The Minnesota Green Giants came within one win of qualifying for the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls Tier I 14U National Championship Tournament a year ago in their debut season.
The Green Giants made sure to take that step in their second chance, becoming one of the first teams to earn a nationals berth this season.
“We were basically one goal away from going to Scottsdale,” Green Giants coach Al Blomker said. “We actually had a rematch against the team that got to go last year, and this time, we were fortunate enough to go.”
The Green Giants have known they were headed to nationals since Oct. 8 when they won the USA Hockey Minnesota District title before splitting up to go their separate ways for the winter high school and youth seasons in Minnesota.
“We are in sort of a unique situation compared to some teams around the country that are together all year,” Blomker said. “We’re together in the fall for three months, then we leave, then we get back together for a month and a half and hope to put together a team that can gel that quick by April.”
As of early March, the team had reunited to begin practicing again to prepare for its April nationals trip to Marlborough, Massachusetts, but Blomker was still checking into arranging a possible game and determining his scrimmage options during that preparation time.
“All of these kids went back and played in their communities, either high school hockey or in a youth program,” Blomker said of the time after Minnesota’s Tier I fall season is completed. “A lot of these girls wound up in our state tournaments, both at the high school and at the youth level.”
Blomker said 13 of the 20 players were on the high school level and seven of them reached the Minnesota State High School League state tournament with Andover High School. Peyton Hemp, a freshman who is already committed to the University of Minnesota, is one of the Andover players on the Green Giants. Hemp had 10 points in six high school postseason games.
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14U: Shattuck St. Mary's
15-Only: Blue Ox
16U: Shattuck St. Mary's
18U: Shattuck St. Mary's
18U: Moose 18U
14U: Green Giants
16U: Shattuck St. Mary's
19U: Shattuck St. Mary's
The Green Giants, based in the northern suburbs of the Twin Cities and representing Minnesota Hockey’s District 10, followed up winning the Minnesota Hockey High Performance League playoffs the week before, improving their overall record to 15-1.
Madelyn Christian scored two goals in a 4-0 district championship game win over the Polars, who represented Districts 3 and 5 of Minnesota. Tyra Turner and Madison Kaiser had the other goals.
With Hannah Skavnak in net for both games, the Green Giants allowed just one goal in the Minnesota District games, beating the Blue Ox, 12-1, in the semifinals.
Hailey Hansen split time with Skavnak at goalie through the rest of the season.
“As a team, we just do a very good job of making the simple plays,” said Blomker. “Goaltending is very good for us and our forwards, our back pressure, when they come back, they help out tremendously. We have great speed up front and it’s really hard for teams, when they do gain control through the neutral zone, a lot of times, we’re catching them by our blue line.”
That speed also allows the Green Giants to have several offensive weapons.
Gabby Krause, who also averaged more than an assist per game, and Hemp each averaged more than goal per game for the Green Giants during the regular season.
Hemp had three goals and two assists in four postseason games while Krause had two goals and five assists. Kaiser scored six goals and assisted on another between the league and district playoff weekends.
Summer Francis played in the Class AA girls state high school championship game with Centennial High School.
Kaiser came up one game short of the Youth AA 14U state final playing with a boys’ team.
“We definitely have some very good hockey players from our district on this team,” Blomker said.
While the Green Giants are new to the national scene, the Minnesota District again will be represented in girls play by the Shattuck-St. Mary’s School teams on the two older Tier I levels.
The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep team is the two-time defending national champion on the 19U level and has won seven titles in 13 years.
The boarding school’s 16U team had a streak of four national titles end last year and has won five of the last eight national championships on that level.
Maggie Connors, a sophomore forward from St. Louis, was the team’s leading scorer at last year’s nationals. She is second on this year’s team with 21 goals and 42 assists.
The Shattuck-St. Mary’s Prep team started with 13 straight wins and was unbeaten through 17. It takes a 38-9-2 record into a weekend series.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc