State Dreams Redeemed

For the first time in history, the Albert Lea girls’ hockey team has punched their ticket to the state hockey tournament


Kaylee Evans

Senior captain Lucy Stay smiles with fellow captains sophomore Rachel Doppelhammer and senior Esther Yoon as she hoists the championship plaque in the air. Last Thursday’s win turned one of Stay’s greatest aspirations into reality. “State is something I’ve been dreaming about since I was a little girl, and the fact that we finally made it is insane,” she said. “I’m looking forward to everything, but playing at the Xcel Energy Center and making unforgettable memories with my team is what I’m most excited for.”

With one minute left on the clock in the 2021 Section 1A girls’ hockey championship, the Albert Lea Tigers were tied with the Rochester Lourdes Eagles, 2-2. The Tigers had just scored the equalizing goal, and Roy Nystrom Arena was brimming with energy as fans and players alike wondered which team would come out on top. Overtime was imminent. 

Then, with eight seconds left, a Lourdes forward got a breakaway and scored the final goal, booking the Eagles a trip to the state tournament and ending the Tigers’ season. 

Though last year’s section tournament ended in heartache for the team, this year’s only yielded victory. Chips on their shoulders, the girls were determined and willing to do whatever it took to avoid feeling the pain of such a loss again. 

“Losing against Lourdes last year was devastating,” senior captain Lucy Stay said. “This year, we had the same opportunity, and none of us wanted a repeat of the Rochester Lourdes game.” 

Going into this year’s postseason, the Tigers had a record of 12-10-1 and had secured third place in the Big 9 Conference. Once again, they had earned the highest seed in the section and home ice advantage. Freshman Mika Cichosz liked their chances and was optimistic about the team’s future. 

“I was nervous but also very excited,” she said. “I knew that this year we had a very good chance of making it to state, which was a very big goal for the team.” 

Sophomore captain Rachel Doppelhammer said the team was feeling ready to go and was excited to see what they could accomplish in the postseason. 

“We knew that this was what we had worked for the whole season,” Doppelhammer said. “We had a great opportunity ahead of us, and we had to take it.” 

Albert Lea hosted Winona on Feb. 12 in the first round of the playoffs and ended the Winhawks’ season with a 6-0 victory. Stay said that such a win improved the team’s energy going into the championship. 

“In our Winona game, we all played as a team right from the start and gained momentum early,” she said. “It was such a positive environment, and coming out of that game we were all really excited to advance to the championships and keep working hard.” 

Freshman Shelby Evans echoed Stay, saying that the game against Winona helped make everyone “much more confident in each other.” 

However, even scoring six goals and shutting out the other team didn’t eliminate the players’ nerves. For the five days following the Winona game, they battled stress and anxious excitement over the upcoming championship game versus Austin. The Tigers had taken on and beaten the Packers twice in the regular season, 3-2 and 5-2, but they knew that their rivals wouldn’t make for an easy game.

“Before the game, I couldn’t even describe how nervous I was,” Stay said. “I knew we could win, and so did the whole team, but we had to work hard and show up.”

The team was dismissed from school on Feb. 17 at 2:05 p.m. and departed from the city arena at 2:45 p.m.. They arrived at Owatonna’s Four Seasons Arena, the neutral championship site, at 3:30 p.m., leaving the players plenty of time to warm up and prepare for the 5 p.m. game. 

“Before the game, when we were playing music, it was very hype in the locker room,” Evans said. “You could tell most people were nervous, but we just acted like it was another game.”  

Despite the excitement, the first period didn’t go as planned for the Tigers. Austin struck first and held a 1-0 lead for several minutes. 

“Everyone kind of had the moment of, ‘Oh shoot, we gotta step it up right now,’” Cichosz said. “I feel like everyone just tried to forget about it and think about what they were going to do next shift.” 

Doppelhammer said that the Packers’ first goal put the game into perspective for the Tigers. 

“It just made us realize that this wasn’t going to be easy and we needed to want it more,” she said. “We were not going to let Austin beat us because this game was for everything.”

Despite being down early in the game, head coach Mark Goskeson said that the players didn’t let it get to them, noting that in the past, Austin had scored first, but Albert Lea managed to emerge victorious.

“You could hear the players right after the goal with positive comments, reminding each other that they have been there, and ‘we got this,’” he said. 

A shot from Albert Lea seventh-grader Morgan Goskeson found the back of the net five minutes later, bringing the score to 1-1. It would remain that way for the duration of the period. The Tigers retreated into the locker room to discuss what had happened and figure out what they needed to do to come out on top. Doppelhammer chalked the rough first period up to nerves. 

“We were all pretty nervous going into the game, especially because of how the section final game went for us last year,” she said. “We knew what a big opportunity it was, and that caused a lot of nerves.”

Stay had similar thoughts about their first period. 

“I definitely think nerves had a huge impact on our first period,” she said. “Even though we knew we could win, we began to panic at the beginning, which made it hard to keep a clear head.”

She said that the locker room discussion between the first two periods helped them calm down and prepare for the rest of the game. 

“After the first period, there was definitely a tense feeling in the locker room,” Stay said. “We were a little shaken up, but after talking as a team, we regrouped quickly.” 

The players were determined to make the second period better than the first, not willing to let the first period define their game. 

“None of us were ready to be done, and we weren’t going to let that happen because of a tough first period,” Stay said. 

The Packers came out hard in the second, scoring their second goal in less than a minute of play. But the Tigers did not relent, answering back with four goals from Cichosz, Stay, Goskeson and senior captain Esther Yoon. 

Though Austin scored first in the second period, Albert Lea was unfazed, having come up with a game plan that led to their success. 

“We had a plan to run three lines with quick shifts to wear them down,” head coach Goskeson said. “Even with the quick goal, we stuck to our plan.”

As they executed their plan and let out the anxious energy that had disrupted them in the first period, the team began to play up to their full potential.

“When we went into the second period, we knew that we could do much better–and we did,” Evans said. “The first period? I think everyone was still nervous, so when we went into the second, we were ready.” 

With a 5-2 lead heading into the third, the Tigers were feeling confident. But, with memories of the 2021 Rochester Lourdes game still fresh in mind, they were careful not to let up in the final 17 minutes. 

“We had a comfortable lead, but we knew we couldn’t step off the gas,” Doppelhammer said. 

Cichosz added that she was “ecstatic” and “excited to just go out there and leave it all out on the ice.”

According to Doppelhammer, the team’s main focus in the third period was to play defense and hang on to their lead, but they still managed to come away with two more goals, bringing the final score to 7-2. 

“The last minute of the game felt like the longest minute of my life,” Doppelhammer said. “When the buzzer went off, and we knew we were going to state, [it] was the best feeling in the world.” 

The team celebrated by piling up in front of the student and fan section of the crowd. Stay, who had just returned to the bench after her shift, said that she and her teammates were counting down the seconds and had already taken their gloves off to throw. 

“When the buzzer rang, [we] threw ourselves over the boards, tossed our gloves and sticks in the air and monkey-piled in front of our crowd,” she said. “I felt on top of the world.”

Cichosz was on the ice when the time expired. 

“It felt like redemption from last year,” she said. “After being on the ice last year when we lost with eight seconds left, I needed to win this game.” 

The Tigers shook hands with the Packers and received their Section 1A medals from ALHS principal Chris Dibble. Captains Stay, Yoon and Doppelhammer were then presented with the championship plaque. 

With the section championship under their belt, the Tigers will take to the ice at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul on Wednesday at 1 p.m., where they will face off against the third-seeded Proctor-Hermantown Mirage. Stay is looking forward to the chance to play against the Mirage, noting that they have always had “an amazing hockey program.” 

“It’s definitely going to be a more challenging game, but we’re all ready to work hard and play the game we love,” she said. “[They’re] a team I’ve never played before, and it’s so crazy to me that we get the opportunity to play one of the best teams in the state.” 

Doppelhammer said that it will be a “tough game,” but is excited to see what her team can do. 

“They are a very good team, but we also know that any team can win any game,” she said. “We have to come out strong and play with grit the whole game. We really have to want it.”

All of the players are excited for chance to spend the week with their teammates and are thankful for the opportunity to be at state. 

“I am looking forward to getting to spend time with my team and just the experience of it all,” Cichosz said. 

For senior Lucy Stay, the trek to the Xcel Energy Center is a full-circle experience. Before she had even become a high school player, she “had dreamed of going to state,” and making Albert Lea girls’ hockey history, though she knew the path for a small, non-metro area school like Albert Lea would be challenging. 

“Being a senior and finally making it to state has been so emotional and surreal for me,” she said. “I just feel so incredibly blessed to be a part of this.”

The girls are grateful for everyone who has supported them on their journey and will continue to cheer them on as they compete in the first round tomorrow. 

“Thank you to all of our friends, families, coaches, and fans for supporting us,” Doppelhammer said. “We couldn’t have done it without you.” 

There will be a send-off for parents and community members at the city arena tomorrow morning at 8 a.m. as the players load the bus. They will then travel to the high school on their way out of town, where they will be escorted by the drumline through the hallways for students to cheer them on. 

A fan bus for students will depart from the school tomorrow at 10:30 a.m. and return after the game. Students attending the game will be excused from class. Tickets for the fan bus are $5. Tickets for the game must be purchased through the MSHSL website. Adult tickets are $20 and student tickets are $13.