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Strong start has Lancers looking for fantastic finish

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Scoring? Check. Defence? Check. Goaltending? Check.

No matter which way you slice it, the Dakota Lancers women’s hockey team appears to have all the ingredients for a championship recipe.

The Lancers, who at press time were 12-1-1, have the most goals for (61) and the fewest goals against (16) in the Winnipeg Women’s High School Hockey League’s A Division.

Offensively, the Lancers are led by Grade 9 sniper Kayla Friesen, whose 22 goals and 33 points are both tops in the league, and Natasha Esquivel, who is tied for the league lead with 16 assists.

At the other end of the ice, a solid defensive corps has helped goalies Sydney Urwin and Kelsey Bowerman post two of the top four goals-against averages in the league, 0.97 and 1.22, respectively.

It all adds up to a team that will likely challenge for the league title come playoff time.

"I expected to have a strong year, to be in the upper half of the division," said head coach Brad Johnston. "But it’s a little bit of a surprise (to be this good)."

The majority of the Lancers are returning from last season, with most of the players in Grades 11 and 12.

Esquivel, one of the team’s co-captains, has been part of the Dakota hockey program for four years and says this is the best team she’s been a part of.

"We’re all playing as a team," said the St. Vital resident. "We’ve had a positive attitude from the start in the dressing room. We’re keeping everyone positive and on track."

Esquivel is one of five Lancers who also play for the St. Vital Vics AA midget team. Between those two teams and the school’s hockey academy, which sees her on the ice four mornings a week, she’s seen her game reach new heights this season.

"She’s worked really hard at it," Johnston said. "She loves hockey and she’s a phenomenal player. The girls really look up to her."

Esquivel, along with Friesen, Bowerman and blueliner Madison Stratton were all named all-stars.

The Lancers recently finished second in the Birthplace of Hockey tournament in Windsor, N.S., losing to the host King’s-Edgehill School in the final.

Esquivel said the trip, which included five games in three days, brought the team even closer together than it already was.

"It was tough," she said. "Definitely hard on your legs, but you had to just keep going and push through it. It gave us some bonding time… and being able to play against some top schools showed us how we needed to work with each other."

Johnston believes there are four or five teams capable of winning a championship this season. If the Lancers play their best, he thinks they’ll be tough to beat.

For the four-year veterans, a title to close out their Grade 12 season would be "the cherry on top," according to Esquivel.

"It would mean everything," she added. "I’ve been on so many teams in the past years, and this is by far the one that’s given the most effort. Everyone is there for each other."

avi.saper@canstarnews.com

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