Two years ago, the Wisconsin Selects girls hockey program was created.
In its first season, the lone team — at Tier II 16U — advanced to nationals and got all the way to the semifinals.
Now in its second season, the program added a Tier II 19U team. That group is taking a similar path to its predecessor. The Selects 19U squad won all three of its games at the USA Hockey Central District Tournament at the Ozaukee Ice Center in Mequon, Wisconsin, on March 16 and 17.
With that comes a berth in the Chipotle-USA Hockey Nationals in Marlborough, Massachusetts, April 5 to 9.
“I couldn’t be more proud of these girls,” Selects coach Sarah Krebs said. “The type of team that they are and their willingness to win and work hard is fantastic. They showed up when they needed to, and as a coach you couldn’t be more proud of that.
“They all played their hearts out. It was definitely a team-earned bid to nationals.”
Krebs, who coached the 16U team at nationals last year, isn’t surprised her 19U team will be competing at nationals in its first season. The Selects (17-8) is a split-season team, so after competing for three months throughout the fall, the players went their separate ways to their high school teams. Now, they’re back together for a run at nationals.
“Watching their development from where they’ve come from in the fall to now is pretty good,” Krebs said. “Kudos to the high school coaches. I wouldn’t say it’s a surprise, but we’re very pleased with their development and their work ethic and always wanting to win. That helps if you have a group that wants it.”
About half the players from this year’s 19U team were on last year’s 16U squad that went to nationals. It should help the Selects to have that big-game experience.
“We do have a little bit of experience at the national level, just a year, but most of the girls are familiar with it,” Krebs said. “Just to say the program has been to the national tournament for the last two years is fantastic. It helps grow the game; it brings awareness to the rest of the girls in the state. Hopefully we can build off of it and continue to build the numbers and continue with the success.”
Krebs, who played college hockey at Mercyhurst, feels it’s advantageous that half her team played in nationals last year.
“Having that experience just from a coaching aspect is good because they know kind of what it takes to get there, what it takes to compete at that level,” Krebs said. “The expectations for us, half of you have been there, this is what we expect on the ice. Give it 110 [percent] every day.”
The Selects had very little difficulty running the table during the Central District tournament. The girls beat the Omaha Lady Junior Lancers, 4-1, and then downed the St. Louis Lady Cyclones by the same score. In the final game of districts, the Selects defeated the Naperville Sabres 5-1.
It was a well-rounded effort by the Selects to punch their ticket to nationals.
“In the fall season, our biggest issue was trying to find the back of the net,” Krebs said. “This past weekend, they actually were able to capitalize on a couple of chances, which really helped us. Defensively, we had two strong goalies that, when called upon, got the job done. Keeping it simple really helped and going back to basics.”
The players hadn’t skated together since early November, so Krebs got the team a practice day to prepare for the district tournament. The team also scrimmaged an in-state 16U level program to get some game action under their belts.
“We worked out the kinks at the scrimmage, because when we hopped on the ice at Central Districts they looked fantastic, liked they’d played all year together,” Krebs said. “They passed the puck well, they supported each other — both on the ice and on the bench.”
Even though the Selects played just 22 games together in the fall, the girls became a tight unit. The closeness of the players intensified during their time apart.
“It’s nice with technology now, they’re all in group chats and Snapchat,” Krebs said. “You get them together for a weekend, and they become really good friends. It’s tough with high school girls — it’s hard to get 15-16 girls all on the same page and not trying to fight each other and do all that. Our girls are great. They’ve come together and they’ve become really good friends. It’s definitely carrying over on the ice, which is helpful.”
Even though it’s the 19U team’s first year, don’t tell Krebs and her players they should be happy to just be at nationals. They want to make some noise while they are on the East Coast.
“Everybody wants to win a national championship,” Krebs said. “I just expect them to see some good hockey, some hard-working games. It’s not going to come easy, the girls are going to have to work for it. I’ve always told the girls, ‘If you work hard and show up on a daily basis and are consistent, good things happen. You’ve got to work for it. You’ve got to earn it.’”
Story from Red Line Editorial, Inc.