ECA Stars

ECA Stars hockey players Charlotte Akervik, left, and Ava Kison practice in Hobbs Municipal Ice Center in Eau Claire on Wednesday. View more photos at LeaderTelegramPhotos.com.

It’s never easy to lose the best player in the state, but having two future Division I talents waiting in the wings certainly softens the blow.

Eau Claire Area girls hockey is adjusting to life after Abigail Stow, last year’s Wisconsin Ms. Hockey and the Stars’ leading scorer during their 2017-18 state title-winning season. But Charlotte Akervik and Ava Kison have stepped up to the plate, showing the program isn’t just a one-hit wonder.

“To have the level of players that we have, based on their experience and their ability, has helped us get off to a good start,” coach Tom Bernhardt said.

Kison, who trailed only Stow in Stars scoring last year, is now leading the team in points through five games with four goals and six assists. Akervik, the team’s top defenseman, has taken on a more offensive role with two goals and five assists. Bernhardt said she has the hardest shot he’s seen coaching girls hockey.

“Losing Abigail, she was the No. 1 scorer in the state,” Akervik said. “That’s a lot of goals. I think a lot of players on our team have been stepping up. Once everyone realized, ‘Hey, we don’t have our top scorer anymore,’ everyone wants to contribute now.”

Akervik and Kison are the leading drivers of the Stars’ 5-0 start to the season and a big reason they’re considered one of the top contenders in the state once again. This time, with a bit different style of play.

With the graduation of Stow, now at UW-River Falls, and defenseman Brooklynn Arbs, Bernhardt felt the team had to move to a more defensive mindset. They couldn’t bank on being as efficient on offense as they had previously.

“You take two really good hockey players out of the mix and your team has to have a different identity,” Bernhardt said. “We’ve bought into that new look. We may not be a team that goes out and scores six goals a hockey game. We may have to play a little big smarter defensively, rely a little more on a goaltending and our defensive game than we did last year.”

And with that comes a bit more structure.

“Last year I think things were not necessarily more creative, but more freeflowing,” Akervik said. “We have more established setups this year.”

“This year we have to go back to the basics and kind of set everything up,” Kison said.

Akervik is heading to Minnesota State-Mankato next year after the Mavericks stuck with her through a torn ACL. Kison is joining a brand new program at Franklin Pierce. They’re the first two players from ECA to ever go DI and another reminder that the Stars are now producing top talent each year.

“It hasn’t always been a great program and it’s really cool to see it improving every year,” Kison said. “This is obviously a big deal for our program.”

Of course, there’s unfinished business before jumping to the next level. The Stars have a repeat on their minds.

“I think almost every day somebody will say something about state,” Kison said. “It’s obviously a goal again.”

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie is already halfway to last year’s win total by posting a 3-1-1 record through five games. The team’s only regulation loss came was to Western Wisconsin, which is undefeated and outscoring its opponents 26-5.

Sophomore Sidney Polzin is having a breakout sophomore campaign, scoring eight goals in five games. She scored 12 times last year in 24 games. Kendall Rudigar, who didn’t find the net all last season, has three goals.

Chippewa Falls/Menomonie and Eau Claire Area meet twice this season: Dec. 13 at Hobbs Municipal Ice Arena and Jan. 17 at Dunn County Ice Arena.