Facing a three-goal deficit and showing little life offensively, ECA Stars coach Tom Bernhardt turned to his all-state upperclassmen to steady the ship.
It was a pair of freshmen who delivered it home.
After senior forwards Ava Kison and Abigail Stow were paired together midway through the second period and responded with a combined three goals in six minutes, it was Fall Creek ninth-grader Paige Ruppert who found the puck on her stick in the low slot with 7 minutes, 37 seconds left to play.
She found the back of the net, and classmate Naomi Stow of Memorial prevented the puck from finding hers as the second-ranked Stars knocked off top-ranked Hudson 4-3 in a thriller of a Big Rivers girls hockey game on Thursday night at Hobbs Ice Center.
“We’re a team that, historically, kind of feeds off each other,” Bernhardt said. “Really proud tonight of how the kids battled back against really a good hockey team.”
Things didn’t look good early on. The Stars couldn’t get the puck out of their defensive zone, and Hudson made them pay on a pair of long shifts with two goals in the first — one from Nikki Olund and the other from Sydney Hendricks.
The Raiders added a goal early in the second, this one from Quinn Winkoski, to make it 3-0. And with the way Hudson was controlling the puck, it seemed like a backbreaker.
But as Bernhardt said, all it takes is one. He switched up his forward lines so that Stow and Kison, the state’s leading (Stow) and fourth-leading (Kison) scorers, skated together.
“We kind of get to a certain point in the game where you need something offensively, and those are two very dynamic players,” Bernhardt said. “You take them away from each other for a bit, but when you put them back together good things happen.”
And they did.
Kison put life back in the Stars when she rifled home a wrist shot just above the circle that beat goalie Cassie Schultz to her glove side.
Three minutes later, Brooklynn Arbs kept a puck in the zone and batted a shot on goal from the point. It deflected off Schultz’s padding right to Stow, who tucked it in the empty net.
And just over a minute later, Stow capped off the mad rally. She lowered her shoulder and got to the net. Her centering pass was tipped in by a defenseman, and suddenly a game that Hudson was controlling was tied.
That set up the freshman third-liner’s heroics.
Midway through the third, she came into the offensive zone just after getting on the ice for her shift. A defenseman, from her own goal line, attempted to clear it but didn’t see Ruppert.
It hit her stick just in front of Schultz’s, and the pride of the Crickets beat her glove side.
“Everyone was playing their position and were where they were supposed to be, and it just kind of came,” Ruppert said. “I got it, I closed my eyes and hoped it went in.”
From there, it was the Stow show — the Naomi Stow show, that is.
The freshman netminder and little sister of Abigail made several huge stops late, including a pair on which she sprawled out to prevent second-chance opportunities.
“In practice, we do a lot of rebound drills, and so I’ve grown in that,” Naomi Stow said. “And now I feel confident in my team to pick up those rebounds.”
The Stars were able to control the zone for the last minute of play, and the Raiders were unable to pull their goalie for an extra attacker until there were just 30 seconds left.
This is a program that’s been close the past couple of years to knocking off a top team. They reached the plateau Thursday. Who knows where this team’s summit is.
“You could feel it in the dressing room and on the bench that these kids know how to win,” Bernhardt said. “This is a game that gives you some confidence.”