FOND DU LAC, Wis. — In what turned into a championship game, neither the Chicago Mission nor Team Wisconsin had much to lose.
Since USA Hockey announced around late December that two teams from the Central District would advance to the National Championships, both Tier I 16-and-Under squads were already guaranteed bids from the Central District.
The Mission showed it preferred the traditional automatic bid of winning the district tournament and downed Team Wisconsin 3-0 on Sunday at the Fond du Lac Family Ice Center.
“It was just a different feel for that game. It was still intense, but knowing that we were both going [to nationals], the end of it was different, I guess you could say,” Mission coach Erin Rourke-Smith said. “There’s still a winner and a loser and a first place and a second place. The joy in the second-place team is something you don’t see very often, that’s for sure.”
Rourke-Smith said there were some rumblings early last December that the district would get two teams to qualify for the April 3-7 national tournament in San Jose, Calif. Rourke-Smith tried to hide it from her players to try to keep their competitive edge.
“They explore the joy of the Internet and they find these things out,” Rourke-Smith said. “Of course, it probably gave them a little more motivation. We want to earn that spot and we want to go.”
Team Wisconsin coach Michael Sullivan — whose team will be making its first trip to nationals — said there was plenty to play for in the district tournament because seeding for nationals were on the line.
“Our girls knew what our road was going to be out there in San Jose depending on which seed we got,” Sullivan said. “We knew right off the bat that if we ended up as a second seed, which we are, that the road’s going to be a lot tougher to the quarterfinals.”
Both coaches agreed that it took some pressure of their players to have to win the district title in order to qualify for nationals. However, the teams competed their hardest in the biggest game of the season.
“We approached it like we had to win the game, and of course we want to win every game we play and gear ourselves up because you want to be playing your best hockey by the time you reach San Jose,” Rourke-Smith said.
Chicago is certainly playing sound hockey at the right time of the season. The team won both its district games by a combined score of 13-1. Rourke-Smith noted her team has only allowed one goal the entire postseason.
The Mission opened the district tournament with a 10-1 thrashing of the St. Louis Blues on Saturday. Generally a defensive-mind team, the Mission went off on a rare offensive onslaught.
“Our kids came to the rink to score, and score they did,” Rourke-Smith said. “Everything they were shooting was hitting the net, and they were getting some rebounds and getting chances.”
Chicago plays three lines, and its entire six-person defensive group log ice time each game. Amazingly enough, almost every player on the roster tallied a point in the double-digit outburst.
The Mission continued its dominance in the second and final game of the tournament vs. Team Wisconsin. Amanda Conway scored two power-play goals to take a 2-0 cushion before the Mission added a final goal with 10:27 remaining in the game. Morgan Turner tallied the last score, which was assisted by Dakota Golde and Cathryn Granato — who is the second cousin of USA hockey legend Cammi Granato.
“They’re a very good team,” Sullivan said. “They’re very strong offensively and have fast forwards. They’re goaltender is solid. We knew we had to play a near perfect game to beat those guys.”
The Mission have only five players with experience playing at nationals. Two seasons ago, the team took home the silver medal. Rourke-Smith is looking forward to her players going for a national title.
“We’ve got a ton of kids on our team this year that have never been, so it’s huge step for some of them,” Rourke-Smith said. “The joy in walking out of the rink and knowing they’re going to experience that for the first time is fantastic. We’re a legit contender. We’re going into this thing not for a holiday in San Jose; we’re going out there to do the best we can.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
Youth Tier I
14U: St. Louis Blues
16U: Chicago Mission
18U: St. Louis Blues
Girls Tier I
14U: Chicago Young Americans
16U: Chicago Mission
16U: Team Wisconsin
19U: Chicago Mission