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Dickinson High Midgets girls hockey's youngsters power team

Based on sheer numbers alone, maybe this was bound to happen. Considering that nine of the 14 members of the Dickinson High girls hockey team are not yet juniors, for two of its youngest players to be leading the squad in points at this juncture ...

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Dickinson High freshman forward Kennedy Kuntz reaches for the puck in Dickinson’s 3-0 loss to Mandan Wednesday at the West River Ice Center. Kuntz is first on the team with eight points. (Photo by Colton Pool)

Based on sheer numbers alone, maybe this was bound to happen.

Considering that nine of the 14 members of the Dickinson High girls hockey team are not yet juniors, for two of its youngest players to be leading the squad in points at this juncture in the season may just be a result of the odds being stacked in their favor.

Freshman Kennedy Kuntz and eighth-grader Taia Klaman, both defensemen converted to forwards, are tied for the team lead with five goals this year. Kuntz has three assists for a team-high eight total points, and Klaman has one assist, tying her with senior Kira Zastoupil with six points.

The Midgets (2-9, 2-7 state) return to the ice at 2 p.m. today at Minot (4-6-1, 4-4), the team directly ahead of them in the standings.

According to the teammates of Kuntz and Klaman, they’ve fought to be in this position.

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“They’re very hard working at practice,” senior defensemen Hallie Hoffer said. “Watching them come on the ice, they love the sport. They love what they’re doing, and they go hard every practice.”

While most of her teammates started playing hockey as “mites” (under 10 years old), this is only Klaman’s third year of organized hockey.

“She came on kind of late, but we’ve been really happy with how she’s progressing,” head coach Al Takle said. “We looked at where we were for numbers (at the start of the season), and we looked at Taia and said, ‘We think you’re strong enough to play,’ which is a big thing because you’re always worried about those younger players getting hurt. And her skill level is there, so she can certainly compete.”

Klaman’s performance on the ice has only impressed her teammates.

“I was shocked when she came on the ice the first day of practice,” Kuntz said. “I thought she would be really new to skating, new to hockey, but she’s grown to be a really good hockey player.”

Klaman said she used to play basketball, but she picked up hockey after coming to enjoy how much faster the game was. After playing at a 14-U level to now being at the varsity ranks, it’s been a quick adjustment.

“It’s a huge difference,” she said. “You go from skating kind of slow to skating fast-paced, end to end.”

Kuntz, though a year older than Klaman, has also had to adjust to a new level of hockey. She’s been skating since she was 4 years old and playing the game since 6 or 7, she said.

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“The game is a lot faster, and the older girls like Paige (Schweitzer) and Hallie have been really good about getting us going on this team,” Kuntz said.

Takle said Kuntz, too, has acclimated well to the high school game.

“Kennedy, she goes out there and gives it her all every time she’s on the ice,” he said. “What she doesn’t have in stature, she makes up for in heart, and that’s really what we like out of her.”

Kuntz, a center, and Klaman, a left-winger, share a line, and have already built a rapport that, they hope, carries over in the years to come.

“We’re friends off the ice too, so we know a lot about each other,” Kuntz said. “We’ve been playing three years now, so we know where we’re at and how to play together.”

Pivotal play ahead

Today’s game against Minot holds more importance than a game in mid-January usually might.

The Midgets currently sit ninth in the state standings, which includes 11 teams, but only the top eight teams are invited to the state tournament.

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Minot currently holds that eighth spot and a better state record than Dickinson. A win today would not, by itself, jump the Midgets ahead of the Magicians, but a win could jumpstart the final stretch run of the season.

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