In a perfect girls hockey world, the table would be set for Armstrong/Cooper to feast on this type of role.
Having spent much of the last two months ranked among the top-20 teams in all of Class AA girls hockey, the girls completed their most successful season in their brief history as a cooperatively sponsored program with a level of confidence even they couldn’t have predicted.
But, as head coach Kevin Gray described last week when asked about what that means heading into this week’s Section 6AA tournament quarterfinals Saturday, Feb. 5 at Parade Ice Gardens, it might not mean much.
“Everybody has a little more confidence going into the tournament than maybe they have ever had, and that is good to start with,” Gray said. “Unfortunately, in our section, just riding in on confidence probably doesn’t get you very far.”
Welcome to the headache that is coaching in this tournament.
When the four quarterfinal games are played in succession Saturday in Minneapolis, a minimum of two ranked teams will have their season end.
In all, six of the eight teams in the tournament are ranked. That includes No. 1 Benilde-St. Margaret’s, and No. 2 Minnetonka, which has won each of the past two Class AA state championships.
No. 7 Hopkins, No. Buffalo, No. 11 Wayzata and No. 17 Armstrong/Cooper were the other ranked teams that call Section 6AA home.
A seeding meeting was held late last weekend after this edition of the paper went to press, and while there were plenty of unknowns in regards to seeds, this much was certain: “It really doesn’t matter who gets seeded where because you are going to have a great opponent to play in that first game,” Gray said. “There are no secrets. There are all really good teams.”
The top two seeds were expected to go to BSM and Tonka, likely in that order. Buffalo and Hopkins will be two and three, though in what order was up for debate. And Wayzata was likely the No. 5 seed, leaving the No. 6 seed to Armstrong/Cooper.
That would mean a possible quarterfinal match-up with either Hopkins or Buffalo. Combined, those two teams were 34-12-2 through Jan. 31.
“It really doesn’t matter,” said junior forward Marissa Odell. “We’ll play whoever they give us. We aren’t scared of anybody. We’ll be prepared.”
Indeed, Armstrong/Cooper does believe it will have a plan in place for any possible postseason opponent.
That could mean taking their most recent approach of moving defenders Emma Terres and Mari Verbeten up to play on the top line with Odell, and it could mean another number of line-up adjustments Gray says he can make on the fly.
“We’ve made a lot of strategic changes as we’ve gone along,” Gray said. “That includes moving those two up, which gives us a different look. But that might change. Our goal was mainly that when we hit that tournament, whatever we think it might take, we’ve practiced it.”
They’ve also practiced winning plenty. Through last week, the girls had already won 15 times with a game yet to play.
The transformation from separate entities into a co-op started over a year ago, but there is little doubt the girls have arrived this season.
“Everything kind of seems to be falling into place this year,” said Odell. “It’s been so much fun playing for a winning team. We have really gotten a lot better. Hopefully we can keep this going. I know none of us are ready to be done.”