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SPORTS WRAP

Noah  Lafleur, steele county blades, thorager
Steele County Blades captain Noah LaFleur (12) talks with former Blade Anders Thorager ahead of a ceremonial puck drop. LaFleur is set to age out after this season. Staff photo by Roy Koenig
A last hoorah for eight Blades
By
Roy Koenig, Sports Analyst
Roy Koenig, sports wrap, steele county times

One more home game. A final time in the spotlight. The last climb up the steps from their locker room at Four Seasons Centre.

Steele County Blades junior hockey hosts a game on Wednesday, Feb. 21, to close out their home schedule. It will be the final game in Owatonna for eight players, who age out at the end of the season.

For Noah LaFleur (West Salem, Wisconsin), being in the starting lineup holds special meaning. “The crowd’s always going. Before even a play has been made or hits been taken, they’re ready to go – even before we are half the time. It’s just a really cool environment,” said LaFleur.

He’s rewarded them with plenty of scoring, recently reaching 100 points in his career. He credits his teammates for the feat. “This is a really good group of guys, especially my linemates. We’re all really close and we know where each’s going to be.”

Netminder Levi Preugschas feels very welcome. “The whole community is super inviting, just all the time. We feel at home here. So, we might as well put on a show for them every single time,” he said.

The Blades knocked off division-leading Hudson 3-1 last Friday. LaFleur had his 29th goal of the season. Preugschas made 46 saves to hold off the Havoc.

Junior hockey can be a winding road.

“Sometimes it’s going to be a straight path, straight up to wherever you want to go. Other times you’re going to be led cross country, out to, like, Brooklyn, New York for your first year of juniors. I like to think every path leads you home. I’ve found this place to be my home right now,” Preugschas (Buffalo, Minnesota) told the OwatonnaLive.com Coaches’ Show.

Players return the favor by volunteering at elementary schools and supporting youth hockey.

“Not just having them come to our games,” said LaFleur, “But then going to a Mites game or a Peewee game and having those little kids that we work with on a Sunday evening. Showing up for them is really important, too, because it builds a relationship with the fans.”

After their hockey careers are over – hopefully after competing in college – LaFleur hopes to train athletes, while Preugschas plans to work on the family apple orchard.

 

Roll Herd

Ava Stanchina made a strong transition to college soccer, appearing in every game last fall for North Dakota State University (NDSU) and starting four games. The 2023 OHS grad told Todd Walkingstick of OwatonnaLive.com’s Beyond the Game that she was a bit surprised to play so much.

The opener presented a few nerves.

“I was pretty nervous. It was up at the University of Minnesota. So, I had a lot of family, and a lot of friends there. It went well. I got a pretty good amount of playing time for my first game,” said Stanchina.

Her first collegiate goal was the game-winner in the third game of the season against Austin Peay State University last August.

“I was crashing the net hard. I saw that my defensive teammate was making a cross in the box, and it bounced off one of their girls, and I just got a foot on it,” she said.

She also had an assist in that game and had ten shots on the goal for the season, the fourth-best tally on the club.

Stanchina spent her junior season of high school on a showcase team that traveled the country. After a few visits to colleges, she made her decision. “I like NDSU’s culture and the coaches a lot, and I love it up there in Fargo.”

Last July the real work began. “There’s a lot more pressure, I feel like. Getting up early and working as hard as you can just to get a spot and show the coaches what you got… Going into it, you expect it to be faster and harder, but it was still eye-opening like, ‘Wow, everyone is moving so much faster,’” she said.

She is already thinking about next season. “I’m hoping that I start a few more games. I just want to keep getting to know everyone and with the new girls coming in, make sure we all click with them as well. Maybe get a couple more goals.”

Travel for the Bison involves buses for shorter trips and plane rides for destinations eight hours away or farther.

“We all wear our same travel outfits. We felt pretty cool. And then people in the airport even would recognize us. ‘Roll Herd’ you’d hear from down the hall,” she said.

Stanchina transferred to Owatonna for her senior year and played soccer and hockey. She said the skills she used to adjust to a new environment and make friends helped in Fargo. She is pursuing Sports Management.

OwatonnaLive.com play-by-play schedule

Friday, Feb. 16
OHS boys’ basketball vs. Rochester JM, 7:30 p.m.

Saturday, Feb. 17
OHS boys’ hockey vs. Winona, 7 p.m.

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