It was a beautiful battle. Two of the state’s top ten girls’ hockey teams, the University School co-op and the Warbirds co-op, faced off in an Eastern Shores Conference game on Tuesday, December 4th at USM. Although the Wildcats out shot their visitors 30-18, the Warbirds prevailed by a 3-1 margin.
Abby Okon, the Warbirds’ sophomore goalie, added to her stellar record by stopping 29 of the Wildcats’ attempts. Okon has made 97 saves and surrendered only 2 goals in the Warbirds’ five games. Freshman Sami Stommel made 15 saves for the Wildcats while allowing only 2 goals. The Warbirds third goal was an empty netter in the game’s final minute.
"We played a pretty good game, but we couldn’t score,” said Dan Carey, USM’s head coach. “We had a couple costly mistakes, but overall we played well. We have things to work on, but the girls know they can compete against the stronger teams. It was great to see Natalie Epperson get her first varsity goal."
As Carey noted, the Warbirds did take advantage of errors by the Wildcats. At 9:40 of the first period, senior Alyssa Heim intercepted a D-to-D pass near the Wildcats’ blue line, burst past the two startled defenders, and skated in on a breakaway. She moved to her right, drawing Stommel off angle, then snapped the puck into the net to give the Warbirds the lead.
The Wildcats were not awestruck by the sudden change in the score. They fought back and outshot the Warbirds 10-4 in the first period, but they could not solve Okon.
The score stayed the same all the way the second period. Then early in the third period, the Warbirds capitalized on another Wildcat shortcoming.
The Warbirds were killing a penalty and fired the puck out of their zone deep into the Wildcats end. Senior Maike Zipp sped past the Wildcats’ defensemen to get the puck below the goal line. She pulled it to the side, turned, and spotted Hattie Verstegen moving unchecked into the low slot. Zipp’s pass was on target; Verstegen one-timed a shot past Stommel at 1:12.
The Wildcats kept fighting and eventually found a way to get a shot past Okon. On a Wildcat power play, senior defenseman Jenna Klenz skated the puck out of the Wildcats’ zone. As she stickhandled through center ice, Klenz forwarded a pass to senior Karly Lamoreaux. Lamoreaux crossed the blue line and headed to the right side boards. From there she passed the puck to Natalie Epperson who had skated down near the crease. The USM freshman tipped it back to her line mate, senior Hannah Neudorfer, who took a quick shot. Okon made the save, but Epperson was tenacious and jabbed the rebound past Okon at 11:49.
Excited about her first goal, Epperson said, “Karly passed the puck to Hannah, who passed it to me. I was in front of the net for a chip in. I didn’t believe the puck went in until I felt everyone around me.”
The Wildcats kept at it, and pulled Stommel with about a minute and a half left in the game. They couldn’t score the necessary goal to tie it. Then, with 28 seconds left, Heim potted a shot into the empty net to guarantee the Warbirds the victory in a game that was exciting and well-played by both sides.
The Warbirds are now 5-0 and 2-0 in the Eastern Shores Conference. They play Onalaska in a non-conference game at 7:00 p.m. on Friday, December 7th at the Omni Center in Onalaska.
USM is 4-2 and 1-1 in the Eastern Shores Conference. The Wildcats play Northland Pines in the first round of the Girls Hockey Classic Tournament. The non-conference game is scheduled for 7:00 p.m. on Friday, December 7th at USM.