Girls Hockey: East Ridge advances to state tournament for first time in program history
There was still two seconds left on the clock, but the six East Ridge players on the ice and the entire Raptor bench were smiling from head to toe.
They knew history had been made on Wednesday night.
After those two seconds expired, a line of Raptor girls came flying to goalie Emerald Kelley as she was tackled by all of her teammates. She didn't care because she knew it was a moment that was going to last forever.
The East Ridge girls hockey team defeated the No. 1 seeded Eagan 2-0 on Wednesday night in the Section 3AA section final to advance to the state tournament for the first time in program history.
"This was a dream for all of us growing up," said senior captain Addi Scribner. "To be able to do this with this team is a dream come true."
Senior captain Katie Flynn said it was hard to focus on school on Wednesday as the players knew what the game was going to be like. Once they sat on the bus, the nerves were replaced by loud music echoing throughout the bus.
Head coach Kim McClintick jokingly said that assistant coach Scott Waldo wasn't allowed on the bus on Wednesday because the only time he came on the bus this season was for the Wayzata game where the Raptors lost 7-0. The players knew they had to keep the same mojo and routine heading into the section finals. As much as they loved and appreciated Waldo, he had to drive over to Inver Grove Heights Community Center.
Once the team reached the ice rink and put their bags in the locker room, the atmosphere became more focused.
"We knew why we were here and we weren't going to make tonight our last game," said senior captain Anne Larsen. "We've grown up playing hockey together and knew that making it to state would be amazing for us, our program and our community."
After the warmups and starting lineups, the puck was dropped at center ice and the section finals were underway. The two teams started out fast with their skating and puck passing and that trend continued throughout all three periods.
McClintick knew it was going to be fast, so she made sure to practice that intensity in class. The other thing she knew about Eagan was the Wildcats' first line was the main threat to the Raptors.
"We knew that first line was good, but if we shut them out we would win this game," McClintick said. "We did just that and the result showed with a shutout performance."
East Ridge scored first as Flynn had an open shot and took advantage of it. With seven minutes left in the first period, Flynn brought the puck around the Eagan goalie and knocked it in to give the Raptors the lead.
A couple minutes later, the Eagan players started celebrating a goal of their own. Upon further review though, the referees signaled no goal which gave East Ridge a 1-0 lead heading into intermission.
"We knew we didn't have many shots on goal in the first period, but we were happy to have the lead," Flynn said. "So we made sure to change that around in the second period."
The second period was a different change as East Ridge out shot Eagan 8-5. One of those eight shots connected for the Raptors as Lauren Beaubien found the back of the net with 1:55 left in the second period.
East Ridge led 2-0 heading into the third and final period, but the players knew defense was going to make or break this period and this season.
That's when all eyes went to Kelley as the team counted on her to do what she's done all season. That was to stop the puck no matter what.
Kelley took on the challenge and stepped up like she's done this entire section tournament and stopped every puck in the game to record a shutout.
"It's like a little girl's dream come dream," Kelley said. "I always wanted to be a hockey player and make it to state and having those dreams come true right now is just surreal."
It seems like Kelley is one of the few players coming back next season as the Raptors have nine seniors on the team. Kelley said that all the players were playing for the team, but also they were playing for the seniors. They didn't want their careers to end in this game.
For those seniors and this entire team, they get to spend one more week together. McClintick said she doesn't have a strategy quite yet on approaching state, but she knows she wants the players to enjoy it.
This trip to the state tournament next week will be a new experience for not only the players, but also the coaches. They know the teams will be talented and the competition will be at the highest level, but they're ready for the challenge and playing their best hockey of the season next week.
East Ridge will be playing in the Class AA state tournament with the opening round starting on Thursday, Feb. 21 and continuing on Friday, Feb. 22 and Saturday, Feb. 23.
The brackets haven't been finalized, but the opening rounds on Thursday will take place at the Xcel Energy Center. If the Raptors win the first game, they will play on Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center with the state championship on Saturday at 7 p.m. at the Xcel Energy Center.
If East Ridge loses in the opening round, the consolation bracket will take place at the TRIA Rink in St. Paul on Friday and Saturday during the day.
"These girls worked so hard this season and to see it become a reality is so much fun to see as a coach," McClintick said. "These are the moments you cherish as a coach. I'm so grateful to have this team in my first year and these girls deserve to go to state and represent their school and their community."
After the game, the East Ridge fans were waiting in the lobby to see the players come out and board the bus. As each player come out of the ice rink, they each had a smile on their face and a blue medal around their neck.
That blue medal captures every moment either at practice or at a game this season. It describes the hard work that happened every day of the season. Finally, it shows history was made on Wednesday night as the 2018-19 East Ridge girls hockey team was the first team in program history to reach the state tournament.