PLYMOUTH, Minn. — After losing a chance to represent Minnesota in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Girls 19U Nationals, Mackenzie Miller of the Minnesota Green team in the state’s Premier Prep girls league lamented a season that wouldn’t get the chance to reconvene.
The Premier Prep League in Minnesota features a fall schedule with eight teams from the state playing others in the region before the girls separate for the winter of playing with their high school teams. In some cases, they are able to get back together once the high school season ends and play in some of USA Hockey’s national tournaments.
But Miller’s team fell short and the Premier Prep League’s top team would represent the state at the 19U national championships in Massachusetts.
The disappointment faded when USA Hockey created a girls division for its national high school championships. Being held in Plymouth, Minnesota, Miller and her team had another chance to reunite.
“When we lost to go to Boston, I was very, very sad and these girls were sad,” Miller said after her team beat a second Minnesota team in the national high school championships being held at the Plymouth Ice Center. “We were able to pull the team together and every single one of my players said yes, and that doesn’t happen very often, right? We’re in spring break right now, too.
“For the high school division to be added to this, it’s a great opportunity for these players to be able to play at this level.”
With the girls division added to the USA Hockey High School Nationals for the first time, Minnesota has two teams in the tournament. The ability to feature two teams — which are comprised of athletes from around the state — is a testament to the depth in the state’s girls’ programs.
The winner of the Minnesota Elite League is participating in USA Hockey’s Girls Tier I 19U tournament in Massachusetts. Two Premier Prep Minnesota teams are here at USA Hockey High School Nationals and another team of similar-aged Minnesota girls will participate in the America’s Showcase event in St. Louis next month. And Miller’s team took the first steps to a possible high school national championship by beating the Minnesota Premier Prep Black team Thursday to open the tournament.
“I think it’s incredible,” said Jessica Christopherson, a team manager for the Minnesota teams, one of the organizers of the Premier Prep League and the Wayzata High School coach. “To be in a Tier II league with eight teams and cut another 100 kids or so, I think, really speaks to the depth of our talent pool (in Minnesota).
“It’s just a great experience. We try to give them a good mix of development and competition, and now they get a taste of national competition as well. It’s great for our program and obviously it’s great notoriety for our program. But I think it’s even better for the kids to get outside their comfort zone a little bit.”
Minnesota Green beat Minnesota Black 3-0 behind goals from Ashtyn Wiltscheck, Sophie Stoffers and Ali Beltz. Emily Sabol had two assists, while goaltender Rachel Miller made 22 saves in the shutout. Minnesota Black bounced back the next day, beating Monarch (Colorado) by a 5-3 count that kept both Minnesota teams in contention for the title.
There wasn’t much preparation time for the Minnesota teams before the high school national championships began Thursday.
The Minnesota State High School League season ended two weeks earlier and the teams had only one spring practice before playing their first game of the tournament.
Familiarity from the fall helps, as does the high school season where many of the players often face off against each other on competing teams.
“It’s a little strange playing with them, but you have a lot of memories from playing against them,” said forward Sydney Paulsen. “We had one practice and I thought we were connecting right away off the bat.”
The new format for USA Hockey, and the depth of talent in Minnesota, leads to even more opportunities for the girls to connect.
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.