WESTMINSTER, Colo. -- Karen Rickard, one by one, reached out to hug a player here or a player there during the tournament-closing medal ceremony. It was a personal connection that the first-year Colorado Select Tier I 19U coach shared with her former players from Dallas.
After all, until a year ago, she was coaching some of these players.
For eight years, Rickard resided in Dallas, coaching the in the Dallas Stars Elite program before being recruited to oversee a rebuilding Colorado Select squad that had fallen on hard times. So it was a bit ironic that her current program and her former one would be staring at each other across the ice in the Rocky Mountain District Championships.
But that’s just one small part of the story about a how tumultuous of a season Colorado has endured, starting with, at max, 11 returning players in August to qualifying for the Toyota-USA Hockey National Championships. Colorado qualified by posting consecutive 4-2 and 5-1 wins over Dallas this at the Ice Centre at the Promenade.
“The story of this weekend is kind of like the story of our season. It’s kind of a big deal for us,” Rickard said moments after her team locked up a berth to the national championships, beginning March 31 in Minneapolis. “We’re going through a rebuilding phase, a transition in the program right now from the previous leadership to myself.”
That transition, at least on the scoreboard, hasn’t been an easy one. Colorado, after all, started its Junior Women Hockey League season with 27 — yes, 27 — consecutive defeats before posting a tie against the Winnipeg Avros. Two days later, the team scored its only regular-season win.
Colorado was 1-32-2 and outscored 215-48, but that mattered little in wins of 4-2 and 5-1 over Dallas. Kristin Cobbett and Alexandria Martinez scored three goals each, including a hat trick for Martinez in the clincher.
“We’ve worked really, really hard to be where we’re at right now,” Martinez said.
And it hasn’t been just Rickard that’s changed the makeup of the team. Colorado Select has pooled together players from all over, not just in state.
“It partly has to do with the girls hockey landscape and where it is right now,” assistant coach Eric Schlie said. “Girls that are at that level are looking for competitive hockey that suits their needs. I’m not sure if there’s enough options out there in terms of some states.
“We’re fortunate to have some of those girls when their teams disbanded, fortunate to have some of these girls to come and play for our squad.”
Even still, finding the right mix has been anything but easy.
“It was kind of hard at the beginning, but we just kind of found each other’s strength and what we were good at,” defenseman Nicole Watson said. “There were different personalities, but we made it so that we all could become one as a team.”
But it wasn’t easy, at least not early on.
One of those transplants is defenseman Lauren Power, a native of Scottsdale, Arizona, who moved to Denver to play with the team. She noted the difficulty the team suffered through, but how it also persevered.
“Even toward the middle of the season our scores didn’t show how we played,” Power said. “We were starting to come together. Even now we knew this was a big weekend and we had to come in strong.”
Said Schlie: “We’ve kind of embodied the spirit of the underdog a little bit. It’s been what you’d say a learning season, a lot of losses in terms of the scoreboard, but a lot of growth, a lot of banding together.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.