Local Female Athlete of the Week: Stephens, a rock wall for the Northern Lakes – Brainerd Dispatch
For four seasons, Kate Stephens tended the net for the Northern Lakes Lightning.
Now a junior, the goalie had her fifth shutout of the season last week with 34 saves in a 3-0 win over North Shore.
“I knew right away it was going to be a good game,” Stephens said. “My defense was helping me a lot and after the first stop my nerves go away and I just feel the game.”
His season started with back-to-back shutouts against Northern Tier and Prairie Centre. In the season opener on Nov. 11 against Northern Tier, she made 39 saves in a 2-0 victory. A week later, on Nov. 18, she didn’t have a chance to save the puck in the Lightning’s 9-0 win over Prairie Centre. The North Stars did not attempt to shoot.
Stephens’ third shutout came against Princeton on Dec. 7 where she saved 22 shots in a 4-0 victory. Then in Northern Lakes’ home opener of 2022, she stopped 10 shots in a 14-0 win over Detroit Lakes on Jan. 6.
“In hockey, it all starts with the goaltender,” said Lightning head coach Chuck Deutsch. “If you don’t have a good goalkeeper, everything else falls apart after that. She’s been playing since she’s eighth grade now and she’s just a stallworth. She has improved every year and as a short keeper she covers the net quickly and her anticipation is exceptional.
Stephens’ save percentage is 92.8% and she has played three games where she has 40 or more saves.
“I just take it game by game,” Stephens said. “I try to keep it at 90% or more.”
In a loss to Willmar on Dec. 3, Stephens recorded a season-high 45 saves on 48 shots. Northern Lakes got their revenge on Willmar on Thursday, January 27, with Stephens stopping 32 shots in a 2-1 victory.
“She’s stable,” Deutsch said. “His eyes follow the puck well. Anything in her area when she moves, she will get. Most of the games this year she has been playing well and her save percentage after every game is around or above 90%.
Last season, Stephens posted an 88.6 save percentage with three shutouts. Her biggest save total came against Northern Tier where she stopped 55 of 59 shots in a 4-2 loss.
As a freshman of the 2019-20 season, Stephens played 27 games and finished with an 88.0 save percentage and two shutouts. In a double overtime loss to Willmar in the 2020 5-1A Divisional playoffs, Stephens recorded 59 saves on 64 shots in the heartbreaking loss.
In 25 eighth-grade games in 2018-19, she had an 86.2 save percentage with one shutout. His best match was against Two Rivers/St. Paul where she saved 46 of 50 shots in a 4-4 draw.
“I’ve coached her for the last three years, so I didn’t coach her the first year,” Deutsch said. “Obviously when you come in young you are going to be tough. As she progressed, aged and grew a bit – I have to give a ton of credit to our goaltending coach Joe Herda, he got her ready and ready for games. But as you face harder and harder shots over the course of a season, you grow, mature, and follow pucks faster.
This season, she allows just over two goals per game at 2.08, which is by far her best production of her career.
“When it comes to saves, she knows the angles and is in the net ready and set,” Deutsch said. “When she gets into a rhythm, she will have those games where she has 30 to 35 saves and will come out with a shutout. Even in tight games, she’ll give up a goal or two, but that’s on 40 or more shots. His 92.8 save percentage is phenomenal considering we’ve faced eight ranked teams this year.
Deutsch said he nominated Stephens for All-State.
“We have phenomenal goalkeepers in our sections,” he said. “And on closer inspection, Kate is at the top of the list. She has a calm demeanor and she adapts well and has a short memory.
“She is easy to train. When we organize exercises, she knows where to be. We want her to handle the puck more and that’s something we’ve been working on, but everything else, she’s really responsive and has a memory like a mousetrap that goes in and doesn’t come out.
Already, Stephens thinks she’s better at playing the puck.
“Yesterday was the first time I played the puck in a while and I was nervous, but now I’m starting to understand,” she said.
Other Notable Performances:
Basketball: Olivia Peterson, Pillager, scored 20 points against Bertha-Hewitt.
Tori Oehrlein, Crosby-Ironton, had 33 points and 11 rebounds against Pequot Lakes and scored 21 points against Pierz.
Maci Martini of Pequot Lakes had 20 points against Crosby-Ironton and 20 points against Moose Lake-Willow River.
Hockey: Rose Aldrigde, Northern Lakes, scored twice against North Shore.
School: Pequot Lakes
Highlights: Recorded her fifth shutout of the season against North Shore with 34 saves
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