The defending Tier I 14U girls national champions are back.
The scary thing is, the Green Giants are better than last year.
The Minnesota team heads into the 2019 Chipotle-USA Hockey National Championships with an unblemished 18-0 record and is seemingly clicking on all cylinders after winning the USA Hockey Minnesota District Tier I 14U title on Oct. 7 of last year.
In their 17 league games this season, the Green Giants outscored their opponents 135-17. That’s a differential of 8-1 per game.
“Our team is very, very good,” Green Giants coach Al Blomker said. “We’ve got pure goal scorers, we’ve got grinders, and everyone plays their position well. They all work hard and we’re just a very, very, very tough team to play against. We keep it simple. One of the things we always stress from Day 1 is the team that makes the least amount of mistakes is probably going to have better opportunities to come out on top. Keep it simple, don’t be greedy and if you’ve got a shot, take it.”
The Green Giants feature five players with nationals experience from last year. Forwards Maddie Kaiser, Dani Burgen, Rilee Winters, Lily Mortenson and goalie Hailey Hansen were all important cogs in last year’s championship run.
“Obviously, winning it last year sparked a lot of interest,” Blomker said. “Experience is definitely going to help.”
The Green Giants play a fall schedule and made it into the six-team Minnesota District tournament at the Tier I 14U level in Plymouth, Minnesota.
The team received a bye into the semifinals where it faced the Polars. The Green Giants led just 4-3 at the first intermission and then exploded for five second-period goals. Sara Kaiser had a hat trick and an assist and Danielle Brunette added a pair of goals in a 9-3 victory.
In the championship game on Oct. 7, the Green Giants took on the Lakers, which they had beaten twice during the regular season. The Green Giants tallied five goals in a span of 2 minutes, 44 seconds — three of those coming shorthanded. With a 5-0 lead after the opening period, the Green Giants cruised to a 7-1 win.
“It wasn’t that their goalie was playing bad, they were pretty dang good opportunities,” Blomker said. “After that, it was a 2-1 game. The Lakers are a good team, but we hopped on them right away.”
After the fall season concluded, Blomker’s girls went off to play other organized hockey. All but five of the kids played Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL) varsity hockey. A number of the players competed in the MSHSL state tournament. Elly Klepinger scored the eventual game-winning goal as Breck School won the Class A state championship.
The Green Giants regrouped in late February and started having practices. However, as of mid-March, they hadn’t been able to line up a scrimmage with another team to better prepare for nationals.
Blomker is amazed how his girls can be apart from one another for four months, jump back on the ice together and not miss a beat.
“These girls all have the mentality, they come to work and play hard and no drama, and that’s awesome,” Blomker said. “That makes our jobs easier. [The coaches] just sit back and we try to stay out of the way. We’re just trying to guide them and give them the good points and not complicate stuff.”
The Green Giants will head into nationals in Irvine, California, with a target on their backs. Staying undefeated is important for the players.
“It’s going to have to be the motivation coming up because with the nationals if they do it last year, it’s pool play and you only get three games,” Blomker said. “If you come up short in one of those games or even a tie, it could really hurt you from moving on to the quarterfinals.”
Blomker isn’t looking at nationals as win the title or else. He knows expectations are high, but he wants his players to enjoy the journey. However, the coach noted that if his team doesn’t reach the final day of the tournament — which means advancing to at least the semifinals — it would be disappointing.
“First and foremost, we’re going to make this a great experience for the girls,” Blomker said. “Two, obviously we’re going there for a reason. And again, if the girls go out there and play to the level and play the game the right way, I feel very confident that we’re going to be alright.
“I know these girls, especially the five coming back, they want to repeat. We’re just trying to keep the girls focused.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.