MARQUETTE - The dream was so close, but just eluded the grasp of the Marquette Sentinels on Sunday morning.
That might've been what made it so difficult for this Upper Peninsula hockey team at the USA Hockey 16-and-under Tier II Girls National Championships.
The Boch/Charles River, Mass., Blazers scored the game-winning goal on a rather fluky play with 7:19 to go, breaking a 1-1 tie and going on for a 2-1 victory in the national championship game played in Amherst, N.Y., just before noon on Sunday.
Freya Holferty, left, of the Marquette Sentinels fights for position against a Boch/Charles River, Mass., player in front of Marquette goaltender Hannah Riesland, in back, during the finals Sunday morning at the USA Hockey Girls 16-and-under Tier II National Championships in Amherst, N.Y. The Sentinels lost 2-1 to finish as national runners-up. (Photo courtesy USA Hockey/Team Hotshots)
Sydney Cornock of the Marquette Sentinels handles the puck along the boards against Boch/Charles River, Mass., during the finals Sunday morning at the USA Hockey Girls 16-and-under Tier II National Championships in Amherst, N.Y. (Photo courtesy USA Hockey/Team Hotshots)
"I think the girls are OK now, but I can't convince them yet that this was a phenomenal run for a Marquette girls hockey team to make it to the national championship game," Sentinels head coach Jeff Cornock said via telephone about a hour after the game. "You can tell them there were 10 other teams at this tournament who would gladly trade places with them in a heartbeat."
Those were the 10 other teams from around the country that competed but didn't make it to Sunday's game.
"It's tough," Cornock said about accepting the runner-up trophy.
He described the lockerroom after the Sentinels left the ice.
"It was quiet. There were quite a few tears," he said.
What had to be difficult for the Sentinels is knowing they had not only won, but dominated all five previous games they had played in this event starting on Wednesday.
They scored at least five goals in each of those games, including a 5-1 victory over the same Massachusetts team to end pool play on Friday, even though Boch/Charles River was the highest-ranked team entering the tournament at No. 3 in the country, according to MYHockeyRankings.com.
Marquette itself was rated ninth despite a less-than-spectacular 24-20-5 record before the trip east. The top-10 ranking was earned because the Sentinels' schedule was considered the second-most difficult among the nation's top 50 teams.
The unassisted game-winning goal by Brenna Galvin was also a tough pill to swallow.
"They got a kinda lucky break," Cornock said. "Their girl did a wraparound from below the goal line and it happened to bounce off of one of our sticks."
He explained that Marquette goalie Hannah Riesland was there to stop it, but the puck shot through a small triangle above the pad on her foot and between her stick and leg pad.
"When you have two really well matched teams playing each other, it can be a fluky goal that decides it," Cornock said.
One goal was scored in each period on Sunday, starting with the Blazers getting one with 7:02 left in the first off the stick of No. 6, Meghara McManus.
Cornock said she beat Riesland on a long screened shot from the top of one of the circles.
"We knew that No. 6 was their best player," Cornock said, "and we knew when she was out there."
He said it was similar for their opponents keeping a close eye on the Sentinels' Allison Carlson of Negaunee, who finished as far and away the top scorer at this event.
Carlson knocked home 18 goals and added three assists for 21 points, which was eight more goals and 10 more points than the next-best player, Kalie Grant of Potsdam, N.Y., which Marquette defeated in the semifinals on Saturday evening.
Carlson's teammates Kirsten Iwanski and Sydney Higgins tied three Charles River players, including McManus, for the fifth-most points with six. Iwanski had four goals and two assists, while Higgins recorded two goals and four assists.
And it was Iwanski that got the Sentinels on the scoreboard with 13:35 remaining in the second period on a 5-on-3 power play. Freya Holferty was credited with an assist.
"We played it just the way we draw it up," Cornock said about the goal, a strategy he said he's consulted with Northern Michigan University hockey coach Walt Kyle on.
Iwanski was at the top of the slot near the blue line and took a Holferty pass from out wide. Carlson stationed herself in front of the Massachusetts goal to create a screen for Iwanski, who fired off the shot that got past Charles River goalie Jessica Olivieri.
The score remained tied for more than 20 minutes until Galvin got the game-winner.