The locker room door deep inside Parade Ice Garden remained closed long after the Armstrong/Cooper girls hockey season had officially come to an end.
Only hours earlier, inside the same room, a contagious belief permeated throughout.
Pundits would acknowledge the chances Armstrong/Cooper had that night were two-fold – slim and none. But, even with the No. 1 ranked team in Class AA girls hockey readying to meet Armstrong/Cooper on the ice for a spot in the Feb. 15 Section 6AA final, there was not a soul in the dressing room thinking about anything other than the belief they had that they were going to silence the experts.
That, regardless of what the outcome would be, is what this two-year old cooperatively sponsored program between two longtime rivals had become.
“And that is where it has to start,” said head coach Kevin Gray. “You have to believe in yourselves, and these girls did that. They believe they should be playing at the Xcel Energy Center. They believe they are a state tournament team.”
In some realms, they might have been. But, as is often the case in 6AA girls hockey, underdog stories generally don’t survive.
This one didn’t either.
Four days after advancing into the 6AA semifinals with a surprising 3-1 victory over seventh-ranked Hopkins, Armstrong/Cooper had its season end in the form of a 7-1 loss to Benilde-St. Margaret’s Feb. 13.
The girls hung around for awhile. They even took an early 1-0 lead on a bang-bang play that ended with Marissa Odell banging home the game’s first goal 2 minutes, 46 seconds after the opening face-off.
But the Red Knights would take a 2-1 lead by the end of the first, and they would make it 4-1 with a pair of goals late in the middle period.
By the third, the outcome was obvious as BSM stretched its advantage to 7-1, but there was no telling that by the message Armstrong/Cooper continued to send.
“We still battled to the end,” said junior Emma Terres. “We could have quit when it was 7-1, but we played every single last shift because we owed it to the person sitting next to us.”
The girls said they felt the same about the fans that packed the east end of Parade.
Reinvigorated by last Saturday’s victory over Hopkins, the Armstrong/Cooper faithful was overflowing its side the rink.
Students from both schools mingled, and cheered. Heck, when Odell scored her goal early in the first, they exploded. Together. And even in the tear-filled conclusion, that much was not lost by anyone associated with the program.
“What it has done for our community has been fantastic,” said Gray. “The excitement around the rink is there everyday. The girls are excited, and you hear teachers talking about it at school. It’s really been cool for the community. It’s put a little life into it on the hockey side, and it has been awesome to see that we are one community with Armstrong and Cooper.”
That community isn’t likely going anywhere anytime soon, and neither is this team.
Of the roster that took the ice in Minneapolis, only two will graduate.
Those seniors – Heather Kaluzniak and Melanie Potter – will be missed. They were part of the foundation in which this program is being built. But there is little doubt Armstrong/Cooper can be back in this spot a year from now.
And that, like the feeling they took into the game, is what they believe.
“Our seniors left a mark,” said Terres. “They brought us this far, and we owe it to them to take it further next year. We’ll be better because of this experience.”
Contact Nick Clark at [email protected]