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Girls hockey: Aggressive Eagles chasing first-ever state tournament berth

January 31, 2019 GMT

Rochester Lourdes’ offensive philosophy is straightforward: Keep the pedal to the floor as much as possible.

“We’re a very aggressive team,” Eagles girls hockey head coach Jeff True said. “It comes back to bite us now and then, but our depth is there and it has been extremely important to us. We have a lot of girls who know how to score and create opportunities.

“I always tell them that, when we’re playing five-on-five, we’re one of the best teams in the state.”

The Eagles are one of the best teams in the state, period.

They’re 12-8-1 and ranked No. 8 in the state in Class A. Their eight losses have come by a combined 10 goals, including six one-goal defeats and five losses against ranked opponents.

And while there is plenty of star power in the Eagles’ lineup, Lourdes’ success has come from its depth and the ability to either wear down an opponent or match the depth of opposing teams that roll three lines consistently.

Lourdes’ third line – eighth-grader Delaney Fleming centering wings Natalie Kielty (senior) and Carmen Erickson (sophomore) – has picked up its play in the past few weeks and has allowed the Eagles’ top two lines to stay fresh.

“Our third line has been getting regular shifts for the past month, since (a 4-3 win against Delano at the Schwan’s Cup),” True said. “For the first 10 games, we’d run two lines and work in two or three other girls. Now we have three lines that we can really roll with.”

Lourdes averages 3.67 goals per game and allows 2.19. Its strong defense starts in goal, with junior Corrin Hanson, and extends to a talented core of defenders including Maggie Hanzel, Allison Smith, Ali Ratzloff and Paige McPeak.

Hanzel (Boston University) and Smith (Union College) have already committed to play Division I college hockey, while Ratzloff will play at St. Scholastica. Eagles senior forward Clara Billings has also committed to play college hockey, at Gustavus Adolphus, and several other Eagles have drawn heavy interest from college scouts.

“Playing the schedule we do, having leads in almost every game, hanging in every game, we’ve shown we can play with anybody,” True said. “We can go down our schedule and feel like we haven’t had a bad loss. There are a couple we wish we could have back, but even in our losses we’ve always felt like we’ve played pretty well.”

Lourdes’ most recent loss might also be its biggest confidence booster of the season.

The Eagles had No. 1-ranked and undefeated Warroad on the ropes last Saturday at Warroad before falling 2-1. The Warriors needed a late rally, scoring twice in the final six minutes of the game, to top Lourdes and improve to 23-0-0. That tough loss came on the heels of a 6-4 win at No. 9 East Grand Forks last Friday.

“That trip up north was a real good confidence builder,” True said. “We played in tough environments where the play and physicality is certainly different than what we see down here.

“It didn’t take long after the game to talk with our girls and have a good conversation about how we just proved a lot of things. We were leading a team late in the third period that hasn’t had to come from behind like that the entire season.”

There’s a chance the Eagles could face Warroad again this season – if both teams reach the Class A state tournament. But Lourdes isn’t looking that far ahead. It has a pivotal matchup on Friday at Section 1A rival Faribault, which is led by the state’s third-leading goal-scorer Olivia Williamson (37 goals). The winner of that game will likely earn the top seed in the section playoffs, which begin next week.

“Faribault is a good team with some talented players,” True said. “I like our depth and chances, but once it comes to the section tournament, anything can happen. A bounce here and there can turn things.”