In appropriate USA Hockey Girl’s Hockey Weekend fashion, Minnesota Hockey welcomed 14 Girls 14U Tier I teams from across Minnesota and neighboring states to the Andover Ice Rink Friday through Sunday.
Falling on Girl’s Hockey weekend was happen stance; a positive coincidence without a doubt. But featuring the inaugural CCM High Performance Girls 14U Tier I National Invitational Tournament (“NIT”) on a weekend celebrating girl’s and women’s hockey demonstrated just how far the girl’s game has come, and how much it continues to grow.
“We’ve known since we launched the Fall Tier I League that our teams are competitive with the top teams in the country but only the teams who have made it to Nationals have had that opportunity,” said Cheryl Mechelke, Girl’s 14U Tier I League Director, who advocated for and organized the NIT. “We have great relationships with Wisconsin and North Dakota, but this event provides all of our teams the chance to play out-of-state teams and really see that competition nationally, while showing the visiting teams the level of competition in Minnesota.”
All eight of Minnesota Hockey’s CCM High Performance Girls 14U Tier I teams participated in the first-year invitational against Belle Tire, Little Caesars, Madison Capitols, Meijer AAA and Team North Dakota.
Little Caesars came in with a target on their back, entering the weekend as one of the top Girls 14U Tier I teams in the country, but for them, facing off against four Minnesota teams had the Detroit-based squad equally as excited.
“This is easily our most competitive weekend,” said Little Caesars’ head coach Brandon Kaput. “It’s important for our girls to see the other competition out there, and you don’t get much better competition than Minnesota where the depth is insurmountable.
“We’re getting used to having a highly-competitive program throughout all of our age groups, and we know we can come in as the team others want to beat. It’s fun to play games where people look up to you, but these Minnesota teams from top to bottom have given us a run for our money all weekend. It’s been a lot of fun to be a part of it.”
Michigan’s Meijer AAA team may not have entered the invitational highly-touted, but as head coach Kurt Miller was reminded, this weekend was equal amounts was just as much about the experience as exposure and competition.
“My girls don’t have the experience that some of these girls do—some of these girls it’s their first year of AAA hockey—but they’re having fun,” said Miller, who originally hails from Minnesota and leaped at the opportunity to show his team what hockey ‘back home’ is all about. “They’re learning. They have gotten over some of these games real fast and leave the rink with a smile on their face. They’re having a great experience, playing against competitive teams and learning what it takes to move on to the next level.”
The excitement was, naturally, felt by the local teams as well. For many, it served as a reminder of how fortunate players in Minnesota are to have the community-based exposure.
“It goes to show you how extremely unique it is in Minnesota with the community associations,” said Green Giants coach Al Blomker. “We don’t have to fly to compete against strong competition. We don’t have to travel an hour-and-a-half to practice like these teams we are facing this weekend do. We are lucky to have what we do here in Minnesota.”
“That being said, I was ecstatic when Cheryl set this up. It gives us a chance to play new teams and from other parts of the country. It helps the girls see how they match up.”
Lakers coach Brooke White-Lancette echoed Blomker’s sentiments.
“I’ve been coaching for the past 16 years, and to be able to expose these girls to hockey outside of Minnesota and see where they stack up was fantastic,” she said. “In Minnesota, we’re lucky to have so many girls who play at a high level and they can play locally against so many teams of high-caliber and elite skill. We have a lot of great games every weekend in our Tier I League, but this adds another dimension to the experience.”
And for Mechelke, that’s what it’s all about:
“We just want to provide these girls with good competition and an experience that helps them grow in their hockey development. That’s what we’re doing here.”
For full results from the NIT, click here.