The 2019-’20 girls high school hockey season gets underway this week for the Northland Pines Eagles.

Amidst the winds of cooperative change the Eagles will hold strong as one of the only two teams in Wisconsin that continue to skate under the banner of just one school district.

Head coach Patrick Schmidt and assistant Darren Rubo aren’t worried as they look to put themselves in position for a strong postseason run with a small, but talented crew.

“Overall I think we’ve got a pretty solid group of girls coming back,” said Schmidt. “We’re not deep, but we are surely talented. While right now I am still maybe a bit worried about how we’ll look in the third period against some of those teams that skate three or four lines, but we will just have to see how that goes.”

After working through what was a lackluster season two years ago, the Pines girls hockey team returned to prominence last year as Schmidt expected once numbers rebounded and skill position players specifically got more ice time.

“The epitome of (last year’s) team was we weren’t flashy, we didn’t have those high-profile scorers that some teams had, but we got the job done,” said Schmidt. “For a team that had a down season (in 2017-’18), they grew leaps and bounds over the course of the season.”

One big change for the Eagles this season will be the absence of a conference after the Great Northern Conference (GNC) dissolved at the end of last year.

Moving ahead Pines will look to assert themselves inside the seven-team Sectional that come playoff time will pit them against Central Wisconsin Storm, Bay Area, Central Wisconsin Fusion, Medford-Rib Lake, Northern Edge and Appleton United.

Success last season hinged mightly on their all-conference award winners, starting with Player of the Year in the GNC, Allie Kieffer.

“Her progression over the course of the last few seasons has been phenomenal,” said Schmidt. “She went from a typical freshman who was just feeling her way out to now where she led the conference in points while only collecting, I think, three penalties all season.”

Kieffer’s 38 points on the conference season was six better than Lakeland’s Asucena Boyer who also received votes for Player of the Year last season. Keiffer ended the year with 16 goals and 22 assists and will lead the way offensively for the Eagles again this year.

“Allie spent a lot of time working to get better, and it showed,” said Schmidt. “Her work ethic is something I hope will put her as a role model for others. She is the result of hard work and she’s not the type of person to settle. She wants to get faster and I think once she figures out her legs she has the potential to gain a lot of speed.”

With Kieffer on the GNC first team was Grace Witt­kopf who, after coming into the program as a defenseman, made the move to forward last season seamlessly.

Along with Kieffer and the addition of sophomore Madison Stebbeds back into the framework the offense should have no lack of scoring punch.

“Our first line should be able to score and score a lot,” said Schmidt. “Getting Madison back will be huge. She played with the Madison Capitals last year, but we’re delighted to have her back.”

Wittkopf and teammate Emma Sima spent the off-season skating with Team Wisconsin, meaning their game legs are ready to go.

“Emma has a couple great years in front of her yet, and with one more year of hockey under her belt I expect she’ll be phenomenal,” said Schmidt. “She’s fast, has a great shot and will work on seeing the game a lot better. She’ll be hard to stop.”

Sima will anchor a defense in front of first-year starter Ashlyn Boxrucker who split time last season with Piper Snedden, who graduated.

“She got a lot of valuable minutes last year and I think is really ready to show her improvements this year,” said Schmidt of Boxrucker.

Hannah Kramsvogel will be another person to watch this season according to Schmidt, though he admits she’s never been the type to be in the spotlight.

“She’s not flashy and never really got a lot of the credit she deserved, but she was just a rock on defense last season,” said Schmidt. “We didn’t have to worry about her wherever you put her. She was nothing flashy, but as solid a player we had.”

The schedule is a tough, but welcome one for the Eagles this season, who Monday opened up with Medford as the first of 10 home games on the year.

The team will travel to Fond du Lac this month to see defending State champs the Fox Cities Stars, the Fond du Lac co-op and also face Stoughton Co-op.

Matchups against Black River Falls, Houghton, Superior and the U19 all-stars from Marquette are a few Schmidt said will test the Eagles.

“Overall I think it’s a great schedule with a lot of tough competition,” he said. “That and we’re still playing all the teams we used to play in the conference so it’s a nice mix.”

The team will welcome four first-time skaters to this year’s squad, which Schmidt said so far has been going well.

“They are all great kids and fitting in well,” he said. “We’re excited to start the year.”