Girls Hockey: Seniors say goodbye, Wingers move on
Everything about Saturday’s Section 1A semifinal was familiar. There were the fireworks at the beginning, the methodical dissection in the middle, the accelerated clock at the end, and the emotional breakdown that followed yet another victory.
OK, maybe the crying was out of the ordinary. But it was not out of place.
Following an 8-0 masterpiece of a victory over Winona, Red Wing seniors Nicole Schammel, Emily Stegora and Hailee Johnson all collected points in the first period, then stood on the ice together in front of a strong home crowd for the last time. As the three slowly made their way off the Prairie Island Arena ice, applause followed. There is at least one more game for the Winger trio, possibly four. But perhaps no exit meant as much to this small group as Saturday’s last step off their home sheet.
“I just can’t believe it happened so fast,” Stegora said, fighting back trembling tears. “All of it went by so fast. I just can’t believe it’s over so far.”
Said Schammel: “You grow up here playing youth hockey and all the way through high school, you can’t believe that it’s over. I think that us three as a group have held it together pretty well this year with all of our emotions. Last night I started thinking about it, that it’s our last game here. I started to get teary-eyed about it. It doesn’t feel like it is. But, today, we were like ‘Last time doing this, last time doing that.’ It’s sad. But we’re thankful for all the support we’ve had from the fans.
“I mean, it’s pretty amazing how many people from our town come out to support a girl’s hockey team. That doesn’t happen very often many other places. It’s really fun to see the support, and it’s been an honor to play in front of this crowd for six years.”
Schammel wasted little time in getting the fans involved, scoring 34 seconds into the game. Johnson would assist on the goal, along with Reagan Haley, and then score one of her own 10 minutes later, with Haley and Stegora helping out.
The second period belonged to the future as the second line provided the thrills. Sophomore Maddy Hardyman scored twice in the middle frame, complementing goals from juniors Katelyn Hadler and Kayla Oberding. The goals that came from the second unit were well deserved as the line consistently held the offensive zone.
Then the third period came about, and the seniors once again took the stage.
Schammel scored 5:11 into the third on an assist from Stegora. The two future Division I athletes connected again at 9:06 to give Schammel her third of the game, giving fans – especially the student section – every reason to part with their headgear.
Asked how many paying customers have given up on hat because of her prolific scoring over the years, Schammel laughed.
“A lot, I guess,” she said. And, no, they don’t truck the hats to her house.
While it would make for a fantastic end to the season, Red Wing must turn its attention to New Prague and the section final Thursday in Owatonna. But there is little worry that a team led by three seniors used to the big stage is ready for a game that will determine the section’s state entrant.
“That’s one good thing about these girls, most of them have been around with us for quite a while. They know the routine, they know what to do,” said Dan Anderson, who was acting-head coach with Scott Haley out of town on a business trip.
Schammel, Stegora and Johnson indeed know what to do. A victory on Thursday will punch a ticket to the state tournament. But as many smiles as a win would produce, it would be yet another step toward the end of an era, a span of a half-decade that passed by in the blink of an eye.
“It was really crazy how fast it went. This season just flew by,” Johnson said of her final home game. “I don’t think it’s hit me yet. But it will when I’m not playing here anymore. It was a good game to end on. It was really exciting. (We had) lots of energy, so that was good.”