Hockey: Alexandria girls ready as they'll ever be heading into a balanced Section 8AA tournament on Saturday
The Cardinals overcame a slow start to cruise to a 6-1 win over Bemidji on Tuesday night, capping off a 9-3 finish to the season after the calendar turned to 2022.
ALEXANDRIA — The Alexandria girls hockey team had some growing pains through the first half of the season with a team that started 4-7-1 through Dec. 29.
Through all of that, the process remained consistent for this group. Gain experience, learn from wins and losses and be playing their best by season’s end.
The Cardinals (13-10-1) have gone 9-3 in 2022 after finishing off the regular season with a 6-1 win over Bemidji (4-19-2) on Tuesday night. That strong stretch of play gave Alexandria the No. 2 seed in the Section 8AA tournament that starts on Saturday. The Cardinals will host 7th-seeded Buffalo-Maple Lake (5-18-2) at 7 p.m. at the RCC.
“We’re still trying to find our identity just a little bit,” Alexandria head coach Molly Arola said. “We’re starting to play together and with each other, and I think that’s been the biggest thing since the start of the calendar year. We’ve been finally putting things together and just making hockey plays and playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played.”
Alexandria withstood three penalties of its own in the first period against Bemidji to take a 1-0 lead into the first intermission.
Senior defender MaKenna Aure scored her first of three goals as she raced to the right of the net for a one-timer that was set up with a pretty crossing pass from Peyton Boesl. Aure has been a standout defensive player for years, but the hat trick was a fun first for her on varsity.
“I was so pumped. I still am. I’m speechless,” Aure said with a smile. “We didn’t really come out with as much energy as we hoped we would. We stepped it up in the second and the third for sure. Being aggressive, getting more shots on net, using the points more and screening the goalie.”
The Cardinals dominated the puck in the second period to take control with a 3-0 lead. Aure sent a shot in unassisted from the neutral zone. Freshman defender Emma Ramstorf then got a shot from a similar spot on the ice and found a crease through a sea of bodies in front of the net to make it a three-goal game.
The Cardinals finished with a flurry, scoring three goals over the final few minutes of the third period.
Aure started it with her third goal on a shot from the point before Lauren Maras crashed the net to put in a loose puck off an assist from Hanley Block. Riley Nyberg made it 6-1 with 38 seconds left off another shot from the point that came after a Block assist.
“We found ways to get it done,” Arola said. “We have multiple kids who can contribute whether it’s goals or assists, and that’s always good at this time of year.”
Senior Jordan O’Kane worked the first two periods in net and did not allow a goal. Fellow senior goalie Hailee Bailey worked the third when the Lumberjacks got their lone goal on a shot from senior Chloe Hasbragen.
Arola said that was the plan to split the time in net between those two during the last regular-season game of their careers at the RCC.
Bailey and O’Kane have both been through big playoff games during their careers. That gives the Cardinals confidence in whoever gets their name called throughout the tournament.
“We’ve been very fortunate to have them for so many years,” Arola said. “It’s too bad they’re both seniors, but that’s the way it is. The relationship they have, the competitiveness that they have, it’s just been really fun to watch them grow. We have the utmost confidence in both of them. They both have done a lot for us over the years.”
The Cardinals entered this week as the second seed through the QRF on Minnesota-scores.net in Section 8AA. This section was seeded by a coaches vote on Wednesday, but those rankings give an indication of how tight things are in this field.
Alexandria swept Brainerd-Little Falls (14-11) -- the team right behind them in those rankings -- during two regular-season games. The Cardinals also have a 5-1 road win over Roseau (14-9-2), and a 2-1 win over the top seed in the tournament in Moorhead (18-8).
Those wins have these players confident that they can make another run at a section championship after winning the title a year ago in Alexandria’s second season in Class AA.
“We proved to everybody who didn’t think we could do it that we could,” Aure said of last year's run to state. “It’s why we want to do it again with these new girls and younger players and show them that since we’re here and connecting so much that we can do the same thing as we did last year.”
They also know it won’t come easy. Five teams will enter the tournament with a record above .500. St. Cloud (14-9-2), the fifth seed, won two one-goal games against Alexandria this season. Buffalo-Maple Lake played the Cardinals to a 2-2 tie on Dec. 4.
The Cardinals did everything they could to be playing their best hockey at season’s end. They are eager to see where that takes them with the quarterfinals coming up on Saturday.
“Honestly, I think it’s pretty open,” Arola said. “It’s anybody’s game at this point. We’ve won some big games and lost some games that we shouldn’t have. It’s going to take everybody pulling on the rope in the same direction to find success this year.”
A night to honor Jack
Tuesday’s game was part of a doubleheader for the boys and girls programs from Alexandria as the hockey community got together for a fundraiser to help out the Albert family.
Jack Albert is a 10-year-old squirt player in Alexandria’s youth hockey program. On Jan. 24, he was diagnosed with Stage IV Burkitt’s lymphoma. Jack is currently receiving inpatient care at the Children’s Hospital in Minneapolis.
Jack’s father, Joe, and his 12-year-old sister, Victoria, were part of the Albert family that was recognized between the girls and boys games on Tuesday night. Joe thanked the Alexandria community for all their support as Jack goes through his fight against cancer.
Look for a full feature story on Jack in an upcoming issue of the Echo Press.