Girls take state championship in 12-U hockey


State 12UB champions include, in front: Anna Weyandt, Anna Klein, Riley Tuft, Kaelie Smith, Marissa Hawkins, Maria Meggitt, Brianna Willier and Gianna Gabrielli; behind them, Melissa Teal, Madalyn Thill, Katie Garhofer, Samantha Carlson, Madison Sagdalen, Caitlyn Behr and Olivia Schultz and, in back, coaches Bob Smith, Tom Tuft and Paul Klein. (submitted photo)

Parents and coaches of the Johnson Como 12UB State Champion “Devils” see their journey as a tribute to community traditions and the community hockey model.

“Nothing could dampen the spirits of St. Paul’s Johnson Como Devils 12U B girl’s hockey team—even getting snowed in due to a blizzard in Fergus Falls on their way home after clinching their first state championship title in Roseau,” mom Kathy Weyandt writes.

The Devils defeated Hermantown Proctor 3-1 to win the State Championship in Roseau Sunday, March 17, which Weyandt says is the first time a youth hockey team from Como has ever won a state title and the first time a Johnson team has won a state title at any level since the early 1990s.

The girls’ success -- in the regular season, five tournaments and three playoff brackets -- add expense, especially for travel and accommodations in Marshall and Roseau. “Families, nonprofits, and businesses alike were willing to offer their financial support,” Weyand notes. “Supporters by the hundreds attended a fundraiser at Gabes by the Park... In many ways, it served as a reunion of sorts for many players and families.”

The team also benefited from the Minnesota Wild Foundation’s partnership with the Prairie Island Indian Community to scholarships to St. Paul Youth Hockey players who could not otherwise afford to play the game.

State tournament

The City of Roseau and Roseau Hockey rolled out the red carpet for players, with a banquet and inspirational speech from Sara Erickson, captain of the Minnesota Golden Gopher NCAA Championship team and a member of the U.S. National Team.

In the state quarterfinals, the girls played the first game of the tournament Friday afternoon against a gritty North Country team they’d played twice earlier in the season. Johnson Como won the quarterfinal 7-0 with five different players scoring.

On Saturday the girls played a fast-skating, highly skilled Red Wing team in the semifinals. These teams had also faced one another twice, splitting wins.

Tuft scored first on a shot from the point with an assist from Klein. Red Wing tied the game midway through the third period, and Johnson Como won an overtime thriller 2-1 with a goal by Madalyn “Scrappy” Thill assisted by Klein and Marissa Hawkins with 29 seconds remaining. The winning goal was created with a strong Johnson Como forecheck that forced a scramble in front of the net. Red Wing made a clearing attempt, but Samantha “Princess” Carlson held the puck in the zone and took a low shot from the point. The puck bounced off the goalie’s pads to the right face-off dot.

Marissa Hawkins swung out from the slot to gather the puck and maneuvered back to the net. Her shot went off the pads. The puck slid across the crease. “Scrappy” banged on it twice in the crease before knocking it in for the gamewinner. “I took my shot. I did not see how it went in, but I saw it in the back of the net. I was so happy.” said Hawkins.

“Marissa shot it. It came across the goalie’s pad. I whacked at it, but it stopped right in front of the goal line. I hit it again and it fluttered into the net. I was so excited.

Words cannot describe the feeling of it. You cannot explain it; you have to live it to understand it,” said “Scrappy” of her goal.

In the championship game the Devils faced Proctor-Hermantown Mirage, a team they beat earlier in the year at Governor’s Cup championship game, 3-2 in OT.

Klein opened the scoring in the first period to give Johnson Como a 1-0 lead. In the second period Tuft scored the eventual gamewinner on a shot from the point with an assist from Klein, again with support in puck-handling and sticking to the net from Thill.

As the game entered its final minutes, Johnson Como’s fore-check was unyielding in keeping the puck in the Mirage end. With half a minute remaining, a relentless Klein scored an unassisted goal to ice the game. Of her tournament-winning goal, Tuft said, “We were on the power play. The Mirage collapsed on Anna “Kleiner” Klein. She managed to get it to me. It was a great pass from Kleiner to the point. I just let it go, and it went in right over the goalie’s glove.”For the tournament, Klein led the scoring with four goals and five assists. Tuft had four goals. Marissa Hawkins had one goal and one assist. Brianna Willier, Samantha “Princess” Carlson, and Madalyn Thill scored one goal each. Goalie Kaelie Smith allowed only two goals in the three games while facing 45 shots for a .956 save percentage. “It was the best I ever played.” said Smith.

Tradition

Like many East Side and Como Park hockey players before them, the team cut their teeth on outdoor rinks at Phalen and North Dale and know Gustafson Ice Arena at Johnson High School where champion teams, alumni standouts and Olympians are memorialized in plaques and photos.

The thought of not having a youth hockey component on the East Side and the Como area is simply not acceptable to those that are alumni, coaches, fans, along with current and future families and players.

JCHA president Bill Burkhart says “Our board struggles with our changing demographics and lack of numbers, so we are so very proud to see the fruits of our labor... It is our goal to establish pride in our inner city hockey program.”

The girls’ program started five years ago under Dennis Greeley. That first year, the girls program had a win/loss record of 1-25. Current Head Coach Paul Klein explains, “We took anyone willing to put on skates. No one has ever been denied or cut from the girls’ teams.”

This year’s team lost three eligible players to the local high school program, leaving behind 11 12U eligible players (6 first year, 6 second year), so two 10U eligible players filled out the roster. They were coached by Paul Klein, Tom Tuft, Bob Smith, and managed by Deb Hawkins.

Johnson Como Youth Hockey offers a program for players ages 3 to 15 from the East Side, North End and Como Park.

The 2012-13 Johnson Como hockey players are: Sam Carlson, Gianna Gabrielli, Katie Garhofer, Marissa Hawkins, Anna Klein, Maria Meggitt, Madison Sagdalen, Olivia Schultz, Kaelie Smith, Melissa Teal, Madalyn Thill, Riley Tuft, Anna Weyandt, Brianna Willier, and Caitlyn Behr, emergency goalie from Cottage Grove.

The team’s “brothers” on the Johnson/Como Pee Wee B-1 team also enjoyed a very successful season, finishing runner-up in their own state championship run.

— Information provided by Kathy Weyandt

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