MADISON — She was the last Hilltopper on the ice. She looked up at the crowd, wiped the tears from her eyes and slowly glided off the ice. For Onalaska co-op senior forward Theresa Knutson it was the final moment of her record-setting high school hockey career and it fittingly came at the WIAA girls state hockey championship.
Just as fitting, the game concluded with a huge third-period rally for the Hilltoppers. This time, however, it came up just short.
Onalaska stormed back from a four-goal deficit to pull within one, but the Green Bay East co-op was able to hang on for a 6-5 victory to capture the program’s first girls state title Saturday at the Alliant Energy Center.
Kelsey Rafferty scored three goals for the top-ranked Ice Bears (26-1), including one on a wrap-around with 43 seconds to play to put the game out of reach.
Jacyn Reeves scored her second goal of the game 20 seconds later to pull the Hilltoppers (19-8) to within one, but they would get no closer as Onalaska finished runner-up for the third straight year.
“You’ve got to enjoy every minute,” said Knutson, who was met with hug from fellow senior Jamie Weilandt as she stepped off the ice. “Not many teams get this chance to even play here.”
Not many teams could pull off the comebacks the Hilltoppers did in both games of the tournament, either.
The Hilltoppers trailed 5-1 with less than five minutes to play when Kianna Kalmes swung around from behind the net and slipped the puck past Ice Bears goalie Lindsey Strainis for the goal.
“They haven’t quit all year,” Hilltoppers coach Tim Franzini said. “They’ve worked hard. They just needed to give themselves a chance. They made it 5-2 and that just got things going.”
As did a two-man advantage after the Ice Bears were called for tripping and body checking in a 26-second span.
The Hilltoppers won the ensuing draw, worked the puck back to defenseman Jacyn Reeves, who launched a shot from the point to make it 5-3. The score came just 4 seconds after the second penalty was called, giving the Hilltoppers even more life.
“Everybody was pretty down at one point,” said Reeves, who finished the tournament with three goals and an assist. “But once we get that first goal we just keep going.”
Reeves scored a crucial power-play goal in Friday’s semifinal against the River Falls co-op to help spark a late rally that led to the Hilltoppers’ 4-3 overtime victory. It appeared this score could do the same, especially after Knutson scored from the point to cut the lead to one goal, but the Ice Bears found the back of the net in the final minute to help preserve their first championship.
Reeves scored again with a little more than 20 seconds to play, but the magic ran out there as the Hilltoppers fell one goal shy of pushing the game to overtime.
“We got a spark and we rolled with it,” Reeves said. “We tried to use that momentum to get back into it, it just didn’t go our way.”
Chazlyn Anderson continued her tournament tear with a goal midway through the first period. She finished the tournament with three goals and two assists.
“It just shows how much we wanted it and how much we had to work for it,” said Knutson of Onalaska’s late charge. “It shows that every single person on our team is important, and every single player on our team wanted it bad.”
The Hilltoppers were outshot 31-17 through two periods, but in the final 17 minutes they turned the momentum.
Onalaska put 15 shots on net and scored four goals, but the rally came a little too late. Hilltoppers senior goalie Jeanalyn Schindler finished with 30 saves and Strainis had 26.
“We just started scoring a little too late,” said Knutson, who had two goals and four assists in the tournament. She finished her career second all-time in the nation career goals (286) and career points (391).
“You’re not going to find a more competitive, a more dedicated and committed player than Theresa Knutson,” said Franzini of the senior standout who won her third straight Jinelle Siergiej Award, which is given to the state’s top scorer. “Not only is she good and deserves Ms. Hockey and is second overall in points all-time, but she deserves that because of the time she’s put into the game and the love she has for it.”
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