One of Eau Claire’s two state hockey representatives has been there and done that before.
The other will take the Alliant Energy Center ice in Madison for the first time in program history.
But whether it’s the Memorial boys — back at state for a ninth consecutive season — or the ECA Stars girls in their rookie state campaign, both squads aren’t just happy to be there.
Don’t get it wrong, they are both ecstatic to have qualified. But they both know there’s a balance between excitement and refocus.
All year, the verbage around the two programs has been to go for it all. They expected to be here.
“Sectional titles are really cool and it’s great for our team and program to experience it, but I’d love to add a state title to that resume,” Old Abes goaltender Trevor Hudecek said. “This team can do it, we just have to come out and play hard.”
Memorial found out Sunday that it had earned the No. 2 seed at the state tournament and will take on West Salem/Bangor in the quarterfinals at 4 p.m. Thursday. The Abes, fresh off a 4-0 sectional final win over North on Saturday, knocked off the Panthers 6-3 in late December and outshot them 38-16 in that contest. It’s the first year the WIAA has seeded the state tournament.
The Stars played perhaps their best game in years in Saturday’s drubbing of top-ranked Hudson, a 6-1 win. The offense got quality shots on net, the defense dumped the puck down low and goalie Naomi Stow made big saves.
It led to a grand celebration as the team picked up its first sectional title, but it’s had this goal for a few years.
“We wanted to get there since day one,” defenseman Charlotte Akervik said earlier in the season.
The Stars’ semifinal opponent will be defending state champion Central Wisconsin, a team they’ve played three times on the year and went 2-1 against.
While the program celebrated its monumental achievement on Saturday, coach Tom Bernhardt knows it’s back to the drawing board.
“We know we have our work cut out for us and it’s going to be a long journey this week,” Bernhardt said. “But the kids are going to enjoy it and we’re going to enjoy it, but we’re going down there to have some success.”
Bernhardt coached the North boys to state in 2006.
Memorial’s first-year coach Chris Tok will be back at rink level at the Alliant Energy Center for the first time since being an assistant captain at Wisconsin in 1994-95.
While it will be nostalgic for him, he’s taking the same mindset as his players and is looking for an extended stay in memory lane this weekend.
“It’s been two decades plus, and it will definitely hit the spine a little bit, probably have some hairs standing up, memories of standing on that blue line,” Tok said. “It’s a great place to play hockey and a great barn. We had a lot of fun there, and we expect to go down there and compete there and create some new memories.”