The 2019-20 Hutchinson girls hockey team has had one purpose this year: To beat the Mound Westonka White Hawks in the Section 2A championship. The Tigers did just that, playing the best game of their lives to take down the defending champions 5-1 Thursday night at the Lund Center in St. Peter.
“We literally worked from day one for this game,” junior Marlee Harlander said.
“That’s what’s driven us all this year.” senior Laina Berthiaume added.
The Tigers were winless in their past five games against the White Hawks, including two overtime losses this year. Based on how the season played out, it was clear that these were the top two teams in the section, and they were destined to meet in the final. As Mound took care of Delano/Rockford in the semifinals, and Hutch beat New Ulm, both teams were ready for this moment. All the hard work had led them to this moment, and it needed to pay off here.
The first period was tightly contested as both teams had solid looks at the net, but neither scored. The White Hawks held the puck in the Tigers’ zone for a great deal of the period. Hutchinson took a few shots, but they were one-and-done for most of their scoring chances.
Things changed in the second period. The Tigers came out of the locker room with a greater sense of urgency and began winning the puck battles, a role reversal from the previous period. Hutch struck first as Harlander scored her first goal of the game.
Tiger goalie Hannah Ladwig has been phenomenal in the post season the past two years. She has allowed just one goal per-game in the six that she’s goal tended. When the team has needed her the most, she has delivered more times than not in the net, and she did so again Thursday.
“I guess it’s just knowing that any game could be your last,” Ladwig said of her success in the postseason. “Especially with you’re never going to get another game with the same group of people, so you really want to make the most of it while you can.”
With a one-goal lead going into the final period, the Tigers could either take a defensive approach and hope to hold on, or they could slam the door on Mound Westonka’s season. They chose the later as Hutch exploded for four more goals.
Senior captain Alex Hantge scored the second goal, rebounding a shot and putting it back in with a wide-open net. Then as the two teams faced off at center ice, the Tigers again took the puck down the ice and Harlander rebounded another shot for her second goal of the night, giving Hutch a 3-0 lead in the blink of an eye.
“It was surreal,” Harlander said. “I couldn’t even believe it. Gosh.”
“We were still shocked that it happened so fast,” Berthiaume said.
Berthiaume scored the next goal the same way as the previous two, and then Hantge scored short handed to net her second goal of the game. A Mound defenseman tried to take the puck past Hantge, but it hit right off her and bounced backwards, leaving one of the fastest skaters in the section one on one with the goalie, and Hantge didn’t miss.
Head coach Marc Telecky preached to the girls to play until the final buzzer. It never really hit them until the end that they were champions. The 2-1 loss from last year still loomed in the their minds. The girls did everything they needed to prepare: studying film, reviewing the game plan on the bus ride, upperclassmen keeping the underclassman hyped.
“We had that mentality that losing was not an option,” Harlander said. “I think that’s why we came out with success.
“We also had nothing to lose,” Ladwig said. “They were the first seed and we were the second, so we were just going to give everything we got no matter what will happen.”
This is Hutchinson’s first section championship since 2015. Now the Tigers begin the third part of their season, the state tournament. Hantge was the only player on the team during their last section title, so for the rest of the Tigers it will be their first trip the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul. The Tigers won’t know who or when they’re playing their first game until after the state brackets are announced, but they do know it will be Wednesday.
“Our team mentality has brought us so far,” Harlander said. “We’re going to keep going with it”