MARLBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s hard enough to win six games in five days, let alone the equivalent of seven, but that’s the challenge Chicago Mission faced Monday after needing three overtimes to vanquish Mid Fairfield in yesterday’s Girls Tier I 16U national quarterfinals. On top of that, Mission was fighting history, too, having never won a national championship at the Girls Tier I 16U level.
But despite those odds, it can finally be said: Mission accomplished.
Clara Zubor and Jayna Park scored first-period goals and goaltender Samantha Steciak stopped 17 of 18 shots to lead Mission past Selects Academy at Bishop Kearney 2-1 in USA Hockey’s Girls Tier I 16U national championship game.
“We used every single person today. Everybody was engaged. Everybody played,” said Erin Rourke, Chicago Mission head coach. “That was my favorite part.”
And while U.S. Under-18 Women’s National Team gold medalist Abbey Murphy, the tournament’s leading goal-scorer, was her typically involved self, it was contributions from teammates less frequently in the spotlight that provided Mission’s winning margin.
“Kaitlyn Ehmann, Jayna Park and Claire Hickey, they’re almost like our checking line and they never stopped. They never stopped all game long,” said Rourke. “They shut the other team down and it was perfect.”
That trio also combined on Chicago’s eventual game-winning goal, a rebound whacked in through a cluster of sticks after a determined drive to the net with three minutes remaining in the first period. Selects Academy stretched for an equalizer, but it never came thanks to Mission’s relentless – and evidently tireless – efforts.
“Every practice we have, we skate. And we skate and we skate. And ironically, whenever we have to win anything, like a state tournament or the national tournament, we skate and we skate harder, like we’re going up a mountain,” said Rourke. “So the kids knew coming out here that they were in the best shape they’ve been in all year. They were ready to play this.
“We’ve been counting down for 13 games. If we wanted to win it, we needed to win 13 games and now we’ve got none left and it’s perfect.”
Coming into Monday’s finale, Rourke reminded her team about all that skating and its purpose.
“I told them that this exact moment is why we did it,” she said.
And now Mission, which arrived as the tournament’s top seed, can finally celebrate skating away from it as the No. 1 team as well.