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No. 1 Spotlight: USA Girls Tier 1

By Scott Lowe – MYHockeyRankings.com 

YouthHockeyHub.com Photo

With the cancellation of league, district, provincial and national-championship tournaments as a result of COVID-19 restrictions, we thought it would be a nice reward to honor the teams in various regions around North America for finishing No. 1 in our final MYHockey Rankings for the 2019-20 season.  

We will be spotlighting the top-ranked teams from around the continent over the next several weeks. Today we are highlighting the USA Tier 1 Girls: 

 

Shattuck-St. Mary’s 19U (46-4-0)

Returning members of the Shattuck-St. Mary’s girls prep hockey team entered the 2019-20 season with the bitter taste of defeat still lingering in their mouths, and they were determined to do something about that.

Driven by the memory of a devastating 2-1 loss to the Boston Jr. Eagles in the USA Hockey Tier 1 19U National Championship finals the previous April, Shattuck began its quest for redemption in September and never looked back.

The Sabres steamrolled their way to the No. 1 national ranking with a 46-4-0 record and were preparing for their league playoffs and the long-awaited return trip to Nationals after beating the ninth-ranked North American Hockey Academy, 5-1, Feb. 17 to capture the championship at the Junior Women’s Hockey League Showcase outside of Washington, D.C. 

“Each game we built and got better,” Shattuck senior center Lacey Eden said. “We played to win, and for me at least, I always had Nationals at the back of my mind. I didn’t want a repeat of last year. I wanted to win.”

The Sabres entered the USA Hockey Tier 1 Girls 19U National Championships the previous April as the favorites to capture the title. It was a Shattuck team that some thought was the most talented in the program’s celebrated history, a group that had lost just twice during the season. SSM proceeded to roll to the title game with five straight victories, outscoring its opponents, 39-6, along the way to set up the clash with the second-ranked and undefeated Jr. Eagles.

Shattuck was 47-2-3 heading into that fateful showdown, while Boston was a remarkable 31-0-0. The Jr. Eagles also had won five straight contests to reach the championship game, although one of the victories game in overtime vs. the No.3 Chicago Mission, one was by a 2-1 margin against eighth-ranked Selects Academy and another was a 3-1 decision over No. 10 Honeybaked.

The Sabres had beaten Selects, 7-2, and No. 4 Belle Tire, 4-1, in addition to its three other decisive victories, to enter the finals as the clear favorites. Even after falling in the championship game, Shattuck had built enough of a resume to claim the final USA No. 1 ranking from MYHockeyRankings.com

“From top to bottom, we had four solid lines and three solid defensive pairings,” Eden said. “It was an unbelievable experience to play with that much skill. Despite our depth and only losing two games the entire season, we ended up losing the national championship game. I think it shocked our team and the hockey community. Coming back this year, I knew that wasn’t going to happen again.” 

As Shattuck prepared for the Upper Midwest High School Elite League Tournament last month, it appeared as though the Sabres and Jr. Eagles might be on track to collide again at Nationals in early April. Although Eden said this year’s team wasn’t quite as talented, SSM still had won 46 of 50 games, while Boston had gone 20-2-2 to earn the No. 3 national ranking. Both teams had already qualified for the national-championship tournament.

“Despite not having the same depth and talent as last year’s team, this year’s team was special because we made up for it with hard work,” Eden said. “Each girl knew her role, and we became a team very quickly.”

Then, right before the Elite League Tournament got underway, USA Hockey made the decision to cancel Nationals amid the COVID-19 outbreak. Just like that, youth careers ended and dreams were shattered.

“When Nationals was cancelled, our entire team was devastated,” Eden said. “Myself and others knew this was our year. Nobody was going to stop us once we got rolling. I think it hit the seniors hardest. This was going to be our last youth Nationals, and we never got to end our youth careers on top. It still upsets me to think about, but I realize there are bigger problems right now. None of us knew that our last game was going to be our last game, and that just shows the fragility of each moment and how the game should never be taken for granted.”

While their youth and high school careers might not have ended quite the way the Shattuck seniors had hoped, most of them will have the opportunity to compete for an NCAA title in the future. Eden will be continuing her career in the fall at Princeton University, while two of her classmates will be playing for Wisconsin and others will be playing at Bemidji State, Minnesota Duluth, Minnesota State, Franklin Pierce and Quinnipiac.

Eden and two other Sabres, Makenna Webster and Clara Van Wieran, also won gold medals playing for Team USA at the 18U World Championships held in Slovokia Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.

Along the team's 2019-20 journey, Shattuck’s only losses were a season-opening 4-2 setback against second-ranked Minnesota Elite White Sept. 14 that they avenged with a 6-2 victory the next day; a 5-2 loss to No. 5 Minnesota Elite Black Sept. 29; a 4-2 loss to Stanstead College, the 13th-ranked 20U team and No. 2 prep team in Canada; and a 3-1 decision against No. 15 Honeybaked.

SSM won its final 20 contests following the Honeybaked loss and outscored its opponents, 263-86, for the season. Victories came against Canada’s Nos. 1, 3, 5, 6 and 9 prep teams, the fourth-ranked Canadian 20U team and the Nos. 2, 4, 5, 9, 10, 12 and 13 USA 19U teams. The Sabres held their opponents to one or fewer goals 29 times and recorded 11 shutouts. 

So the season was by no means a wash, but Shattuck never got a chance to avenge last year’s loss to the Jr. Eagles.

“Shattuck is a powerhouse for women’s hockey, and it has been that way for many years,” Eden said. “We know that every game we are going to get that particular team’s 100 percent effort, because as our coach, coach {Gordie} Stafford would say, ‘This is the biggest game of the year for them.’”

Unfortunately, the biggest game of Shattuck’s season never happened, but that doesn’t take anything away from the team’s accomplishments this year or what the Class of 2020 accomplished as a group while playing for the Sabres.

 

Chicago Mission 16U (50-11-3) & 12U (48-7-7)

It was a banner year for the Chicago Mission girls hockey program, with the 16U and 12U teams each finishing atop the national rankings in their respective age groups according to MyHockeyRankings.com. In addition, the Mission were ranked ninth in 14U and fourth in 19U.

The 16U Mission battled their way to a 50-11-3 overall record that included a thrilling two-games-to-one Illinois state championship series win over the 11th-ranked Chicago Young Americans. After dropping the opening contest, 2-1, in overtime, the Mission rallied to win the next two games – also in overtime – by scores of 5-4 and 2-1. 

"This team was a really good mix of returning champions and girls hungry to prove themselves to the older girls," head coach Courtney O'Connor said. "The group never gave up and we had a good amount of games and times during the year where that would have been the easy thing to do. They pushed each other in practices and had fun doing it." 

The Mission would not be permitted to build upon their success, however, as the March 13-15 Central District National Championship Qualifier in Wisconsin would be cancelled when USA Hockey announced the cancellation of Nationals because of the COVID-19 outbreak. The Mission had posted a 13-2 record against the next three highest-ranked Central District teams and figured to be a good bet to advance.

"Unfortunately our season was cut short the week of regionals, so Nationals wasn't on our mind," O'Connor said. "After our battle to win state, our girls were really focused and ready to go. There was a great feeling among the team going into the final eight or so games of the season...You understand why {Nationals was cancelled}, but it was still hard. Almost everyone on the team that night texted and asked it was true, or if I thought they would change their mind. While Nationals didn't happen, this was a special year, and nothing can take away from that." 

Chicago outscored its opponents, 230-61, for the season and held its foes to one goal or fewer 51 times on the year. That included 28 shutouts. In one stretch, Chicago posted four-consecutive shutouts, blanked its opponents in five-of-six outings and allowed one goal or fewer in 18-straight contests as part of a 19-game winning streak.

"Our goalie tandem was special, even with injuries," O'Connor said. "We would go stretches of eight to 10 games where only one of them was healthy, but they managed to step up and were the backbone of the team. With both of them healthy we were able to go on the 19-game win streak." 

The Mission split a pair of one-goal decisions against second-ranked Little Caesar’s and recorded victories against the 9th, 11th, 12th 13th and 14th-ranked U.S. 16U teams.

"Gabby Marciniak came up huge for us in the state tournament," O'Connor said. "The list of top players for this team could be 20 players long. Kelly Gorbatenko had four hat tricks this season. Molly Henderson was top five in points on the team, even spending most of the year at the blue line. Callista Chong is one of the most dangerous players in the slot with her quick release. Anya Wellandt and Bryn Levinson led the team in penalty-kill goals. The defensive core ... kept us at less than one goal scored on us per game. 

At the 12U level, the Mission went 48-8-7 and outscored their opponents, 254-84. They swept No. 7 Team Illinois, 6-2 and 7-2, to capture the Illinois state championship and also were unable to participate in the Central District Qualifer because of COVID-19 restrictions.

Led by its top offensive threats, centers Ellia Pukala, Iris Cheng and Nicole Garbotenko, Chicago won nine of its last 11 games, with one of the losses coming against Canada’s top-ranked 12U team, the Peterborough Ice Kats.

Making the season even more special for the Mission was the fact that head coach Shannon Coleman was able to coach with her father, Jim. Jim Coleman coached Shannon and her brothers when they were growing up, but he had to start dialysis and stop coaching. Last summer Shannon donated a kidney to Jim, and in August when her assistant coach told her he couldn't continue coaching, she decided to ask Jim to help. 

"The whole season was very special, but it was extra special because my only assistant coach was my dad," Shannon said. "The girls loved having him around, but they never knew what to call him - 'Coach Jim' or 'Coach Coleman." One day I was yelling at him across the ice, 'Dad!' And he wouldn't answer, so I yelled 'Coach Dad' and it stuck. The girls called him Coach Dad the whole season." 

The Mission opened the season by going 28-1-6, with the only loss also coming at the hands of the IceKats in a 2-1 overtime thriller. From that point on they finished their season with a 20-6-1 mark. Chicago recorded victories over the top-four teams in Canada as well as Nos. 7, 15, 16 and 19. The Mission also beat the Nos. 2, 5, 7, 8, 11, 13 and 15 U.S. teams.

"This was a special team right off the bat," Coleman said. "They dedicated themselves to the team every time they walked into the rink. Our quote that I used to describe the team was 'refuse to lose.' I told them every day that they had a special drive that most teams dreamed of having. We played in the NIHL Boys PeeWee Elite Division, the highest NIHL division, and ended up finishing 9-4-5 and in third place. The five ties should have been games we lost, but the girls refused to lose. They did whatever it took to get back into the games. We won four out of six tournaments throughout the year, because when it came to championship Sunday, they were unbelievable, playing better than they had all weekend."  

 

East Coast Wizards 14U (36-5-2)

East Coast Wizards 14U Major 1 compiled the best record in the New England Girls Hockey League (NEGHL) for both the fall and winter seasons. They were preparing for the Massachusetts state tournament and hoping to earn a berth in the USA Hockey Tier 1 National Championship, where they had suffered an overtime loss in the quarterfinals the year before, when they found out 2020 Nationals had been cancelled.

“I was devastated,” team-member Tessa Demain said. “It was hard to imagine that the season was over. It was an unsatisfying feeling that the immense amount of effort we put in throughout the season wouldn’t give us a chance of being national champions.”

The Wizards concluded the year ranked No. 1 according to MyHockeyRankings.com with a 40-5-2 overall record, which included 19 shutouts and a scoring margin of 213-49 over its opponents. East Coast returned five players from the previous season’s national quarterfinalists who combined with some talented newcomers to form the nation’s top 14U squad. 

In the NEGHL, which included the Nos. 3, 5 and 10 teams in the nation, the Wizards posted a 9-1 record in the fall and a 7-2-1 mark in the winter. They recorded victories against the Nos. 3, 4, 5, 7, 10, 12, 15, 16 and 17 U.S. teams as well as Canada’s fourth- and 10th-ranked teams.

East Coast split its final four games of the year, falling to the No. 3 North Shore Vipers and No. 15 Bay State Breakers, on the heels of a 30-game unbeaten streak that saw them go 28-0-2. The Wizards held their opponents to one goal or fewer 29 times, including 18 shutouts.

“The returning players made everyone understand that they were important to the group and were able to keep everyone moving in the same direction with our sights clearly set on being prepared to play our best when the state tournament came around,” head coach Mark Lissner said.'

Added team-member Clare O’Connor: “Missing Nationals with teammates and coaches who mean so much to me was so hard, because everything we have worked for this season was taken away from us just like that. But today we are thinking most about those whose lives have been hurt most by the pandemic.”

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