By: John Sherman
Hopkins High girls hockey coach Vin Paolucci sees value in having high standards.
During the past four seasons, Hopkins has found itself in the state rankings more often than not and also enjoyed success at the end of the season.
The Royals placed second in the state Class AA tournament in 2009 and added a third-place finish in 2010.
Although the Royals are young this season, they’re off to a decent start with a 2-1-0 record.
They lost an opportunity to remain unbeaten when the lost a 3-2 overtime decision to Bloomington Jefferson Nov. 15 at Minnetonka Ice Arena.
“It was a good back-and-forth game, and we played hard,” said Paolucci. “At the end of the day, they scored in overtime and we didn’t.”
It was a classic match-up: Hopkins’ speed vs. Jefferson’s poise and stick-handling skills.
“We didn’t move the puck quite as well as I would like,” said Paolucci. “We’re young, but these kids are very competitive … they will get better and better as we get into the season.”
Young players scored both Hopkins goals in the Jefferson game.
Sophomore defenseman Grace Bizal gave the Royals an early 1-0 lead. Later, sophomore forward Rachael St. Clair scored for the Royals.
Throughout the game, sophomore forward Corbin Boyd made key plays for the Royals. She didn’t score a goal, but there was no question she drew the majority of the Jaguars’ defensive attention.
Another standout for Hopkins was junior goaltender Erin O’Neil, who is in her third varsity season.
“Every successful team has a good goalie,” said Paolucci. “Erin will be huge for us this season. We need her to be great.”
The Lake Conference is loaded with great players this season.
Defending state Class AA champion Minnetonka has a very talented group led by goalie Sydney Rossmann, forward Amy Petersen and defensemen Sidney Morin and Sydney Baldwin.
Edina has four-year varsity forward Sarah Nielsen, who has signed to play at Penn State next season. The Hornets won two of three games at last season’s state Class AA tournament to finish third.
Wayzata is fast and scrappy, much like Hopkins. Eden Prairie has enough depth to skate three strong lines and back them up with solid defensive play.
The next booking for Hopkins is the Maple Grove Invitational this weekend. It is early for a tournament, but coach Paolucci is anxious to see how his girls will react to the challenge.