Steamboat Springs Steamboat girls hockey coach John Harris was optimistic before his team headed to the Chapel Hill Ice Arena during the weekend for the Mountain State's Girls Hockey League State playoffs.
He didn't care that Steamboat was the No. 4 seed in the tournament or that his girls had lost to the tournament's top seeds during the regular season. He knew his team had heart and had been steadily improving. The team was primed to make a playoff run.
"I knew that we could do well," Harris said. "Our girls came out and played with a lot of heart and intensity, and it really paid off."
On Sunday afternoon, the Cinderella bid from Steamboat Springs was going head to head with the most dominant team in the league this winter, the Colorado Selects, for a state title. Steamboat lost the game, 1-0, but nothing could diminish the team's amazing run.
"It didn't surprise me, but I was thrilled by how well all our players, the coaching staff, the parents and the community came together this season," Harris said. "This is really a special group of girls, and they deserve everything they've accomplished this season."
Steamboat opened the state playoffs Friday with one of the toughest games of the tournament against the Colorado Selects.
The tournament favorites came out of the gates with an impressive showing against the star-struck team from Steam--boat. Lauren Johnson, Amanda Knudsen and Abby Isles scored in the first half to help the Selects build a 3-0 lead. Johnson added another goal in the third period to make the final score 4-0.
Steamboat goalkeeper Ellana Williams collected 24 saves in the game, but her team could not match the Selects on the other end of the ice. Steamboat only had 11 shots on goal.
But the Steamboat team didn't run and hide.
On Saturday, Steamboat returned to the ice and won a key game, beating Gunnison, 3-1.
Steamboat scored early when Elizabeth Finch knocked in the first of two goals in the game with just more than five minutes remaining in the period.
Teammate Katie Lettunich added to the Steamboat lead in the second period with an assist from Monica Patten. Finch also added another goal to make the score 3-0. Sarah White was credited with the assist. Gunnison added a goal late in the third, to make the final score 3-1.
But Steamboat's most important game of the weekend came at 6 a.m. Sunday morning when Steamboat faced Colorado Springs in a game that determined the championship seeding.
Two first-period goals by Lettunich and another from Maura Hartley gave Steamboat the advantage. Patten added another goal to put Steamboat up 4-0 in the first period. Megan Stabile and Patten assisted on Hartley's score, and Stabile and Katelin Verploeg assisted on Patten's. Steamboat put the game away in the final period with a wrap-around goal from Stabile and another score from Dani Perry.
Steamboat's defense was anchored by the play of Marilyn Harris, Verploeg and Perry. The trio didn't allow very many shots on Williams, and when they did, the Steamboat goalkeeper was in position. She turned away all nine Colorado Springs shots in the game.
The victory set up a showdown with the Colorado Selects, who tied Gunnison in the other Sunday game.
In the finals, Steamboat's defense was remarkable, keeping the Selects at bay until late in the second period of the game. But with 3:47 left in the second, Isles got the only goal the Denver team needed to win the title.
The Selects fired 25 shots on goal in the game, and Williams turned away 24 of them. But Steamboat only had six shots on goal in the contest.
Despite the loss, the Steam--boat girls left the ice after one of the best showings for a Steamboat team. The squad finished the season with a 11-8-1 record and the trophy that goes to the second-best team in the state.
Harris credited the team's success this season to a group of talented and unselfish players. He said a staff of dedicated coaches, including assistant Dave Hartley, Mark O'Reilly, Art Higbee and Allison Ricci, also were responsible for the team's success.