Highs And Lows

Roller Coaster Ride Through A Magical Season Brings Out The Thrill Of Victory And Agony Of What Was Taken Away

Here we go again. 

Overtime in the Pacific District championship game. We have been here before.

This time around our opponent is the Seattle Lady Admirals. At stake is a ticket to the 2020 USA Hockey Girls Tier I National Championships in West Chester, Pa. 

After back to back heartbreaking losses, this time would be different. It has to be.

Two years ago we were in a similar situation against our rivals, the Alaska All Stars. We had never lost to them, but here in the most important game of the season the moment we worked so hard for was gone was gone in a blink of an eye. The All Stars won the game in overtime, 3-2.

What a way for my first season playing girls' hockey with the Anchorage North Stars to end. It was the worst moment of a 13-year old hockey player's life. The heartbreak and tears I saw on my teammates' faces, myself included, was hard to erase.

Last year we felt that hollow feeling again. We made it to the championship game against the Anaheim Lady Ducks. This time they scored late in the third period and held on to hand us another, 3-2, loss.

But things would be different this time around. We could all feel it as we pulled into the parking lot at the Lynnwood (Wash.) Ice Center, the site of our Pacific District title game. We had been here before, and this time losing was not an option.

After we warmed up and stretched, Kaylee Norman and I sat upstairs for half an hour quiet, just looking at the freshly zammed ice. Kaylee has been my hockey best friend for the past six years and our goalie for three years running. I promised her that this time it would be different.

Slowly the rink began to fill with family, friends, fans and even a few scouts. As we sat silently in our locker room, our coaches came in. They looked as nervous as we felt. We knew how much this game meant to them. Thanks to their leadership, the North Stars Girls 16U team was more than a logo on the front of a uniform. We were a family.

As game time approached, we filed out of the dressing room, pumped and ready to go. We were in the zone.  

When Seattle scored first, it felt like a sucker punch to the gut. Somehow we didn't let it get us down. We responded quickly with the tying goal. The celebration was unreal. At that moment, we knew we would do it.

A buzzer signaled the end of regulation time, we dragged our tired legs back to the locker rooms. Here we were, facing another overtime scenario. I started to panic. We were all tired and sore. It was either the adrenaline or the fact we played so many games that week, but either way I could no longer feel my legs. 

Time to get back onto the ice. As the coach puts me out to start the overtime, everything was silent. I looked back at Kaylee and then around the rink. This was it, the moment we worked so hard for. The referee dropped the puck. The center drew the puck back to me. I made a quick pass to McKenna Piekarski, who skated into the zone as we moved in for support. As the puck slipped between the goalie's legs, McKenna's arms shot up in celebration. We piled over the boards and jumped into her arms. After two years of heartbreak and disappointment, here we were in a moment we all worked so hard for. 

I cried. We all cried. The feeling was unimaginable. I skated to Kaylee and screamed, "We did it Kaylee. I told you it was our year!" The happiness on Coach Ray's face said it all. He had taken this group of 15 girls and turned them into more than just a hockey team. We were a family. 

Fast forward a few weeks. I was on my way to practice when I got the email. It was a soul crushing, gut wrenching email. Nationals were cancelled! I can't even describe the feeling. It wasn't fair to us, or any of the other teams that worked all this time to get here, and have it taken away just like that. An opponent bigger than any we have ever faced on the ice had put an end to our season.

I walked into the locker room and looked at my teammates. Disappointment was spread across the room. We weren't ready to be done. We were supposed to have one more tournament and one more trip together. There were tears shed, from sadness and anger. 

We knew this would be the last time this group of girls would be together. Some would be moving up to play at 19U, others would be heading out of state and some would join other teams. 

Our coaches were just as upset as we were. Still, they told us how proud they were of each of us and our accomplishments. We went out and had one final practice together before heading our separate ways.

It affected everyone differently. Some girls kept practicing while others accepted that our season was over and moved on. I felt empty. Was I ever going to get another opportunity to play for a national championship? Who knows.  

Two months later, the rinks were closed as the whole state was on a lockdown. As a hockey player, this was hard, going from being on the ice five or six times a week to quitting cold turkey. It felt like running full speed into a brick wall.

As rinks slowly started to reopen, kids frantically searched for open ice. Only 20 kids were allowed on the ice at a time, no locker rooms, spectators had to wear masks and could only be parents. I tried to get as much ice as possible. I just wanted to skate.  

I've come to realize that the events of the last few months have made me appreciate the game like never before. It's taught me that hockey can be taken away in an instant and that I should always work hard and love the sport. 

Looking back, I still wish my team could have competed at Nationals. But I will always appreciate what we had and cherish those memories. 

But now it's time to look into the future, and start a new chapter in my life.

 

Teila Saarinen is a 16-year-old from Eagle River, Alaska.

 

Issue: 
2020-09

Poll

Who is your favorite American player?
Auston Matthews
28%
Jason Robertson
4%
Tage Thompson
11%
Matthew Tkachuk
2%
Patrick Kane
16%
Other
40%
Total votes: 57