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After non traditional season, Team Alaska 19Us back at nationals

By John Trachina, 03/29/12, 9:45AM MDT


FRISCO, Texas -- Because Alaska is so far away from the rest of the United States, it can be difficult for a high-level girls’ hockey team to find suitable opposition against whom to hone their skills enough to be able to compete on the national stage.

For Team Alaska’s Girls’ Tier II Midget (19-and-Under) squad, that meant a lot of games against boys’ teams and the occasional travel tournament. That preparation paid off in a best-of-three Pacific District Final series on Feb. 26 against the Washington Wild, in which Team Alaska, which is based in Anchorage, rose to the occasion and engineered back-to-back 4-2 and 2-1 triumphs to earn a trip to the Dallas suburbs for USA Hockey’s Tier II Girls U19 National Championship tournament.

“We played the Washington Wild, up in Fairbanks, which for us, it’s like almost a home game because it’s like an hour flight or a six-hour drive, so it’s pretty easy,” said Alaska coach Rob Askew. “Washington gave us a good game, Saturday we ended up blanking them 2-0 [until the final minute]. We probably played our best game that we’ve played, so it was nice to see.” 

“It’s pretty exciting,” admitted Alaska co-captain Aimee Rupp, who entered the tournament with a team-leading 18 goals and 26 points in 30 games this year, of making it to nationals. “Being a team from Alaska, it’s a pretty big accomplishment, coming out of Alaska and beating Washington and everything. Hopefully, we do pretty good.”

And yes, based on how far away they are from most other competitive girls’ programs, Team Alaska’s schedule can be a bit challenging. 

“[Being based] out of Alaska is pretty tough; most of our games we have to travel, we end up playing boys’ teams, either the same age or younger,” Askew said. “We generally go to a couple of tournaments — this year, we went out to Pittsburgh, had a great time out there for a week in September. We took a Christmas break and we ramped it back up, basically the beginning of February, when high school hockey was over, and we’ve been going five days a week, two or three games a week, for the last three weeks. And then the travel trip here. I think we’re ready to go.”

“We mainly play boys’ teams a lot, because there’s only a couple of girls’ teams up there that we can play, and when we traveled,” added Rupp. “We traveled to Pittsburgh earlier this year and won that tournament, so that was pretty exciting as well.” 

Now that they’ve reached the national championships, many on Team Alaska are looking to avenge a disappointing outcome that they experienced in last year’s tournament at the 16U level.

“The majority of our team has been to a national tournament before; for myself and half the girls, we were at the U16 level last year,” said Askew, whose squad got off to a strong start with a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Southern Assault on Wednesday in their 19U national tournament opener. “There’s always a little bit of nervousness and anxiety before a tournament like this, but after last year’s experience, I think they’re ready to go.

“We lost a quarterfinal overtime game while short-handed, so it was a bitter pill to swallow, since we were playing very well the whole game, especially since we outshot them 3-to-1 and a few penalties late in the game cost us.

“I think the hunger’s there and anything short of a championship, for us as coaches and for the players, is going to be a little disappointing, I think.”

Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.