BLAINE, Minn. -- A year ago, the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite 14U girls’ hockey team accomplished something they dubbed #ShockTheNation.
They’re hoping the shock hasn’t worn off quite yet.
“We really shocked the nation by going to the championship game,” said forward Lora Clarke. “It was an amazing experience.”
The Penguins team finished as the runner-up to the Boston Jr. Eagles at last year’s nationals. Taking the title back to Pittsburgh is the goal this weekend at the Toyota-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 14U National Championships in Minnesota.
“Last year, we didn’t have a lot of expectations coming in,” said coach Kate Binnie. “We were sort of very much the underdogs, and I think shocked a lot of people.”
So shocking, that it spurred a personal hashtag for the team, #ShockTheNation. They slapped the slogan on some T-shirts that they’ve worn throughout this season.
“It’s a nice reminder, nice motivation,” said defenseman Chayla Edwards.
That motivation is to win it all this year.
Both Edwards and Clarke acknowledged the excitement of that championship game, even if the result wasn’t what they wanted.
“It was fun to play in that championship game, and it really sucked losing,” Clarke said.
Their defensive play hit the spotlight, as they didn’t give up a goal all tournament — that is, until the final period of the championship game. They lost 2-1.
So far, the 2016 tournament was off to a similar start for them. The Penguins beat the Anaheim Lady Ducks 2-0 Thursday morning. Their top line of Hannah Bilka, Kaitlyn O’Donohoe and Clarke came up with the offense. O’Donohoe scored just 3:51 into the game on the power play. They held that lead with dominant offensive zone play, and Clarke iced the victory with 47 seconds left in the third. Bilka tallied the assists on each goal.
Holding a 1-0 lead throughout the game wasn’t exactly the game plan; they wanted more production from the offense, Binnie said.
“We had a lot of chances, we just couldn’t finish,” she said.
Even in the third period, the Penguins didn’t get that last goal until the very end. But they buzzed around the Lady Ducks’ zone for most of that period trying hard to extend the lead.
Focusing on that game-long intensity is something they need to keep working on, so that they play hard the entire game, Clarke said.
“We try to work together as much as we can,” Edwards said. “Not too much individual work.”
Binnie was pleased with the team’s defense and hopes to “clean up” the offensive zone play to generate more traffic and more rebounds.
They are a team with speed and can feed off their top-line’s offense. It all starts in a team’s own end though.
“Our D can rush the puck and can transition us up the ice,” Binnie said. “We’ve really relied on them as a unit this year. They start our offense.”
Arriving at the national championships with about half of its roster from the runner-up team, Pittsburgh knows there’s more pressure to perform, advance and do well.
“They’re going to have to rise to that expectation,” Binnie said. “I think they’re excited to do it.
“How they’re going to deal with that, we’ll see. So far, so good.”
They know it’s not going to be easy, Edwards said. She and Clarke have tried to keep their teammates in check, however. The girls like to goof around when they’re not on the ice, and sometimes that carries over to the rink, too, Clarke said.
“We had to tell them: This is nationals. You can’t fool around,” Clarke said.
The Penguins may have shocked the nation last year. But things change quickly.
“This year, we’re, in a way, expected to win,” Clarke said.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.