Moments after scoring the game-winning goal for the Blaine girls’ hockey team Friday in the Class 2A, Section 5 final against Centennial, Alisa Wolens couldn’t believe she was still standing.
“I don’t know if you want to be too close,” she said, warning those around her she was sick.
A few hours before the game, Wolens registered a 102-degree fever. But that didn’t stop her from scoring two goals in the 3-2 victory. Now the senior forward will lead the Bengals against Lakeville South in the first round of the state tournament Thursday night at Xcel Energy Center. Blaine hasn’t played in the state tournament since 2001.
“There’s no way I was going to miss this. I’ve lost to go to state twice — my freshman year and junior year,” Wolens said. “I just can’t believe this is happening right now. It feels like a dream.”
In 2012 the Bengals lost to Mounds View 5-4 in the section final. Two years later Blaine fell to Mounds View again after the Mustangs scored midway through the final period, giving Wolens and the Bengals another runner-up red ribbon.
“I was not going to hold the red ribbon anymore. I was so done,” Wolens said. “I literally wanted to throw them in the trash after those games.”
The sting of just missing the state tournament dates back further for Steve Guider. He was a longtime assistant coach at Blaine and a part of multiple state tournament teams. But in the 13 years he’s been head coach, the Bengals never have been back.
That will change Thursday.
“They’re probably the most fun hockey team I’ve ever coached, and I’m so happy for them,” Guider said.
The Bengals almost didn’t make it to the state tournament. Centennial fought back from a two-goal deficit to tie the score in the third period before Wolens’ goal was the deciding factor.
“It’s like, ‘Hey, tie game. No big deal,’ ” Guider said. “They did not get down, and they just kept competing.”
Blaine’s success this season can be traced to a strong crop of freshmen and sophomores. Six of the team’s top seven regular-season scorers are underclassmen.
Sophomore Sarah Ganley, who scored a power-play goal in the victory over Centennial, said she was “barely” alive when Blaine last reached the state tournament.
“She’s been great for us,” Guider said of Ganley. “We’re so young, and they’re just doing a good job of learning.”
The underclassmen have given Blaine added depth, which Wolens said is a big key to the Bengals’ return to the state tournament.
“We have a really good third line this year,” Wolens said. “With a good third line we can keep everything going.”
If Blaine continues to improve, youthful skaters such as Ganley, regular-season leading scorer Paige Beebe and others have a chance to get back to the state tournament for the next few years.
But Wolens knows the next game could be her last in a Blaine uniform. Sick or not, she’ll use the big stage to try to impress some more college coaches. Wolens said multiple Division III schools are interested in her, but she has her sights set higher.
“I really, really, really want to go to St. Cloud [State] and play for them. That’s my dream is to play for St. Cloud or Bemidji [State],” she said. “They haven’t talked to me yet, and I’m trying to get in contact with them.”
More impressive performances, starting Thursday night, won’t hurt her chances.
“I’ve been dreaming about this ever since my freshman year, and I think it’s just going to be unbelievable,” Wolens said. “Finally it all came together.”
Jack Satzinger is a University of Minnesota student reporter on assignment for the Star Tribune.