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Girls hockey: Two Class A powers collide in opener as United bests Alexandria

Alexandria freshman Hanley Block gets to a loose puck and heads up the ice during the first period of Saturday's season opener against St. Paul United. Block had a goal and an assist in the game for the Cardinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)1 / 5
Alexandria sophomore Marki Oberg gets to a puck behind the net during Saturday's season opener against St. Paul United at the Runestone Community Center. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)2 / 5
Alexandria's Alexis Heckert (front) and Anna Doherty (7) fight for the puck with two St. Paul United players during the second period of United's 5-2 win over the Cardinals. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)3 / 5
Alexandria junior Meg Shercliffe prepares for the faceoff during Saturday's season opener against St. Paul United. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)4 / 5
St. Paul United senior Catherine Kerin scores on a penalty shot against Alexandria freshman Hailee Bailey during Saturday's 5-2 win for United at the RCC. (Eric Morken / Echo Press)5 / 5

The Alexandria girls hockey program has not shied away from scheduling quality opponents outside of the conference and section in prior years, and the Cardinals wasted no time sticking to that plan this season.

Alexandria hosted perennial-power St. Paul United for the opener on Saturday afternoon in a rematch of a 3-2 win for the Cardinals during last year’s Class A state quarterfinals. This time around, United enacted a little revenge by jumping out to a 3-0 lead and cruising to a 5-2 win.

“You got to be able to play with the best to be the best,” Alexandria head coach Molly Arola said. “We might as well start out strong. I’m very glad we had them the first game. I’m excited to see how we regroup and come back next week.”

Both these programs make consistent appearances at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, so whichever team got a win would get a nice jumpstart to its season.

United did not waste time setting the tone as Catherine Kern got one past Alexandria freshman goaltender, Hailee Bailey, for a 1-0 lead in the first. St. Paul added two more by the end of the period after a turnover by Bailey trying to clear the puck helped Sammie Sabin make it a 2-0 game. Jenna Hoops then got free on a breakaway and went to her backhand right before the first intermission.

“We definitely had some high parts and some low parts,” Alexandria senior captain Alexis Heckert said. “It just kind of showed us where we need to get stronger and parts that we can focus on that we did good.”

Arola said the biggest takeaway from this one is that the Cardinals have a lot to learn.

“There’s nothing wrong with that,” she said. “We lost a great group last year. We got a young group moved up this year. That’s the best part about it, we got to see some of our weaknesses tonight. We got to see a little about our character and how we battled back through some of it. It was a tough game, but I’m hopeful and we just have to continue to move forward.”

It was the younger players who did the scoring for Alexandria on Saturday. Freshman Kaci Trosvig got a goal in the second period to make it a 4-1 game, while fellow freshman Hanley Block and sophomore Marki Oberg earned assists on the play.

During a 5-1 game in the third, Block got a goal for herself. With just four seniors on this team in Heckert, Olivia Kopp, McKenna Ellingson and Erin O’Kane, a lot will be asked of a large group of underclassmen that includes six freshmen and three sophomores on the initial varsity roster.

“We asked them to come up for a reason,” Arola said. “They made the tryout for a reason, and so we’re expecting the same exact thing out of them as we do of our returners. That consistency, that work ethic and attitude, that kind of Cardinal hockey. The expectations are the same for everybody across the board. We look forward to watching our younger group grow.”

The Cardinals saw some positives against United. They outshot St. Paul 27-16. Now it’s a matter of getting some more quality looks and converting on those chances.

“I think we’re going to come out strong every game, but I think when we look at ourselves now and look at ourselves at the end of the year, we’re going to see how the connection has gotten us so much better,” Heckert said. “We’re going to be a good team either way, but once we have that chemistry, we’re going to be even better.”

Both Arola and Heckert talked about the importance of building that chemistry with some girls playing with different linemates.

They believe the more this group plays together, the better they will get as the season goes on. Overall, expectations have not changed for an Alexandria program that has made 13 state tournaments, including six straight after taking third in Class A a year ago.

“Make it to state of course is our hope every single year, and it is this year again,” Heckert said.

The Cardinals will now head on the road on Tuesday night at 7:30 in Moorhead to face another good test against a Class AA Spuds team.

Eric Morken

Eric Morken is the sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press and Osakis Review newspapers in Douglas County, MN. Follow him on Twitter at echo_sports.

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