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Fusion ready for title defense

Senior Tanis Klingler, left, senior Lily Cranston, center, and junior Alice Cranston were voted by their St. Croix Valley Fusion teammates to be the team's captains for the 2009-10 season. The defending state champion Fusion open the season Friday night at Hastings, Minn. Bob Burrows photo

What do you do a year after becoming the first undefeated state champion in Wisconsin high school girls' hockey history?

In the case of the St. Croix Valley Fusion girls' hockey team, you make your schedule even tougher the next year.

The Fusion, a cooperative team consisting of players from River Falls, Baldwin-Woodville, St. Croix Central and Elmwood high schools, will face some of the best teams in Wisconsin and Minnesota this season as they try to defend their title from a year ago.

The team opens the season Friday night at Hastings, Minn., before hosting a Thanksgiving Holiday Tournament next week featuring teams from Hayward, Webster and Sun Prairie at the United Civic Center in Baldwin.

The team will once again play a home-and-home series with the 2008 state champs, Central Wisconsin Storm, who they defeated in the state semifinals last year. And in addition to North St. Paul, South St. Paul and the St. Paul Blades, who all are remain on the schedule from last season, the Fusion have added last year's No. 1 Minnesota Class A team, Breck, as well as Hastings, Minn., and Rochester (Minn.) John Marshall.

Also, the Fusion will play in the Schwan's Cup in Blaine, Minn., between Christmas and New Years Day. They will be in the No. 1 bracket and face Coon Rapids, Minn., in the tournament opener. Other teams in the bracket include Benilde St. Margaret's, Chaska, Red Wing, Mound-Westonka, Rochester Mayo and Breck, all from Minnesota.

"I can hardly wait," head coach Matt Cranston said. "I have been waiting all summer to start the season. We have a very special group of girls this season and look to have a great year."

The team returns 11 letter winners from last year's team which finished 23-0-1 on its way to a state championship. Tanis Klingler and Lily Cranston are both back to serve as captains once again while the players also selected junior Alice Cranston to be a captain this year.

Alice Cranston was named to the Wisconsin Hockey Coaches Association All-State First Team last year while Klingler was named to the second team. Cranston led the Fusion in scoring with 29 goals and 20 assists while Klingler had seven goals and 14 assists and set a new state tournament record with five assists in the Fusion's 10-4 victory over Fond du Lac in last year's title game.

Lily Cranston returns after earning All-Big Rivers Conference Second Team honors a year ago with nine goals and 19 assists.

Other returning all-conference players include junior forward Tara Frey, junior defender Nikki Plunkett and sophomore forward Hailey Rock.

Frey was second on the team in scoring a year ago with 10 goals and 19 assists while Rock tallied 15 goals and 10 assists as a freshman and Plunkett contributed 10 goals and seven assists from her blue line position.

Also back from last year's undefeated team are seniors Darcy Behringer and Heidi Van Dell, juniors Mallory Custer and Sig Dangeur, and sophomore Tori Klingler.

Matt Cranston, the 2008-09 WHCA Coach of the Year, will once again be assisted by Karl Erickson.

After opening the season at Hastings Friday, the Fusion will host Hayward/Spooner on Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 7 p.m., at the Baldwin United Civic Center. Tournament play continues Friday, Nov. 27 at 2:30 p.m. against the Webster Blizzard and Saturday at 3 p.m. against the Cap City (Sun Prairie) Cougars.