February 11, 2022 at 12:47 p.m.

'Cats seniors first class

'Cats seniors first class
'Cats seniors first class

The Wildcat girls’ hockey team has one of the best, if not the best, senior classes in the 26-year history of the program.  Three of the players are longtime members of the Wildcats.  Dani Burgen started playing varsity hockey in seventh grade, Kayla Bluhm joined her in eight grade and Kaitlyn Hanson became part of the varsity in ninth grade.  The Wildcats also had two of their top players join the program in the past few years.  Dani Brunette played in Blaine as a freshman, transferred to Chisago Lakes and had to sit out her sophomore season.  She has played at Chisago Lakes the past two seasons.  Rilee Winters played for the Cambridge-Isanti led co-op team from seventh through ninth grades, played for the Blake School as a sophomore, transferred to Chisago Lakes, was a team manager as she sat out last year and joined the varsity as a senior this year.  And in an international twist, exchange student Vilma Sinkkonen is playing hockey for the first time and is only eligible for the JV.  Sinkkonen played ten years of ringette, a sport similar to hockey, in Finland.

We asked Dani Brunette if this year’s team felt any different than last year’s.  She said “It definitely does just because there’s a lot of new girls coming in and we lost a lot of seniors last year.  But we have the same energy going into it.”

What are the best hockey memories for the seniors?  Dani Burgen said “Just going to the state tournament game last year.  The section final win was super awesome because it was the team we had, minus a few players, that we grew up with since U12s.  To go to the state tournament was really cool.”  Bluhm said “I would definitely say the bus ride to our first state tournament game, where we got the parade and like the entire community was out and they were all cheering us on with signs along the road.  It was a really cool experience to see everyone come together to support us.”

Brunette talked about coming to a team that had been together for a long time.  She said “I played with Dani Burgen for a while in the summertime, but other than that I didn’t really know anyone.  Everyone was so welcoming.  We really came together as a team and I think I made a lot of friendships that will last forever.”  And Winters talked about her experience watching from the sidelines last year.  “Sitting out was a little tough,” said Winters.  “Just sitting out and having to watch them go to the state tournament and not being able to contribute as much as I would like to.  But we are definitely jumping back in and trying to make a run for it this year.  Playing with these guys is so much fun.  They have just been a great group of girls.

Hanson suffered a life-threatening issue (not injury-related) on the ice last fall.  She recovered and was able to re-join the team relatively early in the season.  She said “I was very excited to get back on the ice.  It was a little scary at first, but I was just happy to get back on the ice with these guys.”

College hockey appears to be in the future for five of the seniors.  Both Dani Burgen and Dani Brunette will join former Chisago Lakes teammate Jenna Lawry at Division 1 UMD next year.  Brunette said, “I am so excited to get up there.”  Burgen said “I am super excited to be back with Jenna and I know a couple of other girls from the national team there, too, so I am excited for that.”  Winters is trying to decide between several offers.  Bluhm will probably play at Gustavus Adolphus next year.  She said “I talked to the coach pretty sure I am committed there.”  Kaitlyn Hanson will likely play hockey at St. Katherine’s , although the coach doesn’t officially commit to players until March or April.  And as for Sinkkonen, although she is a senior in the U.S., she will return to Finland for her final year of high school and also return to playing ringette.  Sinkkonen will likely go to a university in Finland after she graduates from high school.

Another trip to the state tournament would be a great way to finish out their senior year.





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