time as I think she would have liked. We spread her out between junior varsity and varsity.
“This year, we see her starting to pick up some important roles. We’re grooming her for the future. She’s been very responsive. She’s such a pleasure to have on the team. She’s such a hard-worker.”
Senior Eryn Dahl, junior Tory Brown and sophomore CJ Kendall hope to be the backbone of the Warriors’ blue-liners.
Dahl played in 14 games in 2011-12 before suffering a season-ending injury.
“Eryn was out a majority of last season recuperating from a back injury,” Sustercich said. “She’s in good shape. We’re really hoping to have her hold the blue line with her partners. Having not played last year she’s really hungry and excited to play.”
Brown collected two assists last season.
“Tory’s really starting to step up as one of our defensemen,” Sustercich said. “With her and Eryn, we’re looking to build our defensive unit stronger.”
Kendall, who contributed three goals and two assists in 2011-12, will be another go-to player. She alternated between forward and defense last season.
“Her main role this year will be playing defense,” Sustercich said. “We see a lot of promise in CJ. She has worked very hard, she trained all summer, so the future is looking very bright for her.”
Junior Gretchen Gramer, another returning defender, played in all 26 games last season.
Junior Natalie Berens played 56-plus minutes in 21 games and finished 0-2-0 in 2011-12 behind the graduated Jodi Bertrand. She will be challenged by junior Kayli Scammahorn and sophomore Kalli Kalpakoff and freshman Fallon Yates, neither of whom has played a varsity minute.
“They’re working their tails off to see who’s going to be our main netminder,” Sustercich said.
■ Coaching staff
Brad Hubred returns as an assistant. Chuck Whalen and Mathew Bugnacki join the staff as assistants.
Whalen, former head coach of the Warrior boys team, was the inaugural head coach of the girls program, which he coached from 1997-2002.
“Chuck has 30-plus years working with the youngest of players all the way up to the pro level,” Sustercich said. “He’s been a long-time staff member at Minnesota Hockey Camp. He brings expertise in player development and mastery in goalie coaching.”
Bugnacki, who grew up in California, played throughout the U.S. and Canada and is familiar with power-skating programs.
“Mat’s well-versed in power-skating programs such as Laura Stamm and Robby Glantz, which is huge in California,” Sustercich said. “He’s spent quite a bit of time with Stamm. He’s going to bring another dimension to our player skill and on-ice training to enhance our overall program, tie it all together.”
2-Alayna Ernster F
3-Tory Brown D
4-Kristina Anderson F/D
5-Gretchen Gramer D
6-Eryn Dahl D
7-Mariah Lennander D
8-Mari Beth Thayer F
9-Sara Wennerstrand F
10-Lexy White F
11-Maddie Ellingson F
12-Taylor Cadwell D
14-Emily Stark F
15-Paige Oakley F
16-Kate Campion F
17-Maren Brown F
19-Brooke Mimmack F
20-Kayli Scammahorn G
21-CJ Kendall F/D
23-Miranda Reed F
26-Alexa Newman F
30-Natalie Berens G
31-Karli Ring F
33-Kayla Kurowski F
36-Erica Swanson D
38-Tatjana Kabatnik F
40-Kalli Kalpakoff G
45-Fallon Yates G
MIKE BIALKA, sports editor, may be reached at 855-5861. Follow on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bertsballpark.