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Girls Hockey: Woodbury Area Royals selected to play in Hockey Day Minnesota

Lexie Decker (left), assistant captain, and Annika Johnson (right), captain, hold the banner as the Woodbury Area Royals girls hockey team is a participant of the 2019 Hockey Day Minnesota in January. Submitted Photo1 / 3
On the right, the sign shows every high school and college team participating in the 2019 Hockey Day Minnesota weekend. It'll consist of two high school girls hockey teams, four boys hockey teams, two college women hockey teams, four college men's hockey teams and two professional hockey teams. Submitted Photo2 / 3
The Hockey Day Minnesota had a wooden-shaped Minnesota state sign with Woodbury's logo as the Woodbury Area Royals girls hockey team is a participant this upcoming January. Submitted Photo3 / 3

Annika Johnson and Lexie Decker were already looking forward to this upcoming Woodbury Area Royals girls hockey season.

The two of them are going to be seniors this year as well as hold the captain and assistant captain roles. They will be responsible for how the team is led and they're excited about the opportunities that will be coming.

In early June, Johnson and Decker found out there would be more opportunities as head coach Chris Lepper told them the news that the Woodbury Area Royals girls' hockey team would be participating in Hockey Day Minnesota on Thursday, January 17.

"I couldn't believe it," Johnson said. "I was so excited for our team and our community to showcase Woodbury as a whole."

"We didn't think we would be traveling for another game this season," Decker said. "So once we heard about Hockey Day Minnesota, I was so excited to travel with the team again and be a part of this big day."

Lepper didn't think the team would be traveling either because the girls usually travel every other season, so each player has at least one experience of traveling.

He decided to call Bemidji High School's girls hockey team to see if he could schedule a game with them this season. The Woodbury girls traveled to Bemidji last season for their bi-yearly trip and Lepper thought it would be fun to schedule another game.

After talking to Bemidji on the phone, he found out they wouldn't be playing again this season because Bemidji couldn't say anything about Hockey Day Minnesota to Lepper or anyone before the teams were released on July 1. Lepper was upset about not scheduling something, but continued to make up his schedule for the 2018-19 season.

Then in April, Lepper saw Rob Aitken, a local committee member for Bemidji who helps with Hockey Day Minnesota, at an event and Lepper told Aitken that Woodbury wouldn't be playing Bemidji this season. Aitken told Lepper that the two schools would be playing, but not as a regular season game.

Rather, they'd be playing against each other for Hockey Day Minnesota.

"I couldn't believe it and I made sure he wasn't joking," Lepper said. "Then, the phone calls came in from Fox Sports and the Minnesota Wild confirming that Woodbury would be a part of this event."

Lepper couldn't tell many people until after the event took place on Sunday, July 1, but he told his captains because they came up to Bemidji for the event.

On July 1, the day included a ceremony to recognize the different teams participating in the three-day event as well as do a parade for each of the schools to be highlighted for a moment. Lepper, Johnson and Decker said it was a fun day and a memorable one as well.

Before the ceremony happened, Lepper sent an email out to the players and families saying to pay attention to Fox Sports North's Facebook page on Sunday morning. He didn't say anything else until after the ceremony to let them know about Woodbury Area Royals being selected.

After the ceremony, Lepper received some texts from players saying how excited they were to play in this game and they couldn't wait for the season to start.

One of those players was Allison Beix who's a senior this upcoming season and couldn't think of a better way to end her high school career.

Beix has been with the team since seventh grade and has continued to watch this team grow and grow, but this selection was a monumental step in the right direction for the Woodbury Area Royals girls program.

"This allows us to put Woodbury on the map with a national audience and I couldn't be more proud to be a part of this team and represent the school of Woodbury," Beix said.

The three girls as well as Lepper have said that it's going to be a challenge playing in this game because it's the first time they've ever played outside. Throughout the regular season, the games are inside so it's a controlled environment. Now, they need to expect anything whether it's raining, snowing, windy or a calm day, all of those factors need to be considered.

Beix said she's going to try and get a beanie for her helmet to cover her head, but Lepper knows there will be a handful of outside practices in the season to prepare for their game in January.

The road to this point has been hard for the seven seniors on this upcoming team because the process has been long and hard. It's been a similar record each season, but the growth has continued to change each season.

Along with the growth from the high school players, there's been more players and more growth in the youth teams as well. Ryan Warner, the president of the Woodbury Area Hockey Club, said he's seen more and more players stick to the game of hockey and continue to grow with all aspects of their games heading into their high school years.

Lepper and Warner know that the opportunity to play at Hockey Day Minnesota will allow younger players to understand that the Royals program is continuing to grow each season. They hope that more and more girls join the game of hockey and can see how much fun the game is with Hockey Day Minnesota.

More importantly, the girls understand what they are playing for at this event.

"We aren't playing for the names on the back of our shirts," Johnson said. "We're playing for the name on the front and representing a Woodbury community that each of us loves."

Warner was once a Woodbury boys hockey player as a high school student and remembers his time on the team. He's excited to see the community get behind a team like the Woodbury Area Royals team because the city understands how hard they've worked to reach this moment.

"It'll be a fun time for our players, for our schools and for our community," Lepper said. "This is a moment that these girls will remember for the rest of their lives."

Brian Mozey

I am the sports writer for the Woodbury Bulletin and South Washington County Bulletin. I'm a graduate from the Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Iowa State University and have always had a passion for sports since a young age. Whether it was watching or playing sports, I always knew sports would be in my career. I've been born and raised in the suburbs of Minneapolis and look forward to continuing to learn more about the Woodbury and Cottage Grove area throughout my time in this position. 

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