MARQUETTE - The Marquette City Insurance Sentinels will bring their brand of puck-possession hockey to a national stage starting Wednesday afternoon in upstate New York.
The 16-and-under girls team, composed almost entirely of Marquette County teens, are guaranteed to play three games in the 12-team USA Hockey Girls Tier II National Championship.
If these 13 girls fare well in pool play, they can advance to Saturday's quarterfinals and semifinals and finally to the national championship game to be played at 10 a.m. Sunday in Amherst, N.Y.
The Marquette Sentinels girls hockey team huddles for a fundraiser game against the Northern Michigan University women’s club hockey team on Sunday at the Berry Events Center in Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
The Sentinels’ Sydney Higgins, left, battles NMU’s Nikki Balkum, right, for the puck on Sunday. The Sentinels are heading to the USA Hockey Girls 16-Under Tier II National Championship tournament this week in Amherst, N.Y. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
Marquette Sentinels’ Allison Carlson, left, shoots past Northern Michigan’s Macy Schultz, right, to score Sunday at the Berry Events Center in?Marquette. (Journal photo by Adelle Whitefoot)
"We have some good talent up and down our lineup," head coach Jeff Cornock said. "But we had been playing as a group of individuals. When we figured it out and started to play as a team, that was when we really came into our own.
"That might be what I'm most proud of. Everyone has bought into what I've been coaching, ever since a week before Chicago."
That was a 19-and-under showcase in February when Marquette won all five of its games against mostly older competition.
Though the team is a modest 24-20-4 playing in a series of tournaments and exhibitions this season, much of its schedule has consisted of boys teams and older girls teams.
Cornock, who has been coaching the sport for 26 years, has a star on his hands in Allison Carlson. The 16-year-old Negaunee resident had scored 71 goals in the team's 46 games that didn't include Sunday's fundraising exhibition against the women's club team from Northern Michigan University, a game the Sentinels won 6-2.
She also has 28 assists for 99 points, far more than the team's next scorer, fellow 16-year-old teammate Kirsten Iwanski of Marquette, who has 13 goals and 20 assists for 33 points.
The pair played on a Marquette team that went to the Tier II 19-Under nationals three years ago when they were in eighth grade. Both were multiple goal scorers in that year's state tournament that qualified them for nationals.
This year, Carlson has been a dominating force with the puck. For example, she scored or assisted on 23 of her team's 28 goals in a 5-0 run at the state tournament in Dearborn that ended March 16.
But the championship didn't come easily as the Sentinels needed four overtimes before another Marquette 16-year-old, Sydney Higgins, scored the championship game winner with an assist from Carlson after more than 84 minutes of play in a 3-2 victory over Livonia.
This is a team that shoots at the net - and shoots a lot. In the title game, Marquette put 84 shots on net, not too surprising considering the game's length. But in earlier regulation games, the team outshot its opposition 45-34, 44-13, 73-28 and 70-20.
"What I've been working on is basically puck possession," Cornock said. "Young girls tend to play the puck like it's a hot potato."
He explained that when the puck comes their way, they'll do anything they can to get rid of it as quickly as possible, even if there is no teammate to pass to.
"My thing is I tell our girls to carry the puck, make the pass or take a hit - not to throw it away."
While out-and-out checking isn't allowed in the girls game, contact is allowed as long as players are attempting to get the puck.
"Our time of possession has increased as the year's gone on," Cornock said. "We work well in our offensive zone and our defense pinches hard."
Hannah Riesland, 15, of Marquette has been the exclusive goaltender, though Cornock's daughter, Sydney Cornock, 16, of Marquette, got a chance to play part of Sunday's game in net.
The team includes several other Marquette players - 16-year-olds Emma Kaznowski and Katie Pryor; 15-year-old Freya Holferty; and 14-year-olds Lauryn Folker, Kailey Godfrey and Ashlyn Steer.
The other Negaunee player is 14-year-old Chloe Krause while the lone non-Marquette County player is 16-year-old Ally Polich of Iron River.
Cornock has been assisted by coaches Jim Higgins, Adam Diedrich, Kaitlyn Riesland, Ken Godfrey and Josh Gosselin, while team manager is Rod Riesland.