Win and get in; lose and go home.
That was the scenario Team Wisconsin faced March 19 heading into the de facto championship game for the Girls Tier I 16U title in the USA Hockey Central District Tournament at the Blue Line Family Ice Center in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin.
A loss would end their season, but a win would send Team Wisconsin to the 2017 USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships in Rochester/Macomb Michigan on April 6-10.
Standing in the way of Team Wisconsin’s Nationals dream was Chicago Mission, always among the best teams in the nation and a daunting task for Team Wisconsin. However, Wisconsin used two third-period goals to push the game into a shootout. Timely goals and solid goaltending helped Team Wisconsin eventually prevail 4-3.
The Team Wisconsin players knew that the odds of receiving an at-large bid would be slim if they fell to Mission.
“After we won state, I told the girls, ‘Let’s come into districts next weekend with the mindset that we need to control our own destiny rather than having to rely on somebody else or a conference call or anything like that,” Team Wisconsin coach Mike Sullivan said. “That’s the mindset the girls had, so it was a really good weekend of hockey.”
“I think they’re really proud of themselves to earn their way rather than hoping to get an at-large,” Sullivan said. “I think they’re playing with a lot of confidence now. The four games since we got back together after the high school season, it’s been a completely different team. They’re on a mission, I think.”
A mission, indeed. No pun intended.
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
Upsetting Mission for the title didn’t come easy. Team Wisconsin beat the St. Louis Junior Blues 6-2 on March 17 and then had a day off until they took on Chicago.
Mission jumped out to a 2-0 lead. Team Wisconsin finally broke through with a goal late in the second period, but Mission regained a two-goal lead at the start of the third.
“The girls didn’t get down, they just kept plugging away,” Sullivan said.
Team Wisconsin forward Annika Horman netted her second goal of the game and Charlotte Akervik tied it with less than five minutes remaining in regulation.
Both teams were whistled for penalties late in the third and Team Wisconsin carried over a power play into overtime. After a scoreless five-minute session, the teams went to shootout. Mission scored on their second shooter and Team Wisconsin scored on its third shooter, Hadley Malcolmson. Chicago’s fourth shooter was stopped by goalie Marie Dedert, and Horman tallied another goal to put Team Wisconsin up 2-1. The Mission’s fifth shooter missed to secure the victory for Team Wisconsin.
“They exploded off the bench,” Sullivan said. “I think it took them a second to realize what they had just accomplished. They got out on the ice and celebrated a little bit. They’re really excited.”
Team Wisconsin had played Mission four times during the regular season and lost all four matchups. With a Nationals berth on the line, apparently the fifth time was the charm.
Sullivan’s team is playing its best hockey of the season, outscoring its opponents 17-6 in the last four games. Team Wisconsin doesn’t have a flashy record at just 15-14-5, but they are clicking at the right time after a rough first half of a split season.
“In the fall, we were snake-bit,” Sullivan said. “We had trouble scoring goals, trouble scoring big goals. And we left a few wins out there. Since we’ve been back together, it’s been offense and defense. We’ve scored some timely goals and ended up getting some scoring from different kids, which is really nice to see. The D has stepped up, too.”
Team Wisconsin runs four lines and tries to keep everyone on the bench fresh. It’s a system that’s worked well.
Abigail Stow is the team’s leading scorer with 22 points (14G, 8A). Ava Kison (20 points) and Malcolmson (19 points and a team-high 14 assists) are also key scorers.
Defensively, Akervik and Mia Dunning have been solid on the back end for Team Wisconsin.
Sullivan has used a rotating-goalie arrangement all season with Dedert and Sydney McKersie combining for a .913 save percentage.
“They’ve both matured a lot from last year and they’ve both done a great job,” Sullivan said.
More than half of the players on Team Wisconsin have Nationals experience at the 14U level, so the girls know what to expect on the big stage.
“I think they’re ready to go,” Sullivan said. “This is a group that really doesn’t get nervous, which is nice to see. So I think playing in Nationals before and playing the big games they had to play leading up to the tournament, I’m hoping they’re prepared.”
Coming into Nationals as something of an underdog might help Team Wisconsin as some teams might overlook them. Not being the favorite can have its advantages.
“We’re not a Shattuck-St. Mary’s and we’re not a Mission, really,” Sullivan said. “The mindset is to go in and keep playing the way we’re playing. Like I said, it’s a completely different team than the fall, so I just hope that they keep going and keep doing what they’re doing.”
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|