After the Shattuck-St. Mary’s 16-and-Under girls scored three goals in a minute-and-a-half of ice time to pretty much put away Sunday night’s Minnesota regional championship game, a smattering of applause and cheers mixed with the slapping of sticks against the inside of the Sabres’ bench reverberated around Wakota Arena.
But the most distinguished reaction came from one hockey dad dressed in Shattuck maroon and black. Even though the Sabres had a 4-1 lead over fellow Minnesota school Bauer-Emerson with 4 minutes, 14 seconds to go, his message wasn’t exactly congratulatory.
“Pour it on,” he bellowed.
Internally and externally, there are upper-echelon expectations that come with wearing that block “SSM” angled down the front of one’s sweater — the same one Sidney Crosby, Brianna Decker, Zach Parise and Amanda Kessel, among others, have donned. That can be a lot for an eighth grader to stomach, especially when she and her teammates hail from all over the country.
“It’s a grind, I think, for everyone,” said sophomore forward Maddie Mills, who had two goals and an assist in Shattuck’s eventual 5-1 win Sunday. “When they first get there, they don’t realize how hard it is.”
But year after year, the Sabres’ 16U girls’ program seems to figure it out.
Shattuck’s victory in South St. Paul sends it to Green Bay, Wis., where the team will vie for a third straight Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 16U National Championship March 26-30. This year’s group improved to 39-13-4 and, despite its relative youth — almost half the team is in eighth or ninth grade — has the pieces in place for a three-peat, coach Peter Johnson said.
“The difference between this team at the beginning of the year in October and now is like night and day,” the fourth-year head man said. “At this U16 age, they just [get] ice time, ice time, ice time, practice and games, and they just get better and better and better.”
Those are the built-in advantages that come with boarding-school life at one of America’s most prestigious hockey academies. But it’s a huge adjustment, even for the highly skilled girls that crack a Shattuck roster.
Mills has conquered the transition. Her 75 points (39 goals, 36 assists) lead the team, and even though she has two years of high school left, she’s already committed to Cornell University.
She’s got plenty of help, though. Sophomore goalie Aerin Frankel is allowing just 1.10 goals per game. Forwards Clair DeGorge and Valerie Turgeon each have more than 50 points to their credit.
And the Sabres’ achieved their latest feat without star freshman Maggie Connors, who played in last week’s Canada Winter Games and had her flight back to Minnesota delayed.
She’ll be back in time for nationals, Johnson said.
They’ve all worked through homesickness, a demanding academic workload and a nationwide travel schedule, too.
“Once you realize you have all your support and that everyone at the school is going to help you, it’s a really good place to grow as a hockey player and a student,” said Mills, who’s back in home in Swickley, Pa. this week for spring break but lived in Traverse City, Mich. until about sixth grade. “The teachers at the school are amazing, so if you’re struggling or anything, they’re always willing to help, which is so nice to have. You have special time to do your homework. It’s a much more focused environment than back home, I’d say.”
Shattuck’s lofty standards won’t be fully met, though, without another national title. Johnson said he expects close, one-goal games throughout next month’s tourney — a situation in which his team can thrive, he says.
“It’s going to be one goal here or there,” Johnson said. “If we can get two or three goals, we should be in good shape.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.