Girls Hockey: Red Wing rises, state tournament next
OWATONNA – For years, the neutral-zone trap assaulted offenses throughout professional hockey. On Thursday, the same defensive system that the NHL has tried to leave behind made a cameo at the Four Seasons Center in Owatonna.
New Prague clogged the space between the blue lines, and then collapsed to the goal crease, trying to keep Red Wing from gaining any kind of speed, or getting any open looks at the net.
It took some quick thinking, and a mid-game adjustment, but for the fourth-straight season, the Wingers will represent Section 1 at the Class A girls state hockey tournament. Red Wing, who will be making their fifth-overall state appearance, beat Missota Conference rival New Prague, 6-3.
“They ran some systems that gave us fits at times,” said Red Wing head coach Scott Haley. “This isn’t the NHL, the kids don’t know how to break out against a trap. That takes a while. It appeared that’s what they were going to.”
For the Trojans, it was a tactic they had to try. In two regular season games, the Wingers outscored New Prague, 11-3.
“They didn’t want to get into a track meet with us. And to their credit, that was their solution,” Haley said. “It was just smart on their part. We tried to make the adjustment right away when we saw that. We haven’t worked on it. Once we saw it, the kids did a pretty solid job breaking the puck out of the zone.”
The Wingers got on the board twice in the first period to take a 2-0 lead into the first intermission. Caitie Turcotte scored 4 minutes, 15 seconds into the contest, and Reagan Haley followed with a power-play tally at 13:35.
The Trojans would not go down 9-1 like they did last year in the same game. Instead, New Prague answered with a pair of power play goals at 0:23 and 2:23 of the second period.
More than seven minutes later, Hailee Johnson would blast a slap shot from the blue line to break the tie. Then, at 13:15, Nicole Schammel sniped the top of the net to give the Wingers some breathing room heading into the second intermission.
Yet New Prague would not give in. The Trojans scored at 3:24 of the third to put one last scare into Red Wing before Schammel scored at 7:39 and 8:52 to put the game away.
But the trap New Prague showed early, as well as its power-play prowess, gave the Wingers more than fits on the ice. It caused an unusual feeling in the pits of their stomachs.
“We were kind of freaking out,” said Emily Stegora. “But I’m just glad that we won it. Once we got two goals ahead (in the third), that was such a big relief, all the pressure off our shoulders.”
The pressure was relieved thanks in large part to a team that has pretty much seen it all over the past few seasons.
“I think we responded well to adversity in that game. And the third period was ours,” said Schammel, who, earlier in the day, was named one of five finalists for the Ms. Hockey award.
Schammel’s goal-scoring ability has been lauded for years, but it was on display again, and right when her team needed it the most. Her second goal was scored straddling the goal line, wrists working overtime to thread the puck through defenders and goaltender alike. The hat-trick goal was a classic weave through the defense, stick handling casting a pall over the New Prague faithful lining the glass.
“Those were pretty goals,” Haley said. “We’re very fortunate. She was quiet for the first half of the game. But our big players, her and Reagan, really stepped up tonight. They didn’t seem nervous at all, and that gives the rest of the kids a lot of confidence.”
Where that confidence takes the Wingers is anyone’s guess. Red Wing, ranked third in the final poll, will find out its first-round opponent Saturday. But before the state tournament comes around with Wednesday’s opening games, there was a pile of pizza and a long bus ride back home, gold medals once again in hand. And, for at least three seniors, it’s the sweetest section title in a half-decade of dominance.
“It definitely is,” Johnson said. “After all those years, they’ve all been fun. But this is definitely the best. I’m excited to see what happens, especially with Emily and Nicole by my side.”