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With 25 practices already in the books, the Bismarck Blizzard are ready for a game.

The Blizzard, the reigning five-time girls state hockey champions, get one tonight. Bismarck hosts Minot at 7 p.m. at Capital Ice Complex.

Practice started Nov. 11. Mix in a handful of two-days, and the Blizzard are chomping at the bit.

“We’ve had lots of opportunities to look at kids, mostly focusing on skill development so far,” said Blizzard head coach Tim Meyer. “Every year there’s a little different chemistry, but the girls have been working hard. We’ve seen a lot of good things.”

This year’s version of the Blizzard has a tough act to follow, but it’s been that way for nearly a decade. The Bismarck girls hockey team has played in every state championship game since 2013, winning every year but 2014. Last year, the Blizzard scored 128 goals, 98 more than they allowed, going 20-3-3 to the title.

Managing expectations has become part of Meyer’s job, but they don’t spend time relieving the glory days.

“We don’t talk about it, but it’s in the back of your mind at times,” the head coach said. “We understand the history of the Blizzard and what the program has accomplished, but ultimately what it boils down to is what happened in the past has no bearing on how well we do this year.

“There’s so much parity across the state. Girls hockey gets better every year so to worry about anything other than what’s happening right now with this team wouldn’t be in our best interests.”

The Blizzard graduated a lot, but they also return a bunch.

Topping the list is freshman forward Madison Brown, who tallied 40 points in 25 games as an eighth-grader, including 17 goals. She’ll get plenty of help from senior forward Riley Ball, who netted 15 goals last winter.

“Riley’s had a great career for us,” Meyer said.

Twelve other players return that scored goals. Junior Noelle Martin (8), senior Eva Churchill (7), senior Marissa Shea (6), sophomore Cameron Schmidt (5) and senior Anna German (5) had five or more goals each.

German is the team’s top returning defensive player. Jayda Krikorian, a sophomore, and senior Grace Meschke, will have their minutes increase on the blue line.

“It’s always fun to see which kids step up and grow into larger roles,” Meyer said. “That’s the way it’s kind of been for the Blizzard, you have to start at the bottom and work your way up.”

Goalies Lauren Watkins and Karsyn Hellman have done that. The two are in competition to replace all-state netminder Skylar Ackerman.

“I would say at times last year Lauren and Karsyn were neck-and-neck with Skylar,” Meyer said. “Skylar was great for us, no question, but I think we have two kids that are very capable of doing the job.”

Meyer sees several teams in the mix this season, with Fargo Davies, West Fargo United and Fargo North-South at the top of the list. Davies is off to a 3-0 start. West Fargo is 2-0. North-South, Bismarck’s state championship opponent the last two seasons, won its opener on Saturday.

Tonight’s opponent -- Minot -- represents a good test to start it off.

“I expect Minot to take a big jump,” Meyer said. “They have some good kids back. Their numbers are up and that bodes well for them. It will be a good game for us to see where we’re at.”

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Reach Tribune sports editor Dave Selvig at (701) 250-8246 or david.selvig@bismarcktribune.com

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