Girls hockey state preview: Nibbe boasts single-minded focusLisa Nibbe’s intense focus has helped the Wingers make it back to the Class A state tournament for the second time in three years. They play Eveleth-Gilbert, the No. 4 seed, in the quarterfinals today. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.
By: Ryan Nilsson, The Republican Eagle
If his team is down a goal late in the game, Red Wing coach Scott Haley might call a timeout and inform junior goalie Lisa Nibbe that he intends to pull her with 1 minute left on the clock so the Wingers gain an extra skater.
There’s just one problem. If Nibbe is dialed in, she isn’t aware of the time.
“I can’t even focus on anything else except for the puck,” Nibbe said. “I can’t look at faces, I can’t look at the scoreboard. The only thing I can look at is the puck sliding around on the ice.”
Nibbe’s intense focus has helped the Wingers make it back to the Class A state tournament for the second time in three years. They play Eveleth-Gilbert, the No. 4 seed, in the quarterfinals today. The puck is scheduled to drop at 8 p.m. at Xcel Energy Center.
“If you have all good goalies, the ones that have the best focus, they’re gonna be the best goalies,” Red Wing assistant coach Mike Doyle said. “Focus is so important. ... You want them to say, ‘I can’t focus on anything (but the puck).’”
One of the knocks on Nibbe is that she’s a slow starter. After Red Wing defeated Northfield 4-1 in the Section 1A finals Friday, Wingers coach Scott Haley said that if she weathers the first period then she takes off.
Nibbe said the tendency to struggle at the start of games is often because she hasn’t yet attained that unwavering focus. It takes time to develop such concentration and she said it’s not something she has control over.
“I don’t even try any more,” Nibbe said. “I can’t try to be it. Over time I just become it. ... You can’t think about it. You can’t focus on trying to be it. You just have to let it take over.”
Even if Nibbe is mentally into the game, physically she’s ailing. Nibbe was limping after the team did a few dry-land training exercises Monday at Bergwall Arena.
She has been playing with a stress fracture in her left foot for over three weeks. The injury wasn’t result of one event, but instead it was caused by how she angles her foot out every time she goes down to make a save.
Nibbe said she’s been trying to keep weight off the foot except when she’s practicing or training for hockey and that’s seemed to make a difference.
“The past few games I haven’t really noticed it,” Nibbe said. “There’s moments where it’s like, ‘Uh, tweaked it a little bit.’ Other than that the majority of the time I don’t even think about it.”
Nibbe made her mark as a freshman at the 2009 state tournament. She stopped 78 shots in three games to help Red Wing finish in third place. Nibbe was named to the all-tournament team.
Two years later, Nibbe said she’s a much-improved goaltender. She now positions herself further away from the goal to cut down the shooters’ angles. Nibbe’s also learned to handle the puck.
“When I was a freshman I didn’t play the puck at all, like at all,” Nibbe said.
It sounds like a small thing, but if Nibbe’s confident enough in herself to leave the crease and stop a puck behind the goal it can make a difference for her teammates.
“We have three defenseman and we’re very tired a lot,” junior defenseman Elle Anderson said. “So it’s a lot nicer when she can get out there and pass the puck up to us (or) stop it for us, so we don’t have to chase it around.”
Nibbe said she’s become more comfortable handling the puck because of a lot of repetitions in practice. Even though Northfield’s lone goal came by way of a first-period miscue in which Nibbe tried to steer the puck into the corner, she was back behind the net stopping pucks for the defenseman at Monday’s practice.
“I’m not (as) afraid to make mistakes anymore as I used to be because mistakes do happen,” Nibbe said.
Nibbe works hard on everything at practice, not just handling the puck, and is willing to do whatever is asked of her, Doyle said. During lulls in practice, Nibbe doesn’t stand still. She’s works by herself to get better.
The drive to improve is evident even in simple tasks like skating drills at practice.
“With all that equipment you’re just really slow, but you can tell she’s sprinting for her,” defenseman Paige Haley said. “She actually can keep up pretty well when we do stuff like that.
“When they do their warm-ups you can tell she puts everything into everything she does. She doesn’t take a day off or anything, which is something that I really like about Lisa.”