Blaze roll with punches, pile up victories

Burnsville's Olivia Carlson drives to the net during a game against Apple Valley at the recent Burnsville holiday girls hockey tournament. The Blaze, 12-4-1 overall, have won their last eight games.

Girls hockey team has 8-game winning streak

Burnsville refused to let an injury to one of its best girls hockey players send the team into a tailspin.

Senior forward Sami Bowlby, who led the Blaze in scoring last season and had 10 points in the team’s first five games this season, hasn’t played in more than a month because of an injured hand. The Blaze needed a little time to adjust but went into this week’s action on an eight-game winning streak. What’s more, Bowlby should return to the lineup soon for the playoff push.

“Fortunately, we have a resilient group,” Blaze coach Chris Lepper said. “We also have some very, very talented girls so that when one player is out, someone else can step into the spot.”

Burnsville, 12-4-1 overall, is tied for second in the South Suburban Conference at 8-2. The Blaze are four points behind first-place Lakeville South and have one game remaining against the Cougars.

“We’ve played extremely well recently,” Lepper said. “We’ve had different people stepping up at different times, which successful teams always need, and the kids at Burnsville always have a good work ethic.”

Several players have stepped in to replace Bowlby’s scoring; one of them is her sister Addie, a sophomore forward who has 23 points. Senior forward Katie Katzmarek has 22 goals is 17 games, placing her among the state’s top 15 goal scorers. Senior Zoie Dundon has 25 assists, ranking in the top 10 in the state in that category. Six Burnsville players have at least six goals.

Goalies Addison Oettinger and Emma Tilbury, both sophomores, have been steady. Tilbury has won all eight of her starts and has a 2.21 goals-against average. Oettinger has a 3.02 goals-against average.

“This is their first year of extended play on varsity, and they’ve kept us in some tight games,” Lepper said. “For those two to step in and play the way they have adds to the depth of our team.”

Last week the Blaze ran their winning streak to eight with victories over Prior Lake (7-4), Eastview (2-1) and Lakeville North (7-2). Katzmarek and Madisyn Krumholz each scored twice against Prior Lake, and Addie Bowlby had a goal and three assists. Katzmarek scored both Blaze goals against Eastview, including the game-winner at 6 minutes, 6 seconds of overtime. Dundon had a goal and four assists in the Lakeville North game.

Burnsville plays host to Eagan at 7 p.m. Thursday and goes to Prior Lake at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

The Blaze, who qualified for the state tournament two years ago, are aiming for the Section 3AA championship again this season. Rosemount, Eastview, Apple Valley and Cretin-Derham Hall are some of the other top section contenders.

Playoff hockey requires the ability to make adjustments, and if this season has taught the Blaze anything, it’s how to roll with the punches.

“The first game of our (holiday) tournament we had only 12 players because of injuries and various illnesses,” Lepper said. “We started the season with 27 players, but we haven’t had all 27 at any point during the season. The days when we practice, I try to have the practice plan done by 10:30 a.m., but by the time I get to the rink the plan usually has changed.

“But it’s given other girls a chance to step into roles they might not have had a chance to play otherwise. In the long run, I think it will make us a better team.”

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