Girls hockey is more than teaching skating and handling a hockey stick. It involves bringing together girls from multiple high schools and molding them into a cohesive unit.
Hockey fans in Tomah Saturday got to see what a finished product looks like.
The girls co-op based in Black River Falls brought its seamless brand of multi-school hockey to the Tomah Ice Arena and delivered a 3-1 victory over Metro Lynx. It’s the only Tomah game scheduled for a co-op that practices and plays at Lunda Arena in Black River Falls. The Tigers won their fourth straight game and improved their record to 10-6-1.
Senior defenseman Taylor Gular is one of four Tomah players on the team. She welcomed the chance to play close to home.
“I love it − it’s awesome to see all of our Tomah fans come out, probably for the first time, and watch us play,” Gular said.
Gular’s coach, Oak Moser, agreed. Moser, a long-time assistant for Tomah’s high school boys squad, took over the Tigers’ program last November.
“It was fun for the team to play a home game in the Tomah Ice Center, and we were fortunate to have a favorable outcome against another quality team,” Moser said. “The Tomah section was pretty full ... they play better with a bigger crowd.”
The Tigers controlled play against a co-op consisting of skaters from Middleton, Madison Edgewood, Madison Memorial, Mount Horeb, Verona and Madison West. Khloe Spors gave the Tigers a 1-0 lead just three minutes into the contest after she beat a pair of Lynx defenders, cut across the crease and converted a backhand shot.
Four minutes later, Grace Engbretson, off assists from Baileigh Jounson and Ashley Overlein, fired a short wrist shot that bounced off the goaltender’s right shoulder and into the net for a 2-0 lead.
The Tigers opened the scoring in the second period, when Johnson pounced on a turnover and scored a breakaway goal for a 3-0 lead.
Metro scored its only goal midway through the second period but couldn’t get anything else past Tigers’ goaltender Josie Mathison, who finished with 16 saves. Mathison’s save percentage of .939 is tied for second in the state, and her goals-against average of 1.81 ranks fifth.
Mathison made a pad save with 2:14 left, and the Lynx pulled their goaltender eight seconds later. During the six-on-five, Tomah managed to keep Mathison clean without icing the puck until 22 seconds remained. The Lynx finally got a shot on goal off the ensuing faceoff, but Mathison smothered the loose puck in the crease to seal the outcome.
“We’re solid in goal,” Moser said. “With Josie in goal, we always have a chance.”
Win at Sun Prairie
The Tigers came into Tomah with significant momentum after defeating the Cap City Cougars 2-1 in Sun Prairie Jan. 23. It was the Tiger’s second straight victory over a top-10 team. Ellie Steinhoff scored the winning goal with just 39 seconds left.
Neither team scored during the first two periods. Cap City took a 1-0 lead 3 ½ minutes into the third period, but the Tigers tied the game two minutes later on a power play goal from Johnson.
“It was a significant outcome for the team,” Moser said. “Being able to beat three very strong teams in succession ... at this point in the season is what the team has been working toward.”
Skaters from Sparta, Melrose-Mindoro and Neillsville round out the 20-girl roster. Allison Zillmer, a senior and three-year letterwinner from Black River Falls, said the girls have learned how to work with skaters from different schools.
“We’re like a family,” Zillmer said. “The fact that we get to meet so many different people from other schools makes us stronger because we’re able to make connections with people we don’t necessarily know.”
Gular said the connections are formed early in the season.
“Right away we bring each other together,” she said. “We talk and get to know each other.”
Moser said the camaraderie is evident in the team’s recent success.
“The team is gaining confidence and beginning to trust in each other while on the ice,” he said.
Moser credited the schools and parents for making the co-op work. Tomah provides a van to Black River Falls driven by one of the assistant coaches, and parents in Sparta have stepped up to transport players.
“The schools and the parents have been fantastic,” he said.
The next contest in Black River Falls is Saturday, Feb. 3, against Somerset starting at 2 p.m.