Alexandria girls' hockey: Hard to say goodbye
Tears ran down the face of Alexandria senior captain Shanee Herd as she and head coach Andy Shriver slowly made their way back to a somber locker room at Ridder Arena in Minneapolis last Thursday.
That's how quickly emotions can change when an entire season, and for some girls, a career, comes down to one game. Herd and the rest of her teammates were euphoric about an hour earlier after building a 2-0 lead over Mound-Westonka. But the White Hawks would rally for three unanswered goals to eventually win 3-2 in overtime. Just like that, the reality of a special season being over immediately sank in.
"We gave it our all and there's nothing else we can do," Herd said. "We told [the other girls], we're crying because we're done with this team. As seniors, this has been the tightest group I've ever played with. We're a family and that's why we're so sad. It's sad that it's over, not that we lost."
Alexandria left everything it had on the ice against a team that had beaten the Cardinals 6-3 during the regular season. Shelby Iverson got her team on the board just 22 seconds into the second period on a nice move that set her up with an open net. Junior forward Melissa Drown then made it 2-0 with a breakaway goal at the 7:24 mark.
Mound-Westonka simply chipped away from there. Senior Jessica Nkhata got it started with 2:29 left in the period on a goal that definitely gave this team some life heading into the locker room. Eighth grader Liz Schepers then brought the Night Hawks all the way back with a goal 8:21 into the third.
Nkhata proved to be the hero for her team in the overtime. Mound-Westonka was on a power play when she positioned herself in front of the net and hammered away at a loose puck. That's all it comes down to sometimes as the White Hawks celebrated the win and the right to play in the consolation championship this past weekend.
"All I could see from where I was were bodies and motion," Shriver said. "Eventually, it went in. I lost sight of the puck about five seconds before it went in, so yeah, it was just pandemonium."
Shriver was proud of the character his team showed both on the ice and in the locker room after the game. He said the first ones to talk were his two senior captains, Iverson and Herd. They thanked their teammates and were already talking about the opportunities the returning players have in front of them next winter.
"It's not human-nature to be that composed and to be that poised," Shriver said. "That's just something that's a hallmark of those seniors, not just the captains, but all six of them. Our juniors, sophomores, freshmen and 8th graders all think that's how you're supposed to be, which is awesome. That's the legacy that those seniors left."
They will leave having helped this team improve by six wins from last season. Their 19-8-2 record is the program's most wins since the Cardinals went 27-1-2 on their way to winning a Class A state title in 2008.
"Since this team was so close and so talented, it was easy and really fun to get to know all these little girls and older girls," Iverson said. "It was definitely the best team that we've been on, and we're just excited that we made it to state and that we had an amazing team. It's just going to be hard to leave."
Both captains and Shriver believe there is plenty to build on going forward. Freshman Amy Jost got her first two state-tournament starts and showed a glimpse of the potential the Cardinals have in net. She kept Alexandria in the game with 33 saves against the White Hawks.
"I think she'll look back on this game, hopefully in future tournaments, and be able to call on things that she learned in both games down here this week," Shriver said. "It was definitely a good experience for Amy."
A strong young nucleus on offense and defense also got their feet wet at the varsity level this season. The emotions of this coming to an end were still raw for the seniors who had to say goodbye to those teammates after the loss. But the fact that saying goodbye was so hard likely says good things about the players responsible for leading this program in the years to come.
"I think they're going to be good," Iverson said. "They're going to be talented, and they just got to keep their heads up, not look down on little things and just keep moving forward because they do have a lot of talent in that locker room. Hopefully they can pull through like we did this year."
MOUND-WESTONKA 0 1 1 1 - 3
ALEXANDRIA 0 2 0 0 - 2
SHOTS - M-W - 8, 14, 10, 4 - 36; Alexandria - 11, 9, 10, 5 - 35
FIRST PERIOD - No scoring
SECOND PERIOD - Alexandria - Iverson (Herd), 0:22; Alexandria - Drown (Nicole Bartels), 7:24; M-W - Nkhata (Abby Brustad), 14:31
THIRD PERIOD - M-W - Schepers (Mackenzie Kratch), 8:21
OVERTIME - M-W - Nkhata (Schepers, Brustad), 7:09
GOALTENDING - M-W - Emma Polusny - W, 33 saves, 35 shots; Alexandria - Jost - L, 33 saves, 36 shots