Recently members of the Minnetonka girls’ hockey team talked about why they wanted to win the section championship. It was a reason more important than any trophy, coach Eric Johnson said.
“The girls all unanimously agreed that everybody wanted another week just so that we could enjoy another week together as a team,” he said. “So that was pretty cool to hear as coaches.”
They are getting that chance thanks to a 3-2 overtime victory against Wayzata in the Class 2A, Section 6 championship game Friday.
Lake Conference champion Minnetonka (21-6) is seeded No. 1 in this year’s state tournament. The Skippers were on a roll from 2011-13, when they won three consecutive state titles. But the try for a four-peat was spoiled last year in the section semifinals when the Skippers lost to Benilde-St. Margaret’s.
That loss was all the incentive Minnetonka needed this season to work its way back to Xcel Energy Center.
“I think it motivated our girls to want to get back to the section final and get to state,” Johnson said.
He also saw his players step up during a six-game stretch around the holidays when they were without top-scorer Presley Norby, a Star Tribune All-Metro second team member. While the junior forward was away from her team, she was winning a gold medal with Team USA.
But Minnetonka went 4-2 during her absence, losing to conference rivals Eden Prairie and Wayzata.
“That was a turning point for us as far as being stronger,” Johnson said.
The team’s defense was also solid in the second half of the season, he added.
Enter senior defenseman Kelsey Crow.
Her coach called Crow the anchor for their team, an unsung hero who’s tough to play against, someone who keeps opponents out of the slot and keeps pucks out of the net.
“She’s our Ryan Suter,” Johnson said. “She’s got that all-around defensive ability. Kelsey is the most underrated player in the state.”
She also gets the team’s character award for her “team-first attitude,” Johnson said.
And she’s humble.
“I’m a defensive defenseman,” said Crow, a third-team All-Metro selection. “I know what I’m doing is helping the team, so I don’t need any accolades or any encouragement.”
The Skippers will look to Crow’s leadership and experience if they hope to go all the way in the state tournament. She is the only current player who played on both the 2012 and 2013 state championship teams. Norby, senior Rylie McDonnell and junior Katie McMillan also have state tourney experience.
Getting another state title probably will take some poise, according to Crow.
“I think what I’ll have to do is just manage everyone’s emotions so we can execute our game plan,” Crow said. “We’re going to have to sustain pressure. We’re going to have to get pucks deep.”
Johnson also credited junior goaltender Tatyana Delaittre, who saw her first varsity minutes this season. She’s 21-6-0 with a .927 save percentage and eight shutouts.
“She’s kept us in a bunch of games, and she’s stolen a bunch of games for us, too,” Johnson said, adding that the section final was no exception. “Taty saved our hide.”
The Skippers play their quarterfinal game Thursday night against Andover.
Is there any added pressure for them to win it all, with their recent three-peat? Johnson said every season is unique. Many of his players watched the other teams take home titles.
“They were being inspired by the players that were there,” he said. “I think they want a chance of doing it.”