Consistent success is girls hockey program’s goal
Some of the teams that regularly appear in the state girls hockey tournament might sneer at a consolation championship. Not Farmington, which celebrated heartily after defeating Eastview 3-0 in the Class AA fifth-place game Saturday at Ridder Arena.
But as enthusiastic as the Tigers were about winning a trophy at state, they clearly have bigger ambitions. With all but one player eligible to return from a team that was 18-12-2, Farmington figures to be one of the state’s top-ranked teams at the beginning of the 2016-17 season. They want to get to a point where they’re not going nine years between state tournament appearances (before last week, Farmington’s last trip to state was in 2008).
“What these girls did here was a great stepping stone,” Tigers coach Jon Holmes said following Saturday’s victory. “There’s been a foundation set prior to these girls getting here. In our postgame speech, we asked them to do three things – first, remember those who paved the path to get here, starting with (Farmington hockey legend) Amber Hegland, who’s coaching up at Maple Grove now. She played with the boys. She’s a phenomenal hockey player.
“No. 2, we want them to enjoy this moment, and No. 3, we want to make sure we’re opening doors for the next group to come.”
Farmington’s goal, going back to Louis Schmitz, one of the coaches for whom the community’s hockey arena is named, was to pattern its hockey programs after a town such as Warroad, were tradition is honored and younger players are nurtured. Holmes, who has been girls hockey head coach for 10 years, said that goal is in sight.
“We’ve got strong youth numbers and we’ve got really great leaders,” Holmes said.
Having success in a state tournament will help on the Tigers’ path to their long-term goal. In addition to winning their final two games of the season, the Tigers gave eventual Class AA champion Edina its closest game at state. Farmington held the Hornets to a 1-1 tie after two periods before the No. 1-ranked Hornets scored three goals in 1 minute, 58 seconds in the third period to win 4-1 in the quarterfinal round Feb. 23 at Xcel Energy Center.
Edina outshot Farmington 53-16 but junior goalie Abby Bollig kept the Tigers in the game, making 53 saves. Several of Bollig’s saves had her coach drawing comparisons to Dominik Hasek, the acrobatic Hall of Fame goalie who played 16 years in the NHL.
“It was a lot of shots, but it was exciting no matter what happened,” Bollig said.
“We went into the third period 1-1. Between periods, we said if we could have had that, we would have jumped on it and taken it,” Holmes said. “It was, I’d say, primarily because of a very strong effort on Abby’s part.”
Farmington also was the only team to score against Edina in the state tournament. That happened in the second period when junior forward Ellie Moser, the Tigers’ leading scorer, knocked in an unassisted, shorthanded goal. Moser chipped the puck past an Edina defender, then reached it at the same time as Hornets goalie Abby Goldstein. The puck floated into the air and when it landed, Moser swatted it into an open net.
“The goaltender came out and I thought, ‘Well, OK, this isn’t going to work,’” Moser said. “I saw it in the air, and it was like slow motion. After it went in, I just lost my mind.”
Emily Auge played goal in the consolation semifinals against Forest Lake on Feb. 24 at Ridder Arena and made 31 saves in the Tigers’ 1-0 victory. Moser scored the game’s only goal on a power play at 12:40 of the second period. Bailey Kelley had an assist.
Farmington’s game against Eastview on Saturday was the teams’ third meeting of the season; they had split two South Suburban Conference games. Brenna Fuhrman scored on the power play at 10:09 of the second period to put the Tigers in front. Marissa Agerter scored with five seconds left in the second period and Carly Lancaster added an empty-net goal with 55 seconds remaining. Bollig stopped all 23 Eastview shots. Megan Bernu assisted on the Tigers’ first goal and Emily Rubins assisted on the final goal.
Bollig and Moser were named to the all-tournament team. Both are members of a junior class that will supply leadership for Farmington next season – and began doing so this season.
“I didn’t have any concerns with a young team coming in,” Holmes said. “There’s a lot to be said for having seniors, but we have a large junior class and they started to play like seniors by mid-January.”
The Tigers finished with 10 victories in their final 13 games after floundering below .500 in early January. Holmes brought in a sports psychologist to help with the Tigers’ mental outlook, and eventually the players’ talent surfaced.
“We had high expectations coming into this season, so I learned a lot early in the season when we weren’t getting the success we all thought we would have,” Holmes said. “That was tough, more so for the girls than for me, because I knew the talent was there. But they stuck with it.”
Next year, the Tigers will expect to have success from the start. “Managing that is going to be key,” Holmes said. “We’re going to have to show up every game because this conference is tough. Case in point, here we are in the consolation championship game against Eastview, a foe of ours all year long.
“It’s going to be tough, but at the same time it’s going to be fun. The girls are definitely up to that task.”