Ella Hansen

Senior forward Ella Hansen, No. 21, battles for the puck during a face-off during Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato’s game with Willmar Saturday at Litchfield Civic Arena.

It wasn’t quite the start they had hoped for, but Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato team members showed elements of perseverance in a 5-3 loss to Willmar Saturday that could serve them well this season.

Despite falling behind 5-1 after two periods, the Dragons kept scrapping, getting two goals in the final frame.

“We were not happy with how we started,” LDC coach Brett Damerow said. “We came on in the third. We were very pleased with the effort in the third.

“Entering a period (down) 5-1 is tough,” Damerow added. “It says a lot about our leadership to come out and win the period.”

The Dragons enter the 2020-2021 season with a solid core, featuring 10 seniors, eight of them with significant varsity experience.

No one will be more important in that group than senior goaltender Avery Stilwell, who has been the team’s netminder since her freshman year. Stilwell posted a 13-12-1 record last season, playing in every game and logging 1,347 minutes. Her goals against average was 2.27 with a .938 save percentage.

“Avery Stilwell is one of the state’s top goalies,” Damerow said. “A goalie like Avery gives us a chance to win every game.”

Shiloh Milender will back up Stilwell in goal. Helping out at the back are senior defensemen Kristin Foley and Emma DeWolf, “who will lead our defense core,” Damerow said. Foley had one goal and eight assists last season, and DeWolf registered a goal and six assists.

Six senior forwards will lead the LDC offensive attack, including Lydia Niemela, Kourtney Mielke, Ella Hansen, Cassy Justison and Lauren Block.

Niemela was one of the Dragons’ leading scorers last year with 11 goals and six assists, with Mielke close behind with 11 goals and three assists. Hanson and Block had two goals each last season, and Justison had one. Senior Peyton Miller also will see some playing time at forward.

Numbers are down slightly with this year’s team, Damerow said, but the Dragons will still skate three forward lines and rotate four or five on defense.

Litchfield/Dassel-Cokato did not field a junior varsity team this season, but instead will have a 15U club team this year, populated by players who would normally play JV.

As he looks at the season ahead, Damerow said, the team has set some pretty basic goals. Goals that have little to do with wins and losses.

“These girls have missed out on quite a few things this past year,” Damerow said, acknowledging the challenges of a pandemic academic and athletic year. “We want our seniors to end their careers with a good experience.

“Every year we want to improve on what we did previously,” he added. “For example, last year we were over .500. We can improve on this record this year. We will have to play well and improve, but (it is) attainable.”