When Samantha Mugge became a part of the River Lakes girls hockey program this season, she knew it would be different than her experiences on the Iron Range.
“I was told by my uncle we’d be pretty good,” said Mugge, a junior who plays defense for the Stars. “But I didn’t think we’d be this good.”
River Lakes is 6-1-1 in the Central Lakes Conference and 15-3-1 overall and having one of the best seasons in the program’s history.
The Stars went into the weekend in first place in the CLC, a half point ahead of Sartell/Sauk Rapids. The CLC uses a point system to determine the champion, giving one point for a win against an opponent it plays once and a half point for a team it plays twice.
River Lakes has 6.5 points. Sartell/Sauk Rapids (5-0-2, 10-3-3) has 6.0. The Storm’N Sabres play the Stars at 7:15 p.m. Tuesday in Richmond.
The winner is likely the conference champion. The teams tied 2-2 in overtime Nov. 18 in Sartell.
A win would give Sartell/Sauk Rapids a piece of the conference title for the fourth year in a row. For River Lakes, a conference championship would be its first since 1999, the first season of CLC girls hockey.
Mugge, a transfer from Hoyt Lakes, is one reason the Stars are so strong.
She played hockey for the Eveleth-Gilbert Golden Bears last season.
“It’s more physical,” Mugge said of hockey on the range. “There’s more competition down here, a lot closer games.”
Her mother is from the area.
“My mom’s whole family lives down here,” she said.
Her first cousin, sophomore defender Jordan King, often plays by her side on the ice. Jordan’s dad is Chris King, the uncle with the advice about the team. Mugge is attending New London-Spicer, which — along with Rocori — supplies the vast amount of the players for River Lakes.
The Stars mostly have been competitive since 1998-99, but haven’t won the CLC. That year, there were five teams in the conference and River Lakes went 4-0, beating St. Cloud, Brainerd, Willmar and Alexandria.
Shari Voigt, an outstanding goaltender who went on to a successful career at Minnesota State-Mankato, was the most noteworthy star. She and Kari Turkowski, Mary Beth Johannes and Natalie Rinn earned the first girls hockey all-conference honors for River Lakes.
This team may be equally as talented. It relies on a strong senior class. There are 10 on the roster. All make contributions.
“This is the deepest group we’ve ever had,” River Lakes head coach Jack Freeman said. “We’re getting production out of all of them.
“It’s not just one girl or one line. Everyone’s helping out.”
Mugge is second on the squad in scoring. She has 13 goals and six assists going into Saturday’s game at Bemidji, a key Section 8-2A game. Included are two power-play goals and one shorthanded.
Allie Stanger, the senior forward from Paynesville, has 20 points (13 goals, 7 assists). But the Stars have seven players with 10 or more points.
“Obviously, winning (the conference) would put ourselves in a good spot for a high seed in the section,” Freeman said. “But our motto has been ‘just win the next one,’ no matter if its nonconference, section or conference.
“We just want to win the next one.”
This is the opinion of Times prep sports coordinator Tom Elliott. Contact him at 259-3661 or at email@example.com. Follow him on Facebook or on Twitter @sctimestom.