Members of the Stillwater girls hockey team line up for the national athem before the start of the first girls' hockey tournment ever held in the United States. Stillwater played Apple Valley in the game. (Jerry Holt, Star Tribune file)
Ronda Engelhardt recently popped a tape into the VCR — Google it, kids — to relive old high school glories.
Back in the late 1990s she was known as Ronda Curtin, a dominant player in the budding sport of girls’ hockey. She helped Roseville to undefeated championship seasons in 1996 and 1999, a time when many varsity players were recent imports from boys’ hockey, figure skating or ringette.
The 20th girls’ hockey state tournament starts Wednesday at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. Now Breck’s girls’ hockey coach, Engelhardt said today’s game features more players who are faster, stronger and more skilled.
But tipping the cap to her fellow pioneers, Engelhardt said she has yet to see a player faster than Natalie Darwitz or one who dominated like Krissy Wendell.
“As a whole, the game is better today,” Engelhardt said. “And the state tournament is a big tradition. Girls are coming up with a goal to play there and that’s awesome.”
Dropping the puck
Stillwater’s Jenny Ginkel scores the first goal as the nation’s first girls’ hockey state tournament opens on Feb. 24, 1995. The next day ends with Apple Valley’s 2-0 defeat of South St. Paul. The four-team tournament is attended by enthusiastic fans who form deep lines for tickets at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood.
A precocious seventh-grader from Eagan — future Gopher and Olympian Natalie Darwitz — scores nine goals and adds three assists in the first eight-team tournament in 1997. But Eagan falls 6-3 in the title game to Hibbing/Chisholm/Nashwauk-Keewatin, the only outstate team to win a single class girls’ hockey championship.
Krissy Wendell caps a dominant two-year stretch by recording a hat trick for Park Center in its 6-0 victory over Anoka in the 2000 state championship game. Wendell scores a combined 219 goals in two seasons of girls’ hockey — 109 as a junior, 110 as a senior.
Bloomington Jefferson wins its first state title in 2001 with a 2-1 victory over Blaine in the title game. The Jaguars’ Larissa Luther, a forward/defender who switched to goalie midway through her senior season, outduels Blaine goalie Jody Horak, the Star Tribune’s co-Metro Player of the Year.
The tournament splits into two classes in 2002, with eight teams in Class 2A and four in Class 1A. Benilde-St. Margaret’s wins the Class A title. South St. Paul, after 27 trips to state by the boys and three by the girls without winning a title, claims the Class 2A title with a 2-1 victory over White Bear Lake.
Eden Prairie ends South St. Paul’s record 86-game unbeaten streak in the 2004 Class 2A quarterfinals.
South St. Paul wins the 2005 Class 2A title — its third in four seasons — and becomes the sport’s first dynasty. The Packers dropped to Class 1A and won again in 2006.
‘X’ marks spat
The 2006 tournament moves to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center after three years at Ridder. A Title IX lawsuit against the league filed three years earlier on behalf of 11 girls’ hockey players asked that the league be ordered to make the venue change.
Going the distance
Breck defenseman Milica McMillen plays all 70 minutes to help Breck clinch its first Class 1A title in double overtime in 2012.
Longest game ever
Minnetonka outlasts semifinal opponent Lakeville North last February in the longest Minnesota high school game ever played. The six overtime game lasted 113 minutes and 29 seconds and ended at 1:02 a.m. The Skippers returned later on Saturday to win an unprecedented third consecutive title.