St. Croix Valley Fusion secures top seed, first-round bye

Posted 2/15/22

By Reagan Hoverman Despite losing three of the last four games of the regular season, the St. Croix Valley Fusion put together a strong enough regular season resume to secure the top seed for its …

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St. Croix Valley Fusion secures top seed, first-round bye

Posted

By Reagan Hoverman

Despite losing three of the last four games of the regular season, the St. Croix Valley Fusion put together a strong enough regular season resume to secure the top seed for its respective playoff bracket and secure a first-round bye.

The Fusion finished the regular season with a 14-10 overall record, by far the best in the Big Rivers Conference. However, their 6-2 record in Big Rivers play was tied for first place with the rival Hudson Raiders, meaning the Fusion and Raiders will share the 2021-22 Big Rivers Conference championship. It’s the Fusion’s third consecutive conference title and its sixth in the last nine years.

St. Croix Valley has established a winning tradition over the last five years that makes winning the conference title and securing a high seed for the playoffs not only a goal but an expectation. Fusion head coach Matt Cranston spoke about expectations for his teams.

“We still reached our goals of having the first seed, a first-round bye and winning the conference,” Cranston said. “The first-round bye gives us six full days of practice for us to prepare for our game on Tuesday, the 22nd.”

Because of the first-round bye, the Fusion will face the winner of Chippewa Falls or the Western Wisconsin Stars, a co-op team based in Somerset. Chi-Hi is the fifth seed in the bracket and the Stars are the fourth seed. Regardless of which program wins that game, they will travel to River Falls for the second-round matchup with the Fusion. Cranston spoke about his experience with each potential opponent.

“We beat (Somerset) twice, but they have two really good forwards, all-conference caliber players,” Cranston said. “Chippewa beat us last time. We beat them the first time and they beat us the second time. Out of those two teams, we’re 3-1, so we should be OK.”

Cranston spoke about losing some of those games in the closing week of the regular season. He said that they were close games and that scores got away from the Fusion as they pulled their goaltender to try to generate additional offense.

For the Fusion, the key to success all season has been defense. It’s what Cranston, his coaching staff and his players pride themselves on. He’s also been pleased with the play of his junior goaltender this season, Jasmine Petersen.

“We have the best defense out of anybody,”

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Cranston said. “I’m not worried about defense and I’m not worried about Jasmine (Petersen). She’s gaining confidence as she gets older, she’s maturing and is getting better physically and mentally as we go.”

In high school sports, traditionally speaking, experience often indicates how much success a team will have. Senior-laden teams comprised of kids that have two or three years of starting varsity experience are typically the programs that make noise in the playoffs. This year’s Fusion roster is nearly all juniors and seniors that have won a considerable number of games.

“Depending on injuries, we’ve got one senior who is supposed to come back to practice this week, Ally Noll, she’s a senior,” Cranston said. “If she can’t make it back, we would only have one freshman. The rest of the girls are basically juniors and seniors.”

With the experience of his roster, a top seed, a home-ice advantage in the playoffs and what he believes is one of the best defenses in the state, Cranston believes a state title is possible for this iteration of the Fusion girls hockey team.

“I’d like to win every game and go to state and win it, and that’s obtainable,” Cranston said. “Some years it’s been a little out there, but this year, we’ve beaten every team in our section and several of them twice. There is no one in the section we haven’t beat and we’ve only lost to three of them.”

The three teams that the Fusion has lost to include Onalaska, a split with Hudson that included one loss, and a split with Chippewa Falls, which included one loss. The path to a state championship game for the Fusion is clear. But there is one aspect of his team that he needs to see improvements to throughout the playoffs to make a title a reality.

“We have to start scoring more goals,” Cranston said. “We’re very good defensively and it’s obvious if you look at our defense and our goalie. We have to score more goals and produce some offense that we haven’t done in the last two weeks. If we do that and everyone remains healthy and injury-free, the chances of us making it all the way are very good.”

There is optimism in the Fusion locker room and for good reason. This is a team that has become notorious for not only winning conference titles in the Big Rivers, but also making deep playoff runs regularly.

The first game on the playoff docket is scheduled for Tuesday, Feb. 22, in River Falls at the Wildcat Center. Puck drop for that game is slated for 5 p.m.