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Girls' hockey tournament pride on a 25-year ride

By DAVID LA VAQUE, Star Tribune, 11/26/18, 6:30PM CST

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From four teams playing at Aldrich Arena to the current 16-team, two-class format at the X, the tournament is set to celebrate its silver anniversary amid lots of memorable moments along the way.


Maggie Fisher of the South St. Paul High School girls' hockey team ('02,'03,'05) posed for a portrait recently at Xcel Energy Center. Photo: Leila Navidi * leila.navidi@startribune.com

Reminiscing about her five state tournament trips with South St. Paul’s then-dominant hockey team, Maggie (Fisher) Meyer brought to mind the 2002 championship.

The blue-collar community was starved for a champion after the boys’ program had made 27 fruitless state tournament trips. Residents enthusiastically supported their girls both inside and outside the State Fair Coliseum.

“Our fans would be tailgating, making hot dogs and burgers,” Meyer said. “Our team bus would come by and they would be running after us screaming the school song. And then they’d line up on either side of the door to go in cheering for us. They were decked out in Packer gear — helmets, jerseys. It was crazy to see all these people rallying behind us. There were proud of us.”

This season, which culminates in the 25th state tournament, finds the entire girls’ hockey community rallying behind the sport. Championships in 2002, 2003, 2005 and 2006 cemented South St. Paul as the sport’s first dynasty. But the game’s overall growth means as much to Meyer.

Since its start in 1995 as a four-team affair at Aldrich Arena in Maplewood, the tournament has expanded to a 16-team, two-class event held at Xcel Energy Center. Youth players no longer need to play boys’ hockey or ringette. And college programs plus the Olympics and National Women’s Hockey League offer high-level opportunities.

“It’s pretty cool to have been a part of these 25 years because I know a lot of women who didn’t have girls’ hockey growing up,” said Meyer, who played college hockey at Minnesota State and now is an Augsburg assistant coach.

Here are 10 notable moments from the tournament’s first quarter century:

Dropping the puck: Stillwater’s Jenny Ginkel scored the first goal as the nation’s first girls’ hockey state tournament opened on Feb. 24, 1995. Apple Valley defeated South St. Paul for the championship.

Puck whiz: Eagan seventh-grader Natalie Darwitz, a future Gopher and Olympian, scored nine goals and added three assists in the first eight-team tournament in 1997. But Eagan fell 6-3 in the title game.

Wendell a winner: Park Center’s Krissy Wendell scored a combined 219 goals in two seasons of girls’ hockey — 109 as a junior, 110 as a senior — and punctuated her dominance with a hat trick as the Pirates defeated Anoka 6-0 in the 2000 championship game.

Tourney expands: The tournament split into two classes in 2002, with eight teams in Class 2A and four in Class 1A. Benilde-St. Margaret’s won the Class 1A title and South St. Paul claimed the Class 2A title.

‘X’ marks spat: A Title IX lawsuit against the Minnesota State High School League filed on behalf of 11 girls’ hockey players triggered a venue change. The 2006 tournament moved to St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center after three years at Ridder Arena.

Perfect ending: Breck senior defender Milica McMillen played all 70 minutes as Breck clinched its first Class 1A title in double overtime in 2012. McMillen drew a combined seven penalties in the Mustangs’ first two games.

They played on and on: The 2013 Class 2A semifinal between Minnetonka and Lakeville North went six overtimes and lasted 113 minutes and 29 seconds. The Skippers won 4-3 at 1:02 a.m. then regrouped later Saturday to win an unprecedented third consecutive title. The game’s duration remains a tournament record.

Warroad’s finest: Warroad forward Lisa Marvin posted a career record for tournament points with 44 in 15 games from 2009-13. The Warriors won the 2010 and 2011 titles.

Blake rises to top: Back-to-back championships in 2013 and 2014 gave Blake five state championships to surpass South St. Paul’s four. The Bears weren’t finished. Class 1A titles in 2016 and 2017 gave them an unparalleled seven. Blake opted-up to Class 2A starting with the 2017-18 season.

Female firsts: State championships by a trio of female head coaches signaled important milestones in the game’s growth. In 2015, Whitney Restemayer of Thief River Falls became the first woman to coach a state champion. Two years later, Edina’s Sami Reber was the first to win a Class 2A title. And last February, Breck’s Ronda Engelhardt became the first former state championship-winning player to coach a title-winning team. She went by Curtin when she helped Roseville to an undefeated seasons in 1996 and 1999.

Celebrating 25 years

The Minnesota State High School League is planning a year-by-year countdown of girls' tournament highlights on its website, mshsl.org. The countdown begins Jan. 26, 25 days before the girls’ tournament.

During the tournament, the Xcel Energy Center scoreboard will show historical highlights and tributes. The top six players will be recognized on the ice during the tournament's championship Saturday. All will wear commemorative jerseys.

Teams throughout the state are being encouraged to use the anniversary to honor their own heritage.

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