They say defense wins championships.
The Madison Capitols Tier I 14U girls team certainly validated that statement at the USA Hockey Central District Tournament.
The Capitols, which have allowed just 52 goals in 48 games this season, didn’t surrender a goal in the Central District tournament in scoring two victories to bring home the title.
The Capitols upset the Chicago Young Americans (CYA) 1-0 in the de facto championship game at the Ozaukee Ice Center in Mequon, Wisconsin, on March 18.
“We don’t ever score a lot of goals, but we’re pretty stingy on D, to be quite honest with you,” Capitols coach Dan Ruoho said.
In the last 12 games, the Capitols are 9-2-1 and have let their opponents score just six goals.
A lot of credit goes to the team’s lone goalie, Paige Taborski. The freshman at Hononegah High School in Rockton, Illinois, has posted 19 shutouts this season and has a record of 29-10-9.
She brought her A-game against CYA. The Capitols scored a shorthanded goal in the second period, and that’s all Taborski needed for insurance.
The Capitols pulled off the 1-0 win over CYA, which had beaten and tied the Capitols in the regular season.
All the Capitols needed to do at the district tournament was let Taborski do her thing.
“I hate to use the word laissez-faire, but she’s just so relaxed back there sometimes,” Ruoho said. “She’s super even-keel. Occasionally, like any kid, she goes through emotional swings. But for the most part, 98 percent of the time, she is super laid back.”
Ruoho doesn’t talk to his goalie during games — he doesn’t want to disrupt what works well for Taborski. He even shies away from her during warmups.
“She came to me and said, ‘Hey, I want less shots in warmups,’” Ruoho said. “I’m like, ‘All right. Whatever.’”
Taborski, who is just 14 years old, is a self-motivated player who knows how to get herself prepared for a game.
“I think the consistency she has shown over the years is pretty amazing for a kid at that age,” Ruoho said.
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Youth Tier I
14U: Chicago Mission
15-Only: St. Louis Blues
16U: Team Wisconsin
18U: Chicago Mission
Girls Tier I
14U: Madison Capitols
16U: Chicago Mission
19U: Chicago Mission
Girls Tier II
16U: Highland Park Falcons
19U: Wisconsin Selects
Under-18 National Team Member Abbey Murphy Shines
The best player in the Central District tournament was Chicago Mission Tier I 16U skater Abbey Murphy.
The University of Minnesota commit showed why she was a member of the gold medal-winning 2018 U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team at the IIHF Under-18 Women’s World Championship.
The 16-year-old forward has phenomenal speed and stickhandling skills.
“She brings it every game,” Mission coach Rourke-Smith said. “She’s ready to go at the drop of the puck and she’s flashy and exciting to watch and can skate like the wind. She brings that every time she steps on the ice.”
Murphy, who tallied four points (2G, 2A) in her team’s two victories to qualify for nationals, has become a more well-rounded player since first starting out with the Mission at the 12U level.
“She’s always been the kid who can put the puck in the net,” Rourke-Smith said. “Now, she’s really learning the intricacies of the game and how to use other players around her, and she’s benefitting from that immensely.”
Murphy has become a phenomenal teammate with and without the puck on her stick.
“It’s a give-and-take role for a kid to be that talented; it’s not like she’s carried the team the entire year,” Rourke-Smith said. “We have 20 kids, 12 forwards, and everybody goes and everybody plays. And she can play with anybody and they all can play with her. You can tell when she’s on the ice, she’s the best player, but the teammates around her, the way she trusts to give them the puck because she knows she’ll be able to get it back.”
Rourke-Smith really enjoys watching Murphy throughout a game.
“When one of her linemates or something gets the puck and you can see she’s at full speed at the blue line, what move is she going to pull or not going to pull?” Rourke-Smith said. “When she’s on her game, it’s special to just sit back and just take it in and watch.”
Murphy’s striving to reach her goal of making Team USA for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games. Her coach believes she hasn’t reached her full potential yet as a hockey player.
“She’s willing to continue to learn and continue to grow, which makes it even more exciting to see what the future has to hold,” Rourke-Smith said. “I wouldn’t be shocked if it was four years or eight years to see Abbey Murphy wearing that jersey.”
Highland Park Heads to Nationals
The Highland Park Falcons Tier II 16U team knew it had a great shot to advance to nationals as it entered the Central District tournament as one of two teams in the age group.
The Falcons took care of business by beating the Baldwin/River Falls (Wisconsin) BlackCats 3-0 and 4-1 to win the district title.
In October, the two teams squared off with the BlackCats earning a 6-0 victory.
“I think we surprised them a little bit the first game,” Falcons coach Brian Peter said. “We certainly weren’t the same team we were when we first played them in October.”
It’s big for the Falcons program to qualify for nationals. There are three girls on the team — Jordan Moore, Abbey Triebe and Amanda Peter — who all played at 14U Nationals in 2015.
Coach Peter is relying on those veterans to help the transition to the big stage go smoothly.
“We had a conversation early in the year and then reminded everybody as we entered into the state tournament just a few weeks ago about that,” Peter said. “It’s always been something in the back of the girls’ minds because they hear what these three girls say and the experience they got and who they got to play against and all that, but they’ve always kind of kept it in check.”
Highland Park (28-11-11) is playing its best hockey of the season. In the last 15 games, the team is 12-0-3. Peter gave his group a three-week break over Christmas to relax and get healthy. That time off has paid off.
“They came back from the holidays recharged and got a whole new attitude, and they’re definitely on a roll for sure,” Peter said.
Nationals At-large Qualifiers
The following girls teams won at-large bids to represent the Central District at nationals: Tier I 14U, Chicago Young Americans, Team Wisconsin and Chicago Mission; Tier I 16U, St. Louis Lady Blues; Tier I 19U, Madison Capitols and Chicago Young Americans; Tier II 16U, Baldwin/River Falls BlackCats.