Just seven months after forming a Tier II girls program, the Wisconsin Selects 16U team did the improbable.
The Selects downed the Orland Park Vikings twice to win the USA Hockey Girls Tier II 16U Central District title March 18 at the Waupun Community Center in Waupun, Wisconsin.
And with that victory comes a trip to the 2017 USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championships in Troy, Michigan, April 6-10.
In the fall, there were 79 girls who tried out for the Girls Tier I 16U Team Wisconsin with only 20 spots available. Team Wisconsin was going to start a Tier II team, but it never got off the ground. That’s when longtime coach Mike Cowan stepped in.
“I thought, you know what, we have so many kids here that are playing high school hockey that would like to do something in addition to playing for their local high school team,” said Cowan, who is the team’s general manager. “Just like our Team Wisconsin, it’s a before-and-after program.”
Cowan put out some calls to kids who didn’t make the Tier I team, and Wisconsin Selects was born.
“This district is growing and developing at the Girls Tier II level,” Central District girls director Mary Ann Robinson said.
Team Wisconsin Tier I 16U also qualified for Nationals by winning its two district games.
“We’ve got a pretty good group of girls at that age level,” Cowan said.
Wisconsin Selects earned a 1-0 victory in the opening district game against the Vikings and then beat them 3-1 the next day. Selects trailed 1-0 late in the third period and thought they might have to play a winner-take-all game the next day in the best-of-three format; however, Wisconsin tallied three goals to pull out the victory.
“The Vikings have been to the tournament in the past and they were very good,” Cowan said.
The majority of the players on Selects will be making their first trip to Nationals. A couple of the girls advanced at Tier I 14U last season.
Girls Tier I
14U: Chicago Mission
16U: Team Wisconsin
19U: Chicago Mission
Girls Tier II
14U: Wisconsin BlackCats
16U: Wisconsin Selects
19U: Omaha Lady Jr. Lancers
BlackCats Headed to Nationals
Another Wisconsin team started a Girls Tier II program this year at 14U, the Wisconsin BlackCats. And just like Selects, the BlackCats are headed to Nationals.
The BlackCats took down Glenview 4-0 and 4-1 to qualify.
“It’s super exciting,” BlackCats coach Mike DeLong said. “I don’t think most of the kids know the impact and the groundwork they laid out there. But it’s exciting stuff. I think they’re all fired up after the weekend. They’ve worked hard, and it’s a fun group of kids.”
DeLong said putting together the BlackCats, which are based in Baldwin, Wisconsin (population 4,000), was a couple years in the making. The program wanted to offer more players the opportunity to play higher-level hockey in addition to their high school schedule and give the girls a shot at making Nationals.
“I think it was a combination of the kids in western Wisconsin, I don’t think a lot of them wanted to do a ton of traveling and that kind of stuff,” DeLong said. “Good hockey players, but they’re involved in multiple sports. And so having a lot of commitment and a lot of stuff outside their regular hockey season was kind of difficult, and so they still wanted to be involved in other sports and still be involved in hockey.”
The BlackCats (13-2-2) don’t have any players who have played on the national stage previously, but DeLong doesn’t think playing against the high caliber of competition at Nationals will faze his girls.
“They’ve played a lot of hockey,” DeLong said. “In the past, we’ve played quite a few Minnesota schools and we’ve done some of their events, given our close proximity. And we’ve played Wisconsin programs and we took a trip to Chicago last fall and played a couple teams down there. It’s definitely a different level and a different atmosphere, but they’ve got their heads on right.”
Blues Girls Tier I 14U Earns At-Large Bid
The St. Louis Junior Blues Girls Tier I 14U team has a great rivalry with the Chicago Mission.
The two teams squared off March 18 in a de facto championship game in the Central District tournament, and Mission earned a 3-1 victory to move on to Nationals. However, the Blues earned an at-large spot in the national tournament after a strong year.
It helped that the Blues played a grueling schedule all season. Coach Tom Lange said it was among the hardest schedules at 14U in all of North America.
“You look at our record and you’re like, ‘They’re only 13-17-5,’” Lange said. “Well, it’s because we played the top five teams in Canada every time we were in Canada, and we played everybody in the top 10 in the United States multiple times. You don’t get to pick your schedule, but we’re happy the way the schedule laid out. It tested our girls all year long.”
Lange believes that tough schedule will pay huge dividends at Nationals.
“Last year, we weren’t expected to make it [to Nationals],” Lange said. “We were like a 12-seed and we kind of had to win our way in, and we ran the table. They got a taste of it last year. This year, I think it’s good because I feel their confidence is where it needs to be, but it’s not too high and it’s not too low.”
Out of the team’s 13 victories, eight have been 1-0 or 2-0 shutouts.
“We’re a very defensive-minded team just like the Blues are,” Lange said. “We win a lot of one-goal games or 1-0 games. We’re built from the back end out.”
The Blues beat the Milwaukee Junior Admirals in the opening game of districts to set up the showdown with Mission. St. Louis had defeated Chicago 1-0 in the regular season and the teams tied 2-2 more recently. Mission led 2-1 in the final until scoring an insurance goal with three minutes remaining to pull out a 3-1 victory.
“It was a good refreshment point for our girls, even though we just played them a week ago,” Lange said. “It resets their expectations and balances thinking, we just beat them twice.”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.
|Youth Tier I (14U)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (15-year-olds only)||Scottsdale, Arizona||Arizona Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier I (16U, 18U)||Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania||Pittsburgh Penguins Elite||April 6-10, 2017|
|Girls Tier I||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Women's A, B, C||Rochester/Macomb, Michigan||HoneyBaked Hockey Club||April 6-9, 2017|
|High School||Cleveland, Ohio||Cleveland Suburban Hockey||March 22-26, 2017|
|Girls Tier II||Troy, Michigan||Troy Youth Hockey Association||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (14U)||Coral Springs, Florida||Florida Panthers Ice Den||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (16U)||Frisco, Texas||Texas Amateur Hockey||April 6-10, 2017|
|Youth Tier II (18U)||Lansing, Michigan||Lansing Hockey Club||April 6-10, 2017|
|Sled||San Jose, California||Sharks Ice||April 6-9, 2017|
|Adult Rec Men's||Wesley Chapel, Florida||Florida Hospital Center Ice||April 20-23, 2017|
|Adult Rec Women's||Ellenton, Florida||Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex||April 27-30, 2017|