It was vital for the ECA Stars to have a strong start on the road Saturday at top-ranked Hudson in the sectional final.
The Raiders had proven all year to be stout defensively, and momentum would be at a premium between the state’s top two rated teams.
With 11 minutes, 56 seconds to go in the first period, the Stars got a puck on net, and the rubber shot away to the right side of the net but near the goal line, making it a tough angle.
Ava Kison won the race to the puck and flung a difficult backhand on net. It was placed perfectly, right in the top left corner. The Stars struck first, and that helped set the tone in a 6-1 rout of the Raiders to punch the team’s first ticket to state.
“I think her ability to finish and her ability to score the big goal is something that she’s really shown throughout the season,” coach Tom Bernhardt said.
This weekend at the state tournament, senior Abigail Stow likely will garner much of the deserved attention from the outside world. The four-year star was a finalist for the Ms. Hockey Award, given to the best senior in the state, on Wednesday and is the reigning offensive player of the year in Wisconsin. Prep hockey fans have wanted to see her at the state tournament since her varsity arrival, and she’s there in her final year.
But the Stars have another forward who is also worthy of the price of admission. And there’s no way they’d be where they are without the scrappy-yet-skilled Kison. The junior has 41 goals and 34 assists on the year, good for a career-high 75 points. She’s got a team-best eight game-winning goals and averages a whopping 2.78 points per contest.
Her speed and quick hands are easy on the eyes. But she’s also the first one attacking on the forecheck and relishes the opportunity to go get the rubber in tight spaces.
She’s always been that way, and this year she’s allowed the game come to her. That’s been quite the combination.
“I like to be aggressive and go get the puck and just always go hard and win battles,” Kison said. “And I’ve started to come back a bit and let the play develop a little bit more so I can be in the right spot.”
There’s a difference between letting the play develop and being passive. She’s still in constant attack mode, but she has just a little better vision this season.
All in all, it’s helped her develop into one of the more complete players in Wisconsin.
“We’ve played together for so long, but I probably take her for granted and I notice when we’re not on the same line together,” Stow said. “She’s always exactly in the same spot, which is perfect. She can do just about anything. She can score goals, she can assist, she can play defense when she needs to. She’s just an all-around great player.”
Kison played with Team Wisconsin over the summer months and has dedicated herself to becoming one of the very best in the state.
The games during the offseason helped her become even more dominant during high school season, which will resume on Friday morning at the Alliant Energy Center in Madison. The Stars (24-3-0) take on the Central Wisconsin Storm (19-8-0) in the state semifinals at 10 a.m.
“The speed helps a lot,” Kison said. “I’m used to the faster speed, so when I get out here it’s slowed down a little bit and we can work the puck a bit more.”
Kison’s had a goal in all but four of the Stars’ 27 contests this season. She’s had at least one goal in 13 of those games with a trio of hat tricks and a four-goal showing against University School of Milwaukee on Nov. 24.
Kison and Stow have both directly affected the other’s stats and accomplishments. They’ve also had a lot of help this year from the deepest Stars team to date.
This is a crew that’s knocked on the door of being in this position for a couple of seasons, but it could never get over that hump. It soared past it on Saturday, and the Stars — with the only seniors being Stow and Brooklynn Arbs — made sure this was the year they broke the door down.
“We just kept fighting,” Kison said. “We’ve wanted it more. Especially Abigail and Brooklynn, we want it for them because it’s their last year and they’ve made a really big impact on the program.”