MARQUETTE - Onto the national championship!
The City Insurance Sentinels girls hockey team of the Marquette Junior Hockey Association won a pair of games Saturday in Amherst, N.Y., to advance to the finals of USA Hockey Girls Tier II 16-and-under National Championships.
The Sentinels (29-20-4) will take on the Boch/Charles River, Mass., Blazers (22-2) for the national title at 10 a.m. today. Marquette already defeated the Blazers during pool play on Friday, 5-1.
The Marquette Sentinels’ Kirsten Iwanski brings the puck up along the boards during the team’s national semifinal game against Potsdam, N.Y., on Saturday. The Sentinels prevailed 4-1 to reach this morning’s championship contest. (Photo courtesy USA Hockey/Team Hotshots)
Entering the tournament, both teams were ranked among the top 10 in the country, according to the website MYHockeyRankings.com, the Blazers at No. 3 and Marquette No. 9.
But the Sentinels' schedule was ranked as the second toughest among the top 50 teams in the country, probably more than equalizing their disparate records.
On Saturday, Marquette won a pair of 4-1 games in the quarterfinals and semifinals to run their record at this event to 5-0 in four days.
"I don't know what to say, I know I'm excited and the girls are excited," Sentinels head coach Jeff Cornock said by telephone about an hour after the semifinal was completed.
"It's been a long time for the girls and a long time for myself getting here.
"I remember back when we had tryouts and we were trying to decide if we would have a 16-and-under or a 19-and-under team, some people were critical that I was keeping everybody that was trying out.
"I said then that we were going to win a national championship with this group.
"But I've told the girls before, and I told them (Saturday) morning, that until you believe in yourself, it's not going to happen."
He said the girls really started believing in themselves "as much as I believe in them" in mid-January at a series of games in the Chicago area.
"Ever since then, we've really taken off," Cornock said.
That included Saturday's games, victories first over tournament host Amherst and then Potsdam, N.Y., a team like Boch/Charles River that Marquette also defeated in pool play earlier.
Against Amherst in the morning, the Sentinels had to overcome 13 minor penalties and the shadowing of their best offensive player, Allison Carlson of Negaunee.
"They were all over Allison," Cornock said. "I told Allison that she had to play smart, but I could tell she was frustrated."
The coach said he decided in the third period to take advantage of being the higher seed and take the last line change.
"They were so worried about matching lines, and so focused on Allison not scoring, and we were able to take advantage by getting a lot of possessions in their offensive zone," Cornock said.
But the game was scoreless until nearly halfway through the second period, when Carlson scored with 9:11 left on a power play with assists going to Kirsten Iwanski and Emma Kaznowski, who was playing her first game at the nationals after rejoining the team Saturday.
Just 21 seconds later, Freya Holferty made it 2-0 with another man-advantage marker and an assist going to Sydney Cornock.
While Amherst answered with its only goal about 4 1/2 minutes later off the stick of Olivia Rutkowski, Carlson tacked on two more in the third for the final margin. One of those final-period tallies was shorthanded, the other into an empty net with 42 seconds remaining.
Marquette goalie Hannah Riesland kept her team in the running as it was outshot 7-4 in the first period before coming on for a final 33-22 shots-on-goal advantage.
"She's really a solid goaltender," Jeff Cornock said. "She plays all her angles really well.
"Every game, I ask her to make all the easy (saves) and three hard ones, and she keeps doing her job."
Playing Potsdam in the late afternoon, the Sentinels jumped out early for one of the few times in the tourney as Carlson and Cornock scored goals in the first period to make it 2-0. Carlson's was unassisted while Cornock came on a power play and was assisted by Iwanski and Carlson.
Potsdam pulled within 2-1 near the middle of the second period on a goal by Kalie Grant, the tourney's second leading scorer behind Carlson.
"I told the girls we have to know where she is all the time," Jeff Cornock said. "They didn't have the depth we did.
I saw that she was playing forward one shift, defense the next and then she rest the one after that. By the time we got to the third period, I think she was just out of gas."
Iwanski added insurance, scoring her team's only goals of the final two periods. She made it 3-1 with 3:15 remaining in the second with an unassisted goal, then got the only score of the third with 6:10 left with an assist going to Ashlyn Steer.
Riesland made 24 saves as her team was actually outshot 25-23 even though it held an 11-4 advantage in the opening 17 minutes.
Today's title game will be broadcast on radio station WUPZ, 94.9 FM, The Point.
Steve Brownlee can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 246. His email address is email@example.com.