MADISON — The awards shelf at Abigail Stow’s place of residence in Eau Claire doesn’t have much space left. Especially after she took home the Ms. Hockey award on Thursday night, given to the best senior girls hockey player in Wisconsin.
On the ice, though, space is her haven. And on Friday — 15 hours after garnering the most prestigious award in prep hockey — Stow used every bit of open ice in a four-goal masterpiece during her and the ECA Stars’ first trip to the WIAA state tournament.
Scoring twice in both the first and second periods, Stow led a total team effort as the Stars knocked off the defending state champion Central Wisconsin Storm 5-2 in the state semifinals on Friday morning at Alliant Energy Center in Madison.
The Stars will play Sun Prairie for the state title at noon today.
“In a big game, you look for your big-time players to produce and really carry you through a tournament,” coach Tom Bernhardt said. “She’s done that here and she showed that again tonight why she was Ms. Hockey. And everybody else just steps up and feeds off her.”
Friday was the first time any Star had stepped a skate on the Alliant Energy Center ice. It was the 11th year in a row Central Wisconsin had qualified for state.
The opening minutes and trying to control the nerves were big keys to the game for the Stars, now 25-3 on the year.
Stow’s coast-to-coast goal on the power play 7 minutes, 17 seconds into the game relaxed the Stars. Her redirect goal off a Charlotte Akervik slap shot from the point — a tip that came from the high slot as the puck beat goalie Chloe Westberg glove side — gave them a cushion.
“We talked about (starting fast) throughout the season and haven’t done it until recently in the playoffs,” Stow said. “But getting up right away in the first period, just like Hudson (in the sectional final), that kind of predicts the game and sets the tone. And that’s what we did.”
Trinity Foster scored for the Storm to cut the deficit to one at the end of the first period. But the Stars defense made sure that would be one of the only good looks all night.
The Stars allowed just 12 total shots on goal, including three in the first period and only four in the third. While the goals kept coming for high-octane ECA, the defense provided even more breathing room.
“We stopped pinching, which helped keep things in front of us,” said defenseman Charlotte Akervik, who had three assists. “Keeping things in front of us allowed us to make plays and be stronger defensively.”
The Stars blocked a lot of shots, and forwards came back to play strong in the neutral and defensive zones.
That also allowed Stow to get loose a couple more times. She scored in the second on a wide rush after getting the puck near the blue line. She drove it to the right side, cut toward the net in the low slot and dumped the puck into a tough angle in the lower right-hand corner at 6:04 of the second.
Five minutes later, a toe drag helped her move from the high circle to the slot, where she deposited a wrist shot top shelf.
“We knew we needed a great team effort to shut her down,” Central Wisconsin coach Pete Susens said. “And it seemed like we would do a good job with that initially, but there would be something that threw the rush off-kilter and she would be in a position that we didn’t expect her to be, and she took advantage of it all four times.”
The Storm scored on a Kassidy Oliva rebound goal with 13:08 to go in the third, but the Stars immediately answered as Madison Schwengler redirected Brooklyn Arbs’ shot from the point into the net just 1:07 later. Stow had the secondary assist on the play.
Stow’s monster day has her in sniffing distance of the state tournament record for goals scored, which is six. Chippewa Falls/McDonell’s Mikayla Hogan set that record in the 2007 tourney.
But as she’s been all her career, Stow isn’t concerned with numbers or awards. She wants to win. And that’s been the Stars’ mentality all year long, and they’ll end the season on the last day possible.
“We’re here to play hockey,” Stow said. “I don’t need an award to tell me how good I am. It doesn’t matter to me, I’d rather win a state championship with my team.”
The Stars get that chance.
Another trophy will come home to Eau Claire this weekend. And the one Abigail Stow and company really want hasn’t been awarded yet.
“It’s an opportunity for us as a program to take that next step,” Bernhardt said. “We took that step to get down here, and now we’ve taken another step to advance to Saturday. Now it’s going to come down to the effort and intensity and energy that the kids play with tomorrow.”