ASHWAUBENON-The Bay Area Ice Bears girls' hockey team is enjoying their best season in program history. They are 20-and-one on the season so far, ranked first in the state by Wisconsin prep hockey dot net. After losing their season opener the Ice Bears have won 20 consecutive games. Along the way they've outscored opponents by 99 more goals this season.They say this this year's success is a product of the disappointment caused last year's playoff ouster.Captain Kelsey Rafferty explained, "It's a physical game. All the other girls are big and strong so we kind of knew if we wanted to keep up we had to be the same way."So the team underwent an off-season make over getting stronger, physically and mentally. Head Coach Pat Rafferty said that physicality especially helps against the state's elite teams. "We got pushed around a little bit in the past and this year we're able to push back when the games get more physical," Rafferty said.Defenseman Nicole Niemi said that the difference in the team can be seen in the little things the team does. "You see the physical toughness when we are out there battling in the corners and pushing people around a little bit. Then the mental toughness comes in when it's late in the game you're tired all your teammates are getting to that point and you have to push through and finish the game strong," Niemi said.Their new found toughness allows the Ice Bears to showcase their talents with the puck. "The skills were there but now that we're a better conditioned more physical team we're able to utilize those skills better," Coach Rafferty said. "Ultimately that allows us to have more scoring chances and score more goals."In the end, that's what the game is all about, scoring more goals and leading the Ice Bears to their first ever state title.Kelsey Rafferty beamed when asked what winning the first state title would mean to her. "It would be incredible. We've been thinking about it since last year. Since we lost our last game last year it's all that's been on our mind."Nicole Niemi added that she's confident in her team. "Oh we're going to do it this year."With the Ice Bears baring their teeth this season, they have a good chance to hang their first state championship banner.
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