Girls Hockey: Back and fourth
A fourth-place showing at the state tournament isn't a bad way to finish up what many dubbed a rebuilding year.
Jon Holmes certainly feels that way after guiding the Farmington girls hockey team all the way to the final day of the Class AA Girls State Hockey Tournament in his first season as head coach. The Tigers, runners-up in the 2007 Class AA tournament, overcame the loss of a talented eight-member senior class to place fourth out of eight teams over the weekend at Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul.
While eighth-grade goaltender Jessica Erchul and freshman forwards Krystal Baumann and Hannah Alexander were the Tigers who ended up making the most noise on the state's biggest stage, it was the combined efforts of seniors Rachel Ripley, Heidi Hegseth, Brittany Brown, Chelsea Anderson and Kelsey Carey, as well as veteran assistant coaches Terry Holmes, Jason Kohlbeck and Shawn Anderson, who helped the team come together over the course of the season and bridge the gap to the promising future of the program.
The Tigers got off to a 5-5-1 start this winter season before marching to a 10-4 record and a runner-up finish in the Missota Conference. They suffered a lopsided 10-3 loss to undefeated league champion Holy Angels late in the season, but bounced back by earning the top seed in Section 1AA and outscoring three section opponents a combined 13-1 to qualify for state.
An opening-round, 1-0 shutout of Eagan and losses to Grand Rapids/Greenway and Cretin-Derham Hall left the team at 19-9-2 in Holmes' first season at the helm.
"We couldn't have asked for a better transition year with the group of kids we had this year. The seniors were phenomenal. The best gift they could give was to give the younger kids another shot at the state tournament," Holmes said. "This state tournament experience is going to make us that much more solid again next year and even next year we're going to be young. The five seniors did amazing wonders for our program."
Ripley alone was part of three of the 13-year program's four state tournament appearances, her first appearance coming as a seventh grader in 2003. Unfortunately, she was one of several Farmington players who battled illness over the weekend. Fellow point-scoring leader Baumann was also under the weather throughout the tournament.
"We had a few girls who just couldn't stay out there for more than 30-second shifts (against Cretin-Derham Hall)," Holmes said. "I was really proud of how the rest of the team stepped up and played the game. That's tough to do when you're missing two of your big guns."
But unlike Ripley, Baumann will get plenty more chances to play in the state tournament at full strength. Holmes believes this year's state trip has set the standard for a team that will still be viewed as young next year and the year after that. Defender Laura Dahl and goaltender Brittany Braatz will likely be the only seniors on next year's team.
"I think we were by far the youngest team at state in both classes. They've got the experience, now they can come in next year, work hard and pick up where they left off," he said. "We have really good underclassmen who can slide in physically and take the brunt of the action the seniors did."
Eden Prairie wins
Top-ranked Eden Prairie capped off its second straight state title with a 5-3 win over Grand Rapids/Greenway in Saturday's final. The Eagles finished with a 29-1-1 record and were rewarded with five players named to the all-tournament team.
Grand Rapids/Greenway opened with a 2-1 overtime win over Centennial, then scored early and often in a 5-0 shutout of Farmington in Friday night's semifinal. Eden Prairie blasted Elk River, 5-2, in the first round, and then outlasted Cretin-Derham Hall for a 1-0 overtime triumph in the semis.
Just hours after Eagan's University of Minnesota recruit Alyssa Grogan was named Goalkeeper of the year, her unassuming, 13-year-old counterpart stole the show.
Eighth grader Jessica Erchul stopped all 35 Eagan shots that came her way, stuffing a variety of odd-man rushes, slap shots and breakaways en route to her first state tournament victory between the pipes.
"We call her the Erch Factor. She's an eighth grader and it's almost like having a senior out there because she just doesn't know any better. She's out there like it's any other game and she did wonderful," Holmes said shortly after his first state tournament win. "We went in saying we were going to have to score a couple. For her to get a shutout was huge. We knew we had a good eighth grade goalie that wasn't getting the same type of press as their seniors. We knew it was going to come down to goaltending and we came out on top."
Grogan had just eight shots come her way all night, but her lone slip-up proved costly. Baumann found the net at the 10:45 mark of the first period on a pass from Sam Jensen. It was Farmington's first shot of the game.
Given the lead, Erchul never slipped up. She battled through three Eagan power plays and stopped 22 shots over the final 34 minutes to help the Tigers advance to the final four.
"I was nervous. It was probably the biggest game I've ever played. I was trying to block it out," Erchul said. "People say I look so calm out there, but I'm really just shaking."
Erchul was coming off a 4-1 Section 1AA championship game victory where she held strong despite the Tigers being out-shot 25-12 by Rochester Mayo. She picked up her seventh shutout of the season despite facing a 35-8 Eagan shot advantage.
Grand Rapids/Greenway 5,
The Lightning wasted no time finding the net in Friday's semifinal, scoring 19 seconds into the first period and rolling to their first state championship game with a 5-0 victory.
Dana Gallop scored the goal on a pass from Emily Erickson, then Erickson scored the first of her three goals on a power play less than seven minutes later. Gallop and Erickson each tacked on even-strength goals 49 seconds apart later in the period as the Lightning posted a 14-4 shot advantage and built a commanding 4-0 advantage.
"We came out flat in the first period. Our goal was to come out a little more ready right off the bat and it just didn't happen," Holmes said. "The first goal wasn't a huge problem. If anything it kind of relaxed us because we were on pins and needles the entire last game. We just didn't play our defensive zone the way we wanted to."
The Tigers improved on the offensive end enough to turn in an 18-15 shot advantage over the final two periods, but Grand Rapids/Greenway still finished with a 29-22 edge and scored the lone goal over that span. Erickson completed her hat trick with a shorthanded goal 5:54 into the third period.
"We kind of settled in a little bit and got into a routine to try to get back into it," Holmes said. "We said we had to battle back and have a goal of getting a certain amount of shots. They did it, but it was just too late."
Lightening junior goalie Jessica Havel had a perfect night, stopping all 22 Farmington shots. Erchul stopped 14 of the final 15 shots she saw and ended up with 24 saves.
Cretin-Derham Hall 3,
The Tigers continued their streak of over 140 straight minutes without a goal and fell behind 3-0 before scoring two late goals to trim the final deficit in Saturday's 3-2 consolation final loss to Cretin-Derham Hall.
Cretin-Derham Hall (16-11-4) broke a scoreless tie on an unassisted goal by Kelly Wild 3:38 into the second period. The score stayed 1-0 for the next 16-plus minutes before Katie Mancini beat Erchul to make it 2-0 early in the third period. Less than seven minutes later, an own goal was awarded to Franny Nicholson after a loose puck hit off a Farmington defender's stick and skimmed across the goal line.
Starting goaltender Lea Jondal skated off to a big ovation after saving 16 shots in 49-plus minutes of shutout hockey, but the Tigers were quick to attack against backup Amelia Knudson.
Alexander ended the long scoring drought with a goal on a pass from Anderson at the 15:48 mark, then Baumann beat the buzzer on a pass from Alexander with just over one second left. The last-ditch comeback attempt was something Holmes was pleased to see.
"They didn't give up. They played until the last second," Holmes said. "You have to give them credit for going for it."
Erchul finished with 90 saves on 98 shots in her first state appearance, a 91.83 save percentage.