by Jason Olson
Top girls’ hockey seniors from each section gathered for the Senior Classic, the final tournament of the season, at the Schwan’s Center on the National Sports Center campus in Blaine the first weekend of March.
Teams comprised seniors from both classes to make one section team.
ABC Newspapers-area players on the Section 5 team included goalies Tara Hoverstad of Blaine and Madison Denny of Andover along with defensemen Erin Harper (Blaine) and forwards Brittney Thunstrom (Blaine), Brittany Palmer (Blaine), Addie Rust (Coon Rapids), Olivia Vogel (Andover) and McKenna Parent (Anoka).
Blaine coach Steve Guider served as team general manager and Coon Rapids coach Jessica Christopherson served as coach/GM for the first time after assisting on the team last year.
Coming up with dream-team lines and getting to know some of the top players in the state were a couple highlights for Christopherson, she said.
“It’s one thing to coach against them and discuss them as players with other coaches, but it is great to be in this setting and get to know their personalities a little bit,” Christopherson said.
Fourteen of the 17 players on the Section 5 team have already committed to a college program. The others plan to announce their intentions soon.
Christopherson’s team won the title last season with the likes of Gophers teammates Rachael Bona and Meghan Lorence along with Taylor Kuehl and Hilary Crow.
“So our girls felt like they really had something to prove and wanted to get back in that championship game,” Christopherson said.
But Section 4 defeated Section 5 in overtime 3-2 to win the championship as six Section 5 players had other commitments and couldn’t complete the tournament. Hoverstad and Denny combined to make 51 saves.
Thunstrom and Palmer had previous commitments and Parent injured her knee during the semifinal.
Christopherson knew the task of defending the goal against the likes of a very stacked Section 4 squad would be tough.
“Our kids played so well in that championship game and they deserved to win,” she said. “I don’t care who is on your team, they’re a pretty powerful line up.”
The Section 4 roster included Ms. Hockey Award winner from Hill Murray and future Gopher Hannah Brandt, Roseville teammates Lee Stecklein (University of Minnesota), Hannah Brodt (St. Cloud State), Lexi Slattery (Providence) and Stillwater’s Sarah Bruchu.
Section 5 held a 2-1 lead until Section 4 tied it up with 16 seconds left with a play from a face-off. “They beat us in overtime with a shot from the point that got deflected a couple times,” Christopherson said. “Regardless, it was a great championship game showcasing some of the state’s best talent.”
Section 5 went 2-1-1, outscoring the opposition 16-12.
Christopherson switched the lines up each game to give everyone a shot at showcasing their skills.
“They are just all so skilled that the possibilities are endless,” she said. “It’s nice to have the luxury of matching up their different skill sets and trying to set up your natural scorers.”
Christopherson was equally impressed at how adaptive and willing the skaters were with the adjustments. “We had some excellent forechecking and special teams going, which is great considering these kids aren’t used to playing with each other,” Christopherson said.
Rust and Harper each had two assists, while Thunstrom had two goals.
Palmer scored once, while Parent and Vogel had one assist each.
Denny finished with a .929 saves percentage, made 78 saves and a 2.74 goals against average in 111 minutes, 44 seconds of time in goal. Hoverstad had 47 saves in 102 minutes with a .887 saves percentage.
Christopherson was pleased to have a couple more chances to coach Rust.
“She is so good at doing the little things and it was great to see her with such a talented lineup and for her efforts to be rewarded,” the Cardinals head coach said.
“As a player, she is so versatile and that is a huge asset for any team, but it was really fun to see her competing with and against some of the best players in the state.”
Thumstrom commits to Providence
Blaine senior Brittney Thunstrom missed the section final as she was on a recruiting visit to Providence College and later officially committed to play hockey for the Hockey East Conference team based in Providence, R.I., starting next season.
“I loved the environment, the coaching staff and the facilities. It’s the perfect fit for me,” she said. Playing in one of the national power conferences also played into her decision. The other programs Thunstrom was eyeing include Gustavus Adolphus and Concordia University, Moorhead.
Thunstrom had 10 points (five goals) in 15 games this season after leading the team with 30 points (16 goals) in 2010-11, 18 points in 2009-10 and nine points in 2008-09.